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AP McCoy may have to take a back seat to Chanelle in retirement

Jockey AP McCoy's glittering career ends at Sandown today. So is his wife now finally calling the shots in the household? Underestimate her at your peril, writes Jane Graham

Published 25/04/2015

Chanelle McCoy
Chanelle McCoy

They say that behind every great man there's a woman rolling her eyes. If that's true, Chanelle McCoy must have very tired eyes. She's been married to champion jockey AP McCoy for nine years, but first met him in 1996, when she was just 19.

During that time, the self-confessed horse-racing obsessive, who runs his last race at Sandown today, has broken almost every bone in his body, confessed to prioritising his career over his family, and even, inadvertently, put pressure on the couple's attempts to have children.

AP's list of achievements over the past two decades are dazzling, but it's been one hell of a ride for Chanelle, too.

The jockey described his 2011 autobiography as a long apology to his Galway-born wife, and it's certainly true that 37-year-old Chanelle has put up with many things other women would shrink at the thought of.

The years of knowing that she was married to a man who regarded being a husband as secondary to being a jockey must have been tough, and AP has always been very open about his "selfishness" in this regard.

"I only thought about myself and my career," he told me on the eve of the memoir's publication. "That was the important thing as far as I was concerned - making sure I was successful. I'd tell my younger self not to be so hard on my wife. We've been together a long time, and it's only now she's being paid back for all the hardship over the years."

This hardship, a combination of AP's career fanaticism and his disinclination to compromise ("I used to be in total control of my wife, we only did what suited me," he told me), occasionally brought the marriage to a state of near collapse, with Chanelle, in AP's words, twice driven "to the point of wanting to leave, once for a year and once for eight months".

The words "long-suffering" have been applied to Mrs McCoy many times, and there can be few sports widows for whom they are more appropriate.

It is probably this version of the couple's past - alongside endless newspaper photographs of a glamorous blonde Chanelle posing at the races in a fabulous flouncy designer hat - that have led to a general perception of her as the dutiful little wife, or the fluffy Wag.

This is a huge mistake, as one chap discovered when he cheekily asked Channel 4 Racing on Twitter, "How's AP gonna be able to fund @mccoy_chanelle wardrobe once retired?" Quick as a flash, Chanelle, who generally uses Twitter to sweetly thank people who have wished her well, retorted: "Luckily, I have my own job, so AP doesn't have to fund me." And that was him told.

In fact, there's every reason to think of Chanelle McCoy not as the saintly little woman happy to take a back seat to her husband's glittering career, nor as the frustrated hand-wringing wife struggling to bring her husband into line, but as the crucial backbone of AP's long success.

The sports pages are rarely interested in the part strong wives play in the accomplishments of major stars, but ask anyone who knows the Rooneys, the Gerrards, or even the Woods (before Tiger's better-half abandoned him to a career that subsequently nose-dived); the influence of a supportive, formidable wife cannot be underestimated.

And Chanelle McCoy is made of tough stuff. How many women could emerge from 10 years of marriage to a man whose job could kill him any day as unscathed as she has?

She will have lost count of the hospital visits to a man who's broken his middle and lower vertebrae, both shoulder blades, an ankle, cheekbones, a leg and a wrist. But she probably remembers the fall in April 2013, when her jump jockey spouse ended up in intensive care for five days after breaking his sternum, ribs, collar-bone and arm and puncturing his lung.

Yet she has always taken a philosophical approach to the ever-present danger, and says she doesn't feel nervous when she goes to see him race. As for when she's not there: "He goes out to work like any other husband and I don't watch the races during the day," she told this paper last year. "I'll only know he has been injured if I get a call and he's in an ambulance on the way to hospital."

She's also, as her swift Tweet to the observer who assumed she was a kept woman made clear, an independent businesswoman. She is the joint manager of her father Michael Burke's pharmaceutical firm, Chanelle Pharmaceuticals, which, in spite of the charming family name, is no local chemist. The company has a presence in 80 countries and turns more than £50million every year.

Chanelle spends much of her time travelling across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and thrives on her work so much that she was back at the helm a mere nine weeks after her second child was born. This is no pampered Wag, spending her days flicking through high-end catalogues and choosing which £300 scented candle to spend her husband's money on.

There have been other trials, perhaps the most gruelling of all, the challenges that met the couple's attempts to have children. It turned out that the years of steaming hot baths that AP had subjected his body to in order to keep his weight down had impacted badly on his sperm count.

He wrote in his autobiography of his shock when he was informed of the ill effects, which were so dramatic that IVF was the only option. Fortunately, it worked, and daughter Eve was born in 2007, with brother Archie following six years later.

And it does seem that Chanelle is finally calling the McCoy shots. Some will say it's about time - including AP himself, who confesses: "I'm now one of those husbands who just does what he's told. I've achieved the things I wanted to, so it's easier for me to live like that now."

So how instrumental has Chanelle been in AP's decision to call it quits? She admitted last year that she hoped her husband would retire soon: "It might be selfish of me, but I'd like to get him out in one piece. I want him healthy. He's a dad and I want him to be there for the children." And when asked if she dreamt of her son following in his dad's footsteps, she said quite firmly: "I wouldn't like to see him be a jockey."

AP's pal, trainer Jonjo O'Neill, told a newspaper recently that it was Chanelle who confided in him that this could be AP's last season, to which Jonjo's initial response was: "Don't be so bloody soft".

O'Neill also says that AP will struggle to replace the adrenaline rush of racing, describing retiring as "like dropping off the end of a cliff". But he also accepts that "he's married. He's got two kids. And the falls are bad".

Even his racing addict friends can see that AP's tenacious wife has earned her right to make some big requests.

And there's no shame in listening to a clever wife.

A life so far

Hails from: Galway

Family: Met husband AP McCoy at Punchestown in Co Kildare in 1996. They married 2006 and have two children - daughter Eve, born in 2007, and son Archie, born 2013.

Career: Co-manager, with her father, of family's international company, Chanelle Pharmaceuticals.

She says: of AP: "[The marriage] just works for us because I have that level of independence."

AP says of his wife: "We do things her way, whether I like it or not."

Belfast Telegraph

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