Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 26 October 2016

McCoy denied perfect send-off in unique day of celebration


Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

AP McCoy celebrates with the Champions Jockey Trophy
AP McCoy celebrates with the Champions Jockey Trophy

AP McCoy was beaten on the last two rides of his career yesterday, finishing third on both Mr Mole and, in his very last ride, Box Office.

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But, on an extraordinary celebratory day for the sport at Sandown, National Hunt's champion jockey was acclaimed like no other rider in racing history, his every appearance outside the weighing room cheered, three-cheered, jolly good fellowed and clapped.

He may not have been able to add to his tally of 4,348 career winners but that was largely irrelevant to the 18,300 (7,000 more than last year) racegoers who came to pay homage to a sporting great and man described by Ruby Walsh as "made of concrete".

A final winner may have eluded him but even the champion himself conceded that, in a sport in which not everyone walks away and few go on their own terms, quitting in this way, at the very top of his game with a 20th Championship trophy under his arm, was up there among his finest victories.

For once this meeting, which concludes the National Hunt season, was not about the horses or the racing or even the past 12 months, which it annually celebrates. It was about one man, McCoy, and two decades at the top of his sport. And the jockey, who has known nothing different from getting up every day and going racing for the past 21 years, admitted that the incessant cheering as he rode Box Office back down the course following his last race reduced him to tears. "I was able to disguise it on the way out by pulling down my goggles," he said.

For much of the race McCoy, in the rear half of the field, took the brave man's route down the inside until, half way down the back, he switched out to get a run. His progress was smooth and, turning in, his mount moved into contention and the sunset beckoned until, after the second last, Brother Tedd and Gran Maestro began to draw away from him.

It was more than apt that in his last race the winner should be ridden by Richard Johnson, the jockey who has finished second to McCoy in the title race a staggering 15 times. If there is any justice, Johnson, 37, will be the first champion of the post-McCoy era and it is certainly McCoy's wish that he is. His second-last ride and last in a chase, Mr Mole, could only finish 10 lengths third to Special Tiara, Henry de Bromhead's 3/1 favourite, in the bet365 AP McCoy Celebration Chase, a race renamed in his honour.

Before his first ride on what was a surreal afternoon, the jockey had fought to keep control of his emotions as he was given a rousing welcome, one that would have done Cheltenham proud, when he came out to the paddock, through a guard of honour from his weigh-room colleagues, to be presented with the trophy for his 20th jump jockeys' title from the former Arsenal footballer Ian Wright.

"I've been very touched by it all," said McCoy. "I'm going to miss what I do, did. I always hoped I could retire on this day. The BHA are letting me keep the trophy and it's been in my house since it was made in 2007 and, every morning while I've had my breakfast, it's been my goal to win it back. I feel very honoured and flattered by all the attention. I've reconsidered retirement every day since I announced it but it's not going to change and the crowds who've come today have proved to me I've chosen the right time."

Even though McCoy predicted that his astonishing record would one day be beaten, Jonjo O'Neill, his trainer, said that we would never see the like of him again.


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