Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 23 January 2018

All form points to McCoy finally taking BBC gong

It wouldn't bother the champion jockey too much, but English racing would love the publicity, writes Ronan Groome

The BBC Sports Personality of The Year award has a remarkable capacity to annoy sports fans. Especially the die-hards, most of whom claim to have given up watching the show a long time ago.

But it is getting to that time of year again and the annual petition in support of Tony McCoy's claims for the title has appeared. This time, it seems, there is more hope than ever.

Horse racing, of course, is a minority sport in Britain, watched by only a handful of people compared to the likes of soccer and cricket. How do you compare Ryan Moore or Frankie Dettori to the likes of Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard? Or match the achievements of Paul Nicholls against Alex Ferguson. It's a difficult one.

But racing loves its own champions and would dearly love to see them honoured. However, the majority of racing fans are resigned to the fact that their living legends will never get the recognition they deserve. A regular internet betting-site forum reply is; 'If Frankie Dettori couldn't win it with seven winners in one day, what chance has AP got?'

This year could be different.

The Antrim native has been champion jockey every year since he began his career in 1995, having won the conditional jockeys' championship in his first year in Britain, the year before he turned professional.

He has over 3,000 winners to his name and has broken every possible record: Number of winners in a season, fastest jockey to reach the 1,000 winners mark, all-time top jumps jockey are just some of the accolades he has achieved. Yet he has been continually overlooked by the BBC and the wider public. But as all the main contenders drop away this time round, McCoy is a clear favourite with all bookmakers to become the first racing figure to win the famous prize.

Indeed Dettori, Carson, and even the great Lester Piggott failed to take the award, with Dettori going close in 1996 when he finished third to Formula 1 champion Damon Hill and Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave. McCoy equalled that feat in 2002, again coming up against top opposition in record-breaking marathon runner Paula Radcliffe and David Beckham.

But the form this time round looks to be solid. Wayne Rooney and his England teammates can safely be ruled out after their dismal performances in South Africa, while Andy Murray probably gave up his chance by failing to progress at the US Open. There was no British winner of The Open and it would appear that only an F1 champion would pose a serious threat to the champion jockey at this stage, with a few athletes such as last year's third-placed Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, the only other candidates.

Prior to this year, McCoy hadn't won a Grand National in 14 attempts, which was compared to Bjorn Borg without a Wimbledon or Lance Armstrong without the Tour de France. The fact that he finally got it done is the key. The National is the most famous race in the world, something the BBC know well, and McCoy's timing seems to be perfect in terms of this award.

After Don't Push It kicked five lengths clear inside the last half-furlong, the champ, who finds it hard to give much away emotionally, was clearly ecstatic and he couldn't hold back the tears moments after the race. You could see how much it meant to him. One by one, his peers, who have the upmost respect for him, went out of their way to congratulate him. Not only that, Don't Push It also provided a first National winner for Jonjo O'Neill -- who had tried as both a jockey and a trainer -- and a first winner after nearly 30 years of ownership for JP McManus.

The team of three had come so close on previous occasions, most notably when Butler's Cabin came down at Becher's second time round and when Clan Royal was famously carried out by a loose horse at the same obstacle.

The scene in the parade ring during the aftermath was one of great relief, pride and celebration, a moment that prompted the word 'fairytale' to be splashed across the Sunday newspapers the following day. For McCoy, it was a moment of completion, a feeling that he had done everything he needed to do.

The once-a-year punters are bound to have got a taste of what racing is all about and public affection for McCoy must have been running at an all-time high.

A public popularity contest may be nice, but it's likely AP still has higher priorities within racing. He has said that he still dreams of the day he will ride 4,000 winners and he still has to break his own records again. But racing would be a big winner if he were to land the award and that must be lurking in the back of McCoy's mind as well. Racing For Change, an organisation put together by the British Horse-racing Authority to promote the sport, have been on the case for a couple of months now, and would appear to see an ideal PR coup.

McCoy's achievements are enough for him to go close in any year, but with all the other major players having fallen by the wayside, odds as short as 11/8 suggest racing will finally have a modern day household name. As records and awards go, the personality of the year would struggle to get on to McCoy's mantelpiece. But for racing, it would take pride of place.

Sunday Independent

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