Tuesday 25 October 2016

McCoy - his final furlong

Retiring champion regrets not reaching 300-winner mark for the season as he prepares for Sandown finale

Published 25/04/2015 | 02:30

The legendary Tony McCoy brings the curtain down on his career as a jockey at Sandown this afternoon
The legendary Tony McCoy brings the curtain down on his career as a jockey at Sandown this afternoon

AP McCoy has two prospects of adding to his 4,348 jumps winners when he dons JP McManus' ubiquitous silks for a final time at Sandown.

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The indomitable champion jockey will partner Paul Nicholls' Mr Mole in the Bet365 Celebration Chase that has been renamed in his honour. He sits out the old Whitbread Gold Cup that follows, but he is then pencilled in for one last dance aboard the aptly-named Box Office in a handicap hurdle.

Nicholls was among the first to recognise just how valuable an asset McCoy is, while Jonjo O'Neill was long an admirer before forming a regular alliance with him when McManus wrenched him from Martin Pipe this time 11 years ago.

A farewell victory for either would be a fitting send-off, notwithstanding that it remains slightly surreal to see the great man depart for no real reason other than that he doesn't want to overstay his welcome.

McCoy is patently riding as well as ever. His running tally for the closing season is 231, his best since 2003.

He has spoken at length in recent months about how he was left inconsolable when the quest to finally reach the elusive 300-winner mark went up in flames in October. At the time, he was well ahead of target, having clocked his fastest ever 150 winners until a punctured lung, broken ribs and dislocated collarbone thwarted him.

By the by, his closest pursuer Richard Johnson only managed to hit the 150-winner mark at Perth yesterday.

McCoy had won two Gold Cups, three Champion Hurdles and a Grand National yet, at 40 years of age, he was riding with a renewed intensity as he sniffed a real opportunity to claim that last remaining outpost. In the end, though, he dislocated the collarbone again.

It broke his heart to have to yield to his body's physical needs, but this is the sort of unconscionable forbearance that saw him repeatedly defy medical norms to recover from everything from fractured legs, arms and vertebrae to smashed teeth and broken cheekbones and everything else in between.

"The danger of the job has never crossed my mind, and I think my pain threshold got better as I got older," McCoy told the Irish Independent.

"I think that I learned to cope with it mentally and physically better.

"Luckily, I have always been a good healer. When I broke my arm or my wrist or my back, I was nearly always back within two months, and I really thought I could get to 300 winners this time if I stayed sound because I was ahead of schedule. It gave me a real purpose so I was distraught when the chance to do it was taken away from me. The goal was gone."

Today, McCoy will be presented with the championship trophy for a 20th time. Fittingly, not least because he is the only one to have received it, it will be his to keep. He has effectively spent 1,040 weeks at the top of his game.

To put that into context, Tiger Woods was the world No 1 golfer for around half as long; Michael Schumacher was the leading Formula One driver for 364 weeks and Roger Federer the highest-ranked tennis player for 302 weeks.

"I am going to miss riding and I am going to miss the competitive side of it especially," McCoy says of his impending departure.

"When you start off all you want to do is ride but, when you are lucky enough to be able to win a lot, then there is an element of it becoming all about the winning. I am going to miss that.

"I don't know if I'm riding any better now but I'm definitely not riding any worse. The toughest thing of all in sport is that most people wait until the dip comes and then they retire, or wait until it looks like they might lose their championship or title and then they retire.

"I don't think that I am any braver than I was five years ago or any less brave. I know the risks, I have always known the risks, but I knew that timing it right was going to be difficult. It will be hard to walk away and retire from but I feel it's the right thing to do."

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