Warrior Tony McCoy opts to go out at the very top
This time next year, someone other than AP McCoy might be on the verge of being crowned champion jockey in Britain.
More likely, we could be immersed in a two- or three-way battle royal to see who will top the pile. It will be the first time that either scenario will have transpired for over 20 years.
The inimitable Richard Dunwoody, McCoy's own hero, won the last of his three titles in 1995 - a year after that punishing duel with Adrian Maguire that sent both men to the brink of their sanity.
Dunwoody was one of the finest riders and most ferocious competitors that the sport has ever seen, but there are many racing fans under 30 years of age who would know little or nothing of the man who preceded McCoy as champion. That is the Co Antrim native's legacy - McCoy first, the rest nowhere.
In 1995, he rode a then record 74 winners in his first season as a jump jockey in England, finishing up as champion conditional, seventh on the overall table.
Above him were Dunwoody, Norman Williamson, Maguire, Jamie Osborne, Peter Niven and David Bridgwater.
Below him the likes of Mick Fitzgerald, Warren Marston, Mark Dwyer, Tony Dobbin, Graham Bradley, Graham McCourt and Brendan Powell. Andrew Thornton is the only other rider listed in the top 50 still going, laboriously edging towards the landmark 1,000-winner mark.
For the past 20 years, Moneyglass-born McCoy has transformed racing's landscape to the point that it will be unrecognisable without him. And he has done it in more subtle ways than the patently obvious.
At the risk of being accused of a sweeping generalisation, the up-and-coming delegation of jump jockeys are a different collective to the vintage on the way out.
They are less hell-raiser, more health conscious; less capricious, more committed. There's good and bad in that, but most would accept it as the reality of the situation.
It is something that I spoke about with a leading rider recently, one closer to McCoy in vintage than the new generation. Contrast the weigh room that McCoy first walked into, to the one that he will walk out of. They are incomparable.
It will always be a cut-throat environment in which an edge is required to thrive, but the days of the feckless maverick who gets by on talent alone are over.
Society has doubtless played a part in that, but AP McCoy transformed attitudes from within.
He never drank and never smoked; he is always on time, does the weight and never turns his nose up at Catterick or Ayr, which is where he is today and will be tomorrow. He is the uber-professional.
We saw when he got buried at the first flight in Saturday's big hurdle race at Newbury immediately after making his announcement following that remarkable triumph on Mr Mole that this game has its own way of keeping you grounded.
But McCoy could manage fine without Catterick or Ayr or Kelso on Thursday. He never took advantage of that indulgence.
No one ever wanted to win more than him, so he proceeded to set the standards for everyone else to match.
Of course, no one ever will emulate what he has achieved, but the aspiration to do so required the entire profession to reassess the way it went about its job.
McCoy has always had his critics, too. He might not have Paul Carberry's innate talent, Ruby Walsh's authoritative composure or Timmy Murphy's sublime style. In the end, though, his sheer will to win, his hunger and ambition and the conviction with which he applied himself compensated for any perceived deficiencies.
"I've no regrets whatsoever because I really think I've over-achieved, to be honest," he said frankly yesterday as he reflected on his incredible career.
"I think there has been as many good jockeys as I have been; not being arrogant, I think I've done well for myself.
"A lot of what I've achieved has just been through working hard and the fear I might never achieve them again and that's probably what is making me retire, the thought it might never happen again."
McCoy is the most complete package, and he will rightly be lauded over the next few months as a living legend, a warrior-like sporting phenomenon whose self-deprivation and sacrifice to the cause border on extinction in the world we now live in.
He is an iron man, whose ability to endure pain was again revealed in his quest to finally break the 300-winner mark this term.
A fall at Worcester in October left him with a dislocated collarbone, two broken ribs and a punctured lung. He rode three days later, and it was only after another fall dislodged his collarbone again that he accepted it was necessary to stand down.
He missed three weeks, and with it his last goal went unconquered. That it was ever deemed achievable says it all.
"Through those three weeks I was a bit broken mentally, to be honest, as I'd got to the point where I'd won the championship for coming up 20 years, yet I genuinely believed I was getting better," McCoy says of the elusive dream.
"When that happened the time had sort of come but I wanted to make sure I was going to win another championship first, and in the last week or so, getting closer to 200 winners, I'd spoken to JP (McManus, retained owner) about it and Dave (Roberts, agent) and I decided it would be good to announce it after riding 200 winners as that is a bit of an achievement and I wanted to announce it on a high.
"Most of all, I wanted to retire when I was champion jockey; I've spent 20 years of my life chasing it and I'm still as I want to be and maybe I just need a break from that.
"When I got injured and realised 300 had gone I suppose that told me. Riding 200 is a big thing, only a handful of people have ever done it before, Peter Scudamore was the only jump jockey.
" I'm not one to blow my own trumpet but it's not an easy thing to do. You have to stay in one piece but most of the time you're not in one piece; it's mind over matter.
"For anyone to have longevity in sport you have to really enjoy it and I do, but there's been times it has drove me mad and I've been sitting in a dark room wondering what is going on in my life.
"I've always felt I could never get where I wanted to go, chasing something I could never catch but I think the time is right."
This season, McCoy has ridden the fastest 50 winners, the fastest 100 winners, and he is operating at a massive 30pc strike-rate, with a career ratio of around 24pc. He is 40 years of age.
His closest pursuer Richard Johnson has a wins-rides ratio this term of 18pc. McCoy is the professionals' professional, but he is more than that. He is simply unique.
This is a man who once rode 289 winners in a season. The only jockey who bears legitimate comparison in terms of consistent excellence over such a long period of time is Gordon Richards, who won 26 titles, rode 269 winners in 1947 and partnered 4,870 winners.
The difference is that Richards plied his trade on the Flat, so he never took the punishment that McCoy has as a matter of routine.
Twenty champion jump jockeys' titles, a running tally of 4,313 winners, 200-plus in nine seasons and every big race in the calendar including the Grand National, which he finally plundered to such widespread acclaim aboard Don't Push It in 2010.
Since 1981, there have been four champion jump jockeys in Britain. Scudamore, Dunwoody and John Francome accumulated an aggregate 15, McCoy 20, all by his own self.
He has always been quick to credit Roberts, who was party to his decision to call time.
Roberts has been a constant presence and he is one of McCoy's closest confidants. He is an exceptional agent who has also created an unprecedented legacy all of his own, but he was also just an agent - a facilitator.
He didn't make McCoy what he is, just the same as Martin Pipe or Jonjo O'Neill didn't.
Roberts was also my agent and I rode for O'Neill for a spell, but a silk purse from a sow's ear they cannot make.
McCoy has been the master of his own destiny, and his feats will not be surpassed. Ever.
At some stage over the next few months, once Cheltenham and Aintree are out of the way, one of the greatest Irish sportsmen will finally cry enough.
Racing will never be the same again, and we will never see his like again. Rarely has it been possible to make such statements with such surety.
Born: May 4, 1974
Apprenticeship: Four years with Jim Bolger - rode work on horses such as Irish Derby winner St Jovite and Oaks winner Jet Ski Lady.
First winner: Legal Steps at Thurles on March 26, 1992.
Joined Toby Balding at start of 1994-5 season after riding 13 winners (six on the Flat) in Ireland.
Joined Martin Pipe in 1996.
Appointed retained rider for millionaire owner, JP McManus, at the end of the 2003-04 campaign.
First winner in Britain: Chickabiddy at Exeter on September 7, 1994.
Champion conditional jockey: 1994-5 with 74 winners - at the time a record for the number of wins by a conditional jockey (he finished seventh in the full jockeys' championship).
Lost right to claim when won on Romany Creek at Nottingham on February 28, 1995.
Beat Sir Gordon Richards' record total of 269 winners in a season on Valfonic at Warwick on April 2, 2002.
Became all-time winning-most jumps jockey, beating Richard Dunwoody's record of 1,699, when winning on Mighty Montefalco at Uttoxeter on August 27, 2002.
Champion jockey: 1995-6, 1996-7, 1997-8, 1998-9, 1999-2000, 2000-1, 2001-2, 2002-3, 2003-4, 2004-5, 2005-6, 2006-7, 2007-8, 2008-9, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14
Best season: 289 winners in 2001-2
1,000th winner: Majadou, Cheltenham, December 11, 1999.
1,500th winner: Celtic Native, Exeter, December, 2001.
1,700th winner(new record): Mighty Montefalco, Uttoxeter, August 27, 2002.
Awarded MBE: 2003.
2,000th winner: Magical Bailiwick, Wincanton, January 17, 2004.
3,000th winner over jumps in Britain and Ireland: Restless D'Artaix, Plumpton, February 9, 2009.
4,000th winner over jumps in Britain and Ireland: Mountain Tunes, Towcester, November 7, 2013.
4,192nd winner over jumps in Britain and Ireland: It's A Gimme, Market Rasen, July 19, 2014. This took him past his old ally Martin Pipe's career total of winners.
Champion Hurdle winners: Make A Stand 1997, Brave Inca 2006, Binocular 2010.
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner: Mr Mulligan 1997, Synchronised 2012
Champion Chase winner: Edredon Bleu 2000.
King George VI Chase winner: Best Mate 2002.
Grand National Winner: Don't Push It 2010.
Awarded 0BE: 2010.
Named BBC Sports Personality of the Year: December 2010.
1994-95: Rode a record 74 winners as a conditional jockey.
1996-97: Broke Peter Scudamore's record for fastest century in a season by 30 days.
2000: Reached 1,000 career winners in just five years and 51 days.
2001-02: Partnered an amazing 289 winners in a season,.
2003-04: Notched up his 2,000 winner at Wincanton on Jan 17.
2008-09: Restless D'Artaix's victory on Feb 9 is win 3,000.
2010: Achieved a lifelong ambition when Don't Push it landed the Grand National at Aintree by five lengths.
2013-14 : Became the first jockey to ride 4,000 jumps winners in Britain when Mountain Tunes won at Towcester on Nov 7.
2013-14 Passed old friend trainer Martin Pipe's career tally of 4,191 winners on July 16.