A quick spin with AP McCoy
How did you get started in racing?
I have four sisters and one brother and none of them have ever been on a horse in their lives but my dad had a bit of land at home and he ended up getting a thoroughbred mare. She had a foal and a man called Billy Rock, who trained horses in the north of Ireland, bought it off my dad and he got friendly with him.
I was lucky enough to ride a pony a little bit when I was young and then the first time I went out to Billy’s place, I was 10 or 11, and I rode a racehorse and that was it. I just loved the buzz and the excitement, the power and the speed and I was addicted from an early age.
What is your favourite race track and why?
Cheltenham. You only have to see the mayhem that it has created in the last couple of weeks, what other Festival has as many experts giving their views for weeks beforehand. I kind of half wonder how I managed to survive for 20 years knowing so little.
Who is your favourite horse and why?
Without any question, it’s Synchronised. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and his mother (Mayasta) was the first horse that I ever rode for JP McManus and Noreen. I won on her at the 1996 Punchestown Festival, Frank Berry trained her for JP.
I didn’t really ride for JP much again until seven or eight years later when I became his retained rider. JP has invested a lot of money in horses, and you buy them to try and win the Gold Cup. I often joke that Noreen bred him his only Cheltenham Gold Cup winner so for lots of reasons, Synchronised will always be my favourite horse.
What is your favourite Cheltenham Festival memory?
Winning the Gold Cup on Synchronised. You spend a lot of your life riding as a jockey, for yourself mainly. Even when I was riding in my first year for Toby Balding, I was champion jockey and then the next seven or eight I was riding for Martin Pipe and then I became an employed jockey to ride for the McManuses.
Even though I’d won a Champion Hurdle (Binocular, 2010) and a Grand National (Don’t Push It, 2010), I genuinely felt that the day Synchronised won the Gold Cup, as Roy Keane would say ‘you’re the goalkeeper, you’re meant to stop the ball from going in the net. That’s his job’.
I felt that day that I’d finally done what I’d been employed to do, it was probably the first day even though I’d been riding for them for years and had lots of success.
What’s your favourite Festival race?
The Champion Chase, I love the two-mile races. I love the Arkle, the Grand Annual, the Champion Hurdle. I love the speed and the very fine margins of those two-mile races.
Who’s your sporting hero?
I was five when Arsenal won the FA Cup in 1979. My dad had said to me that most of the team were Irish. Liam Brady was my sporting hero growing up as a kid and now I’m really friendly with him.
Name an opponent or rival you especially admire and why?
I admired everyone in the weighing room. There are very few sports where there are two ambulances following you around and I could easily go from Richard Dunwoody to Charlie Swan to Ruby Walsh or Barry Geraghty.
Richard Johnson tortured me for 20 years.
In terms of winning lots of races, even though I rode for lots of brilliant trainers, I wouldn’t have done it without him hounding me.
What’s your racing ambition? Do you have one?
It’s mad because I don’t know if as a jockey whether I ever achieved what I wanted to achieve. The thing that I’m most proud of would definitely be breaking Gordon Richards record for numbers of winners in a season. His record was there for 55 years before that.
I rode 307 winners in the calendar year 2002, which is the most of any jockey (Flat or jumps) in Europe, so that will always be one of my greatest achievements.
Name your dream racing trio (jockey/trainer/owner)?
When I first came to England, I used to just look at Richard Dunwoody and I’d say he probably thought I was a weirdo. I just used to think he was better than everyone else and I looked at him in awe so I’ll go with him as jockey.
Martin Pipe as trainer because he changed how horses were trained for the better.
JP McManus as owner, he has been going to Cheltenham for something like six decades.
Very few people last the test of time like that, you have to be a proper ‘racing addict’ to do that.
If you could change something about racing, what would it be?
In England, the governing body (British Horseracing Authority). I’d like someone to make positive, constructive decisions rather than destructive ones.
If you could be associated with one horse in training, who would it be and why?
I always thought the Gold Cup was the holy grail and no disrespect, you don’t go to the sales to buy a horse to win the Grand National.
You want to win a Gold Cup so at the moment I’d be saying Galopin Des Champs.
If you could relive one racing occasion, what would it be and why?
Pat Smullen’s charity race at the Curragh. Pat was there and the occasion was greater than riding horses. I don’t think I was ever as involved in something in terms of emotion and it would still get to me. If I could relive one day; it would be that day!
One horse that you think could be a future superstar?
Everyone is looking at Constitution Hill thinking that he is the second coming. In sport, you have lots of teams and players that are at the top for a short enough time but to be a superstar you have to have longevity. Right now, he could be a potential superstar but whether he gets to the level of an Istabraq or a Hurricane Fly that can win time after time, we’ll have to see.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? (Doesn’t have to be about racing)
My age (48).
What’s your most treasured possession (racing or otherwise)?
Other than my kids, my champion jockey trophy that I was given after I won my 20th championship. That was what it was all about for me. That sits on my kitchen table that I have breakfast at every morning so I get to see it a lot.
Who’s your favourite jockey of all time? Why?
Lester Piggott was the most famous jockey that ever rode a horse but my favourite jockey was probably Mick Kinane. I just thought he was so mechanically correct and if I was teaching a kid how to ride a horse, I’d teach them to ride like Mick Kinane.
Who would your three dream dinner guests be? (Doesn’t have to be racing) What venue would you choose?
Tiger Woods, Diego Maradona and Vincent O’Brien. I’d go with Adare Manor because I’d be hoping that I’d get a deal on it!
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Being able to rewind about 30 years and start it all over again.
*AP McCoy is an ambassador for Hospitality Finder and for William Hill