Legendary champion jockey AP McCoy by his wife
Chanelle McCoy tells Una Brankin what her record-breaking husband is really like and how she's also a high-flier
Published 12/11/2013 | 13:00
Chanelle McCoy was nursing a little bit of a hangover at the weekend but her record-breaking husband had a perfectly clear head. The hugely successful couple celebrated Tony's 4,000th horse-racing triumph with friends and colleagues at The Outside Chance, the pub the champion jockey co-owns with Guy Sangster, son of the famous racehorse owner and breeder Robert Sangster.
"We had a big party in the pub and great fun with friends like Richard Hughes, Mr Pipe and Ronnie Bartlett," says Chanelle, down the line from Berkshire.
"There was a really lovely turn-out and we partied on to the early hours. Of course, AP's a teetotaller so he had no hangover. He has never drunk – he doesn't like the taste of it and he thinks it better not to in the sport he's in anyway.
"He did treat himself to a load of bacon and sausages the next morning though! There was food at the party but he didn't get time to eat and on the way home he said to me 'I'm starving'. He only has dinner about three times a week but he enjoyed the big breakfast the next morning."
The feel-good factor from the Co Antrim-born jockey's historic win last week seems to have connected with the whole country, even those without prior interest in horse-racing.
And as Chanelle's a Galway girl who met her husband at Punchestown in Co Kildare, the Republic's rejoicing too. The family also celebrated daughter Eve's sixth birthday on Saturday. The cute little girl was pictured with her two front teeth missing after the big race at Towcester on Thursday.
"She had trouble blowing out the candles on her cake with the teeth missing, God love her," laughs Chanelle (36).
Mrs AP McCoy is well-spoken, with a mild brogue, and comes across as very bright and direct. I'd left a message with Tony's agent last Friday asking for an interview with her but wasn't hopeful for a response, given the magnitude of the occasion. No-one was more surprised than me when she called the following morning. Not every millionairess and legend's wife would bother, especially when they are as busy as Chanelle McCoy.
Despite her husband's remarkable achievements and her independent wealth, Chanelle recently went back to work nine weeks after giving birth to her son Archie in August.
She has her own high-powered career, jointly managing her father Michael Burke's pharmaceutical firm, which employs 300 people and turns over £50m a year. A veterinary surgeon, Mr Burke named his company after his daughter when he founded it in 1983.
Chanelle Pharmaceuticals has a presence in 80 countries, operating in the fields of product development, manufacturing and distribution of generic pharmaceuticals. It has over 700 products registered worldwide and Michelle spends much of her working weeks travelling around Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
"I was back in the office nine weeks after Archie was born," she says. "We have a labs in the Middle East and India so I'm out there a good bit for a week at a time. When I'm overseas Eve goes to Northern Ireland to see her cousin – she adores it.
"She loves travelling on her own as she gets spoiled on the plane, otherwise my nanny will fly over with her. She's been doing that since she was three and-a-half and she loves it. She's very independent. It works well for all of us, it's great to have that family support."
Tall blonde Chanelle and lantern-jawed Tony first met 17 years ago at the Punchestown races. She was 19, he was 23. She moved to London to be closer to him in 2003 and they married in 2006, after a sometimes turbulent relationship which almost ended on several occasions due to the famously driven jockey's obsession with the sport. They had some spectacular arguments over Chanelle's smoking, which Tony disapproved of, and due to his admitted controlling nature and the pressures of his career at the time.
He has confessed that his 2011 autobiography was a public apology to Chanelle. "She was very young when we met, 19, and she went through a very hard time, mostly always caused by me," he wrote. "At times I did drive her to the point of wanting to leave, once for a year and once for eight months. But I was very lucky she stuck around and, as we say, all ended happily ever after."
Chanelle admits it was not a case of love at first sight for her at the Kildare racecourse back in 1996.
"I think he was a little more taken with me at the time ... we were introduced by a mutual friend and I remember trying to fix him up with my friend, who eventually became our bridesmaid. He was more of a grower for me – he grew on me a little bit at a time. He is a lovely person."
Over the years Chanelle has had to visit her husband in hospital more often than she cares to remember. After a bad fall in April, the jump jockey ended up in intensive care for five days when he broke his sternum, ribs, collar-bone, arm and punctured his lung. His single-minded determination to win has led to almost 700 falls from thoroughbred horses running at 30mph. During his 22-year career he has also broken his middle and lower vertebrae, both shoulder blades, an ankle, cheekbones, a leg and a wrist.
She tends to take the danger in her stride: "I don't think about it on a day-to-day basis. He goes out to work like any other husband and I don't watch the races during the day. I'll only know he has been injured if I get a call and he's in an ambulance on the way to hospital.
"When I go to the races I don't feel nervous – if he falls I'll watch to see if he moves, then I know he's fine, even if he has broken his collar bone. You learn how to grade the seriousness of it. It was relatively serious when he was injured in April but he came through it all right, thank God."
During racing festivals the couple spend early nights tucked up in bed watching race replays in their newly built five-bedroom house, with its self-contained annex and 30 stables on 80 acres of idyllic pasture-land in Berkshire. Chanelle displays Tony's accolades on the mantelpiece and gives her favourite – the silver-plate BBC Sporting Personality trophy – pride of place in the hall. The land is perfect for race-horse breeding and rumours are rife that Tony will retire to concentrate on training.
His wife admits it's a scenario she would like to see.
She says: "He definitely has no plans to retire – he genuinely loves getting up every morning and going to a race. He absolutely adores what he does so it would be very hard for him to give it up. He said he's really delighted that the Press is asking him is he going to go for the 5,000 – he thinks it's lovely that they have that confidence in him and believe in him."
She adds: "But he's his own worst critic and wouldn't go for it if he felt he couldn't. Personally I don't think he will – it takes five years to get to 1,000 and he's 40 soon, so that means riding another five years. 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."
The McCoys started IVF treatment in January 2007 after Tony had been warned that his use of hot baths to lose weight had led to fertility problems. As he wrote in his autobiography: "You don't think about your fertility when you are sitting in a piping hot bath for an hour every morning. You are thinking of keeping your weight in check, not that it might have a detrimental effect on your ability to procreate."
He recalled being told by a doctor that he was never going to have children as his sperm count was extremely low. "I was shocked," he wrote. "I froze some sperm there and then."
A month after starting IVF treatment, Chanelle was pregnant and Eve was born in November 2007. Tony called her "our little miracle – the child we thought we'd never have".
Last year Chanelle tried for a second baby but the initial treatment failed. A second course of IVF worked and their son, Archie Peader, was born in August.
"More children aren't on the radar at the moment," says Chanelle. "We had to have IVF to have the two we have and we feel very blessed. I've my career too, and we don't want to be greedy."
With Tony riding on Boxing Day, Christmas will be spent in Lambourn with friends Mick Fitzgerald, from Channel 4 Racing, and his family, along with Jonjo O'Neill's daughter Louise and her husband, jockey Dominic Elsworth.
"All the girls do the cooking together and we have great fun every year," says Chanelle. "Before that I'm taking Eve to Dubai for five days for a girly trip. It's nice for her if I can get away. It's very difficult to get a holiday booked in our house. We have to wait for AP to have an injury and in all our holiday snaps there he is with a neck brace on, or his arm in a sling.
"He never takes time off unless he has to, but as he says himself, he'll have all the time in the world to go on holiday when he retires. But I'm not holding my breath!"