Belfast Telegraph

Why McCoy should have won Beeb award 13 years ago

By Robert Fenton

AP by name and absolute perfection when it comes to sporting prowess.

That's how Anthony Peter McCoy can at last be seen after taking the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

But why did it take so long?

He should have been given the honour 13 years ago when tennis player Greg Rusedski held aloft the replica BBC camera for reaching the final of the US Open. Tennis also produced the runner-up in Tim Henman while rower Steve Redgrave was third.

Tony was not on the radar in 1997 even though he achieved a rare double at the Cheltenham Festival in being successful in the Gold Cup (Mr Mulligan) and the Champion Hurdle (Make A Stand).

That was an outstanding sporting achievement against the very best National Hunt racing had to offer on that famous equine stage.

He did feature in 2002, gaining third spot behind athlete Paula Radcliffe and David Beckham after beating Sir Gordon Richards’ record of 269 winners in a season and surpassing another Ulster jockey Richard Dunwoody as the all-time top jumps jockey with 1,699 winners, a total which is now well beyond 3,000.

But that lack of recognition was a reflection of racing’s standing in the public domain and that profile needed changing.

So, all credit to those such as the British Horseracing Authority, trainers, race tracks and fellow jockeys who played significant roles in altering the perspective.

Each in their different ways, pulled out the PR stops to ensure that Tony featured not only in the racing press but in regional, national newspapers and business magazines.

‘Vote AP’ races were promoted at various venues around the country in the run-up to the event but winning the Grand National — one of the few races now shown on BBC — for the first time after 15 attempts on Don’t Push It last April was the prime factor.

The National was the one key event to have previously escaped McCoy’s clutches but while it is seen by the public as the most memorable race in the world, it does not compare with winning a Gold Cup or Champion Hurdle.

Yes, Tony wanted that ‘Grand’ victory for himself and owner JP McManus and trainer Jonjo O’Neill, but the Grand National is a handicap lottery, the other two are true tests of quality and ability.

It has to be said, however, it was only the National that opened the door for the ‘Spoty’ prize which at the end of the day, did mean something special to the 36-year-old from Moneyglass.

He now has earned the right to stand with the sporting greats and to be recognised by those who otherwise give horse racing little notice.

In becoming the first racing personality to triumph and the first Ulster winner since Barry McGuigan in 1985, mighty McCoy shares an honour attained by an elite few.

Sports Minister, Nelson McCausland echoed the sentiments of many by saying: “Tony is a deserved winner with his exceptional achievements. Northern Ireland has produced world class sportsmen and women throughout the years and it is clear that we will continue to do so in the future.”

An avid Arsenal fan who exists on a diet most of us would find hard to stomach, the champion has acquired the knack for keeping the ball at his toe at all times and never losing his focus on life.

He has come a long way from being the taciturn, self-possessed individual with one thing in mind — riding winners and crunching numbers as he broke one record after another.

Winning is still very important to him but after the year he has just enjoyed, there is not much more for the likeable Ulsterman to aim for.

AP won’t see it that way of course. He constantly sets himself targets and will continue to do so until he no longer sits in the saddle on a competitive basis.

We should be thankful for that as we can anticipate more magnificent moments from the man of whom all in the province can be immensely proud and who, more than any other, has put horse racing on the wider sporting map.

Belfast Telegraph

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