Sunday 22 October 2017

Rachel Wyse: McCoy will continue to push the boundaries as far as he possibly can

Tony McCoy is doused in champagne by fellow jockey Andrew Thornton after his historic win at Towcester
Tony McCoy is doused in champagne by fellow jockey Andrew Thornton after his historic win at Towcester

Rachel Wyse

'McCoy makes history.' It's every headline-writer's dream. To add "yet again" to it somehow slightly diminishes the impact – but it's true. AP McCoy has, yet again, shattered every record and performed superhuman feats in riding 4,000 winners.

The media, quite rightly, are making a massive deal of it. We should celebrate our heroes; long ago poems and songs would have been written about this extraordinary man, who has conquered all that lay before him, like Alexander the Great conquered the ancient world. Now we get less lyrical statistics – nearly 1,500 more winners than anyone else has ever managed, 18 champion jockey titles.

The man himself almost certainly wishes no one had noticed. It's like the Grand National – every year reams of newsprint asked whether this would be the year he finally triumphed and then what happened to each one. Of course he wanted to win it, but not really to tick a box. It was more like he should win it because that's what he does, win races. And because once he'd won the wretched thing, everyone would stop going on about it and leave him alone.

IMPORTANT

It was obviously very important to McCoy that he reached 4,000 wearing his boss JP McManus' green and gold silks. His agent Dave Roberts must have been turning rides away this week – surely he was inundated with requests for McCoy's services? Who wouldn't want their horse and their colours splashed across the news?

McCoy has become so synonymous with these colours that it seems odd now to look at old pictures of him in the green, blue and white of David Johnson, for whom he rode so many winners during his time with Martin Pipe. McCoy is deeply loyal to McManus – and McManus knows that McCoy will ride every one of his horses, good or bad, with exactly the same fierce desire to win.

Watching him ride in a midweek chase the other day, I marvelled at how, at the age of 39, he can keep winging down to a fence on a long stride with the courage of a teenager who knows no better. It's not as though he is really superhuman – he has falls and he breaks bones. It's just that, a lot of the time, he doesn't tell anyone about them.

I first met him when I rode in the St Patrick's Day Derby, the charity race at the Cheltenham Festival, in 2011. McManus kindly allowed me to ride one of his horses, Silent Jo, and McCoy helped me with some race-riding training. I'd ridden horses all my life and I thought: 'How hard can it be?' I found out that it's very hard indeed. The physical demands of the race amazed me – and that was one race, on one day, on the Flat. It really brought home how tough, brave and skilled any jockey has to be; for McCoy, we've run out of superlatives.

But spare a thought for Richard Johnson. If McCoy had never existed, or had turned his hand to driving racing cars or playing football, he'd be the record-holder we're all talking about. He's ridden 2,551 winners, has finished runner-up in the jockeys' title zillions of times and is a phenomenon in his own right. Like McCoy, he never gives up on a horse and is strong as steel in a finish.

He's also a really nice guy, who is the first to praise his weighing-room neighbour. But his epitaph will be "the best jockey never to be champion" – unless he waits it out until McCoy retires (and he's more likely to spontaneously combust than do that).

Fred Winter was the first champion jump jockey to ride more than 100 winners in a season – 121 in 1952-53. Peter Scudamore was the first to ride more than 200 – 221 in 1988-89. Then McCoy hit 253 in 1997-98. That was his third season as champion, and has cleared the 200-barrier six times since. His greatest ever total was 289 in 2001-02; about 150 more than second-placed Johnson.

Jockeys aren't like other sportsmen. Instead of eating carefully calibrated diets, most of them have to starve themselves and restrict their fluid intake severely. And then, if they do eat, it's probably a 'Kit Kat' rather than a portion of salmon and spinach. Instead of regulated training and rest periods, they drive stupid amounts of miles round the country, get up at the crack of dawn and ride all sorts of dodgy horses and risk damaging themselves before they even get to the racecourse. And they do this most days of the year.

They're nuts. What drives McCoy on to such extremes? We can theorise all we like, but we don't really know – we're not him and we're not like him. Yes, he does have a system in place in his life that means he only has to worry about riding horses. He is driven to the races and Gee Bradburne organises pretty much every other detail. And he has an incredibly supportive and understanding wife, Chanelle. But you could give any of us all of those aides and we couldn't even begin to do what he does.

Could he ride another 1,000 winners? It's not impossible. At the rate of 200 a year – which in itself is breathtaking – in theory he could. He'd be 45, which in jump jockey years would make him about 100, but I wouldn't bet against it.

The one thing you don't ask him is, 'what's next?' He'll look you in the eye and say, 'the next winner.'

But one day it will be over – it has to be. Training, surely, would drive him mad. Imagine him not being in control of a horse once he legs someone else up. I don't think he could accept the limitations.

His first novel, 'Taking The Fall,' is about to be published, but I can't see him churning out a bookshelf full of thrillers.

He would be a fascinating TV pundit and he has become more relaxed and capable on-screen in the past few years. But that wouldn't hold his interest for long, I don't think.

I think he'll surprise us and do something totally different. But he will continue to stretch himself and to push boundaries as far as he possibly can. He doesn't know how to do it any other way.

Irish Independent

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