Tony McCoy: Co Antrim jockey known simply as AP ends his unrivalled career today
Twenty championships, more than 4,000 winners... the jockey known simply as ‘AP’ ends his unrivalled career today. Jon Freeman talks to those who know this phenomenal Ulsterman personally and professionally about what makes him so special.
The Wife, Chanelle McCoy
Married McCoy in 2006. The couple have two children, Eve (seven) and Archie (20 months). Director of medical business, Chanelle Medical.
I’m definitely glad he’s retiring. It will be a huge sense of relief.
There’s obviously a lot we will miss, a lot of great times, but when you strip everything back, it’s a very dangerous job. I won’t have to worry about injuries any more.
Blase might be too strong a word, but in the early days I wouldn’t spend my time worrying about the injuries, that was just part of his job, but it was different when the children came along.
The longer his career went on, the more worried I would get. He works every day with an ambulance following behind him and when he got another injury I was always worried what I was going to find.
A bad fall he had a year last May, when I was pregnant with Archie, really hit home. He had a punctured lung, then the lung collapsed, he had air pockets around his heart and he ended up in intensive care because he was at risk of a heart attack.
He was lying there in Gloucester hospital, half-conscious, surrounded by doctors and rigged up to machines. I always think if you break something, even your back, it’s fixable, but when it comes to organs and internal injuries that’s something else and really worrying.
He has about 900 rides a season, maybe 280 winners, but 50 to 60 falls, some worse than others. Sometimes he wouldn’t say, he’d hide it from the racecourse doctors.
I’ve seen him come home with a broken ankle, strap it up himself and carry on riding. He has an incredible pain threshold.
Of course, he’s going to really miss it all, the day-to-day routine, the valets and the jockeys in the weighing room, everything. Anthony has been like an addict for 20 years and there’s going to be that period of withdrawal.
But he won’t wallow too much, it’s not his style, he’s very positive. And he has so many great friends and golfing pals, quite a few of them retired jockeys as well. He’s very down to earth and doesn’t complain, an absolute gentleman at home.
Sometimes he has been very embarrassed about all the attention. He sees himself as just normal, not a superstar. For me, he’s a better person than he is a jockey, which will tell you how highly I think of him as a person.
I suppose what I will miss most of all is the buzz it gave him. The big beam on his face when he came back home after riding a double or treble or four-timer. That satisfaction of a job well done.
It’s definitely a case of looking forward to the future rather than worrying about it. It’s funny, all four of us were sitting round the table having dinner together the other day and Eve said: “This is weird.”
Little things like that will be so nice, things other families take for granted. And we’re actually going to have a holiday as a family lasting more than three days for the first time. We’re going to Barbados for a week.
My favourite moment was his 4,000th winner because we had the children with us and knew it was going to happen, unlike his Grand National win.
We could enjoy the whole build-up, it was a great kick for two weeks. And we’re going to have another great day at Sandown tomorrow. It will be a celebration, absolutely.
The Trainer, Jonjo O'Neill
Twice champion jockey himself, now a leading trainer, based in the Cotswolds at Jackdaws Castle, owned by JP McManus, who has retained McCoy since 2004.
It’s easy to remember his great rides for us in the high-profile races, like when he won the Gold Cup on Synchronised and, obviously, the Grand National on Don’t Push It. He gave them fantastic spins, didn’t he?
And there was also that incredible ride he gave Wichita Lineman at Cheltenham. But there were lots and lots of other times he pulled a race out of the bag on lesser-known horses at the little tracks that went under the radar.
We would get a great kick out of them as well, because these horses might not have won a race otherwise.
We all decided that AP was the man for us when he became available. I thought he had a bit of potential! (McCoy had already won nine of his 20 titles).
He was the one man out there we said we didn’t want riding against us. He’s not just a fantastic rider, he’s the complete article: he loves to school the horses and then he knows them for life; he knows how to ride all the tracks; and he does his homework so knows how the opposition are going to be ridden. He’s outstanding.
Synchronised winning the Gold Cup is a great memory. I said to AP that if he was still in touch with them going out into the country for the second time that he would win because he would come home strongly and that’s how it worked out.
He couldn’t make his mind up between Don’t Push It or Can’t Buy Time in the Grand National, but I persuaded him to ride Don’t Push It because he had a touch of class about him and I knew that we had him right on the day.
Of course, we’re going to miss him. How can you replace somebody like AP? But we’ll have to find somebody, won’t we? It’s going to be very interesting now with something like 250 winners a season up for grabs, spread around amongst the rest of them.
The Commentator, Simon Holt
Channel 4 Racing’s main commentator since 2000.
We have all marvelled at the high-profile races McCoy snatched out of the fire, like Hennessy in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown in 2009, which I thought was a miracle — the horse was never going.
But I have also been lucky to see him do the same sort of thing on countless occasions around the gaff tracks when his sheer force of will has been communicated through the reins to the horse.
His trademark has been the salvager of lost causes. No jockey has won so many times on horses that didn’t deserve to win.
His style hasn’t suited every horse, but he has always been tremendous at finding that little bit extra. A jockey would tell you more, but just things like being in exactly the right place at the right time, or changing the reins, have so often made the difference.
And another thing I think he can be immensely proud of is that, despite being so strong in a finish — perhaps Richard Johnson is the only rider as strong — he has such an exemplary record when it comes to his use of the whip.
I remember when he was much younger he had to go back for extra training on whip use, but it must be years since he was last in trouble on that score. That’s a wonderful example for any aspiring jockey coming through.
We’re all going to miss him; not just for his riding but for the sort of man he is. I was commentating at Worcester last October when he had that bad fall in the last race (he was still on the ground 15 minutes later) and I remember having a bad feeling in my stomach when I left the course that this might be the beginning of the end of an era.
He was out for quite a bit longer than expected and maybe that was something that had an effect on his decision to retire, but anyway, the next day they were unveiling a statue of him at Newton Abbot and he was there! Obviously, he wasn’t riding and I understand he was in a lot of pain, but he said he would go and he did.
The Mate, TJ Comerford
Travelling lad with Aidan O’Brien.
We go way back to when we were both riding out at (Irish trainer) Jim Bolger’s as teenagers.
I’ve always called him Anthony, maybe not in company when everybody else is calling him AP because they wouldn’t know who I was talking about. Can you believe it, I used to loan him money back in those days. He always gave it me back, but I wish he hadn’t now. Think of the interest!
I had great aspirations to be a jockey. I thought, “If Anthony can do it, how hard can it be?” But it went pear-shaped. I broke my neck in a point-to-point at Malton when I was over in England working for Mary Reveley.
I had another go after that and maybe had about 20 rides in all, but no winners. I was no good at it, so I decided to go back to Ireland and got a job at Ballydoyle (O’Brien’s stables). But we have stayed firm friends ever since.
He’s an absolute gent. I’ll tell you something that happened recently. I was asked by one of the lads at Ballydoyle if I would try and get Anthony to come over and present the stable staff awards the Tuesday after the Grand National.
It was very short notice, I knew how busy he was and I didn’t want to annoy him, but I asked him and he just said, “Yes, I’ll do it, I’ll cancel my rides”.
Then Chanelle had said maybe it would be nice to call in at the apprentice school as well.
The lads there thought I was having them on when I told them he was coming, but he turned up and was fantastic, had pictures taken with everyone and everything like that.
They couldn’t believe it. Job done, he flew back the next day to ride at Cheltenham. He just said it was a good cause and that was it.
My best memory of him riding was back in 1998. My favourite horse in all the time I have been at Ballydoyle is Istabraq, but my favourite Anthony moment is when he beat him on Pridwell in the Aintree Hurdle.
Istabraq had just won the first of his three Champion Hurdles, but Anthony got Pridwell back up on the line to win by a head.
It was an amazing ride.
The thing about Anthony is you will never meet a better or more accommodating fella and he’s always been like that. I know everyone says nice things like that at times like this and people will be thinking, “Yeah yeah, I’ll bet he’s a b******** really”. But I really, really mean it. The man is pure class.
The Jockey, Tom Scudamore
Son of eight times champion jump jockey Peter Scudamore. Stable jockey to David Pipe since 2007, he is neck and neck with Richard Johnson in this season’s riders’ championship which ends at Sandown today — with both of them more than 80 winners behind McCoy.
The man we know as AP was still stable jockey for Martin Pipe when I first went there as an 18-year-old after school.
I think I had met him twice before, but it was fantastic to be able to work with somebody who was a bit of a legend even then.
I learnt things from him, but it’s difficult to say he taught me this or that because, of course, it’s all very competitive and nobody wants to give their secrets away.
But I picked up bits simply by watching him closely. There was the intensity and the dedication, but also the way he conducted himself in and out of the saddle.
The AP ride that left the biggest impression on me was on a horse called Arlas at Worcester (in 2001).
I had just turned pro at the time and thought, “OK, it’s time to take on the big boys”. Arlas was just never going, but bit by bit, AP got him travelling and jumping.
It was just lots of tiny things, really, but from having no chance whatsoever, suddenly there was only one winner. It was an expert at work and I remember realising at that moment just how far I had to go.
Yes, he will leave a big gap when he’s gone, but so did Terry Biddlecombe, so did Richard Dunwoody, so did Peter Scudamore, when they retired. Life goes on. I think that rather than getting down about that, we should instead be grateful that we had him for so long and for how much he has done for the sport.
My dad won eight jockeys’ titles, but at school nobody had a clue who he was. Everyone knows AP McCoy.
The Boss, JP McManus
One of the leading owners and has been McCoy’s main employer since the champion jockey moved on from trainer Martin Pipe’s yard in 2004.
The duo have had great success, with McCoy wearing McManus’s emerald green and gold silks when winning the Grand National at the 15th attempt on Don’t Push It in 2010.
McManus feels McCoy’s winning ride on Synchronised in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup “was something outstanding”.
“There’s never a right time to go,” said McManus.
“But it’s nice he’s picking the moment — on his own terms.
“I’ve grown to love him more and more. There’s something deep and great about him.”
When asked how he would replaced, he said: “We’ve had him cloned!”
Reflecting on when he first heard of McCoy, McManus said: “(Trainer) Christy Roche said to me ‘Have you seen this young fella McCoy riding?’ He should be handicapped not the horses!
“Our coming together did not come easy. He was very, very loyal to the Pipes.
“We never had a contract. Never had anything written down.
“I have utmost respect for him. It was not only a pleasure to have him ride winners for me but it also gives me great pleasure to see him ride winners for other people,” added the Limerick man.
McCoy rides Mr Mole and Box Office for McManus at Sandown today.