Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Getting one over on immortal AP was extra special

Nothing gave our racing correspondent Richard Forristal greater satisfaction than his three victories over the legend – but as with every other pretender, there was no matching the 4,000-winner man's insatiable hunger for success

Tony McCoy celebrates his victory on Mountain Tunes at Towcester on Thursday – his 4000th career winner
Tony McCoy celebrates his victory on Mountain Tunes at Towcester on Thursday – his 4000th career winner
Irish Independent Racing Correspondent Richard Forristal as a 17-year-old having edged out McCoy on The Caviar Man in a tight finish at Worcester
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

In any sport, participating against and beating the best is the ultimate goal. For 20 years, AP McCoy has been every jockey's benchmark for excellence, defined as he is by an insatiable hunger for winners.

As a starry-eyed wannabe, I even remember being slightly perplexed by a statement he made explaining his relentless ambition. "All that matters to me in life is riding winners," he said in a nutshell.

Much as I wanted to get to the top of the profession, I simply didn't have the same be-all-and-end-all approach to riding that McCoy patently possesses.

For me, there was a whole other world out there that didn't revolve around riding winners, but for him it was tunnel vision. To this day, he rides every race like his life depends on it.

That's why he eventually sees off all the upstarts, because the next big thing can never match his commitment.

He had created his aura of invincibility before I ever began riding on the track in 1998. Then, as now, he was the one everyone looked up to. He didn't just set the standards that you aspired to reach, he set the standards by which you were judged. "He could be the next McCoy" or "he's no McCoy" are expressions we've all heard or said at some point.

In that context, directly denying him in a race is an endorsement every rider craves, and it was something I was lucky enough to experience three times.

A DECADE AFTER PACKING UP, I COULDN'T NAME MOST OF THE WINNERS I RODE, BUT I COULD GIVE YOU CHAPTER ON VERSE ON THE THREE DAYS I CONQUERED AP MCCOY.

Unsurprisingly, the first was the most memorable and dramatic. In the summer of 1998, my then boss Kim Bailey booked me for The Caviar Man in a handicap hurdle at Worcester because the horse had 12st and he wanted to claim off it. My first ride for Bailey, it was a decent opportunity and I was determined to make a fist of it.

McCoy was on Martin Pipe's Rags To Riches, joint favourite with The Caviar Man. When the tapes went up, McCoy tore on in front, as was the Pipe-McCoy style; I sat stone last of the nine runners, as I was told. The Caviar Man was a quirky customer, so I was under orders to be patient, and keep him on the bridle as long as I could.

Rags To Riches had his own ideas too, and McCoy spent the second half of the race driving him for all he was worth to keep him in front. By the time I came there to challenge in the straight, I was kidding my partner along as best I could without getting into the drive position.

He had only one burst in him, so I had to wait. At the second last, I let him join Rags To Riches on McCoy's outside. When I went for him, it was full bore. All of a sudden, our contrasting tactics had coalesced into one desperate joust to the line. We went hammer and tongs down to the last flight, and the game looked up when McCoy forced Rags To Riches back in front on landing.

The race analysis subsequently read that I threw the kitchen sink at The Caviar Man. That was necessary and turned out to be enough, as he bobbed his head in front again on the line. I didn't stop driving for another few strides, but when the adrenaline subsided I realised we were up when it mattered. Elation followed.

McCoy had been champion three times by then, riding 253 winners the previous term, a tally he has topped only twice since. I was a 17-year-old seven-pound claimer with a single winner to my name a month earlier, desperate to make an impression.

This was the statement I needed to make, a win that gave me the confidence to believe I could do the job. As I walked back to the weigh-room, I was 10ft tall – bulletproof.

The last time I outpointed McCoy was at Ludlow in May 2003. As on the first two occasions, he did his thing in front, this time aboard Pipe's odds-on Enitsag. My mount was Mark Brisbourne's hurdling debutante, Warminghamsharpish, which we fancied strongly. I tracked McCoy from the off, and we soon drew clear of the rest.

When we turned in, I slipped up his inside and the mare repelled Enitsag by three-parts of a length. By then, I had already resolved to quit riding when my licence expired in September, so it was sweet to feel that sense of one-upmanship once more.

It seems small-minded, but getting up McCoy's inside was always a source of extra satisfaction. If it was someone else, you mightn't even bother.

If McCoy left a gap, though, I'd be there in a heartbeat. Again, it was about making a statement against the best. When opportunity knocked, you didn't pass it up. You ran the risk of being left with egg on your face or getting an earful when you pulled up, but McCoy wasn't a drama queen. Others would make a song and dance about it, but not him.

A couple of months after that last triumph over McCoy, I won on Warminghamsharpish again, and then disappeared into the ether. McCoy kept on keeping on, because that's what he does.

It's nice to have the memories, although it would have served me better to have had his appetite. Then again, who does? The great man is a phenomenon, plain and simple. He has 4,000 winners to prove it. A riding immortal.

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