Tuesday 21 November 2017

"I am delighted Tony McCoy is getting out in one piece" - Paul Nicholls

Nick Robson

Paul Nicholls, who is providing Tony McCoy with his final ride in a Grade One race at Sandown on Saturday with Mr Mole, has warned that the champion jockey will not find life out of the saddle easy at first.

A former rider himself, Nicholls knows better than most what McCoy will be going through next week when he wakes up to the realisation that he is no longer a jockey.

Nicholls replaced the buzz of riding by throwing himself into a training career and is now the pre-eminent handler in Britain, but when he first started out in his new venture he was one of the earliest trainers to pick up on McCoy's talents.

While their relationship hit a rocky patch as McCoy moved to Nicholls' great rival Martin Pipe, they soon patched things up and have teamed up frequently ever since.

"AP and I go back a long way. I spotted his potential soon after he arrived from Ireland, and used him for the first time on Warfield in a boys' race at Sandown in 1995. They didn't win but I was impressed by his style and attitude and felt he would do for me any time," Nicholls told his Betfair column.

"In August that year we reached a gentleman's agreement that he would ride the majority of my horses. We shared a hatful of winners together, too, but I didn't have the numbers in those days and eventually AP moved on to join forces with Martin Pipe.

"Things were briefly a bit tricky between us, but that is all in the past now and I made up with AP in time for him to ride Belmont King to victory for me in the 1997 Scottish Grand National. He was the obvious choice, he was available and he seized the moment with a brilliantly aggressive ride from the front.

Read more: Tony McCoy graphic: We outline the broken bones and injuries he's suffered

"He has ridden plenty of winners for me since then and is as good now as he has ever been. It's also worth stating he is a genuinely good guy who always has a friendly word for the lads and lasses who look after the horses he rides.

"Obviously it helps that AP possesses a rare toughness of spirit that has seen him bounce back quicker than seemed possible from a series of bad injuries.

"I have to say I am delighted he is getting out in one piece. I am sure he is doing the right thing by stopping now, even though he sounds far from convinced about his decision to retire.

"You sense that he doesn't really want to end his career yet so Saturday will be a tough day for him. So will next week when the new season springs into life.

"At first he will not find life easy out of the saddle. But it must surely help that he bows out having fulfilled everything that a jockey dreams of achieving at the outset."

The Grade One race has been renamed the bet365 AP McCoy Celebration Chase and seven have been declared, including Sprinter Sacre.

It was after riding Mr Mole to victory at Newbury in February that McCoy shocked the racing world by announcing his intention to quit riding.

While many would love to see McCoy ride into the sunset on the back of another big winner, he will find it far from easy, not least with Sprinter Sacre in opposition.

However, having returned to action this season after a well-documented heart problem, it has not gone to plan for Nicky Henderson's star.

A thoroughly acceptable comeback run at Ascot preceded a dull run at Cheltenham and a similar display would surely leave connections with a decision to make regarding his future.

He will be ridden by Nico de Boinville in a race for the first time as Barry Geraghty has failed to make it back from injury.

De Boinville, currently battling to be crowned champion conditional, rides Sprinter Sacre in all of his home work.

Mick Channon's veteran Somersby has been as consistent as ever this season and nearly pulled off a huge shock at Cheltenham when second to Dodging Bullets.

Just behind Somersby was Special Tiara, who will appreciate the good ground more than most for Henry de Bromhead.

God's Own gave Un De Sceaux a fright in the Arkle and also went close at Aintree for Tom George.

Two other novices, Vibrato Valtat and Court Minstrel, are also in the field.

Read more: Tony McCoy's Magnificent Seven - the best wins in an extraordinary career

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