Tony McCoy: I'd love McIlroy or Clarke to take my TV crown
Racing legend gives inside track on new autobiography
Tony McCoy thinks long and hard when asked who he thinks will succeed him as BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Last year two Ulstermen — McCoy and US Open-winning golfer Graeme McDowell — were front runners for the coveted accolade.
And amazingly two men from these shores — golfers Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy — are among the favourites this time around as well.
“Darren winning The Open at that stage of his career was a bit like me winning the Grand National when I did — and I wouldn’t have won BBC Sports Personality without winning the National,” said McCoy, explaining why he thinks Clarke might just have the edge in next month’s public vote.
“But Darren and Rory will have tough opposition for the award from the likes of Mark Cavendish, a hugely inspirational sportsman.
“But it would be nice to see Darren or Rory winning it.
“You do get recognised a bit more but it hasn’t changed my life or it hasn’t changed me.
“I felt very proud and honoured to win it — which, of course, was down to people voting for me.
“Luckily for me, a lot of people got behind me.
“I was surprised to win because there were nine other very worthy candidates on the shortlist.
“Darren will be among the favourites to win it this year but obviously Rory McIlroy is an amazing talent.
“Rory is one of the best players in the world but can he go on to win as many Majors as Tiger Woods or Jack Nicklaus — who knows?
“How he does in the years ahead will define whether he becomes a sporting great.
“We’ve been very lucky in this part of the world with the sports stars we have produced over the years — George Best, Barry McGuigan, Alex Higgins, Willie John McBride to name but a few.
“George Best is the most famous sportsman — most famous person — ever to come out of Northern Ireland.
“Will Rory become more famous than George Best? We’ll see.
“When I was growing up, I was big into sport. I loved watching all the big names.
“In football, as an Arsenal supporter, Pat Jennings and Liam Brady were my heroes.
“But I would watch whatever sport was on, and still do.”
And McCoy, who incredibly has been champion jockey for the past 16 years, doesn’t sit on the fence when asked about the day that saw him transcend racing.
“It was the greatest day in my racing life,” recalled the man from Moneyglass, Co Antrim who made his long-awaited breakthrough in the big race for the first time last year on Don’t Push It.
“The Grand National is the one race that everyone knows about, even those with no interest in racing.
“There have been lots of jockeys better than me who have never won it so I feel very lucky.
“It would be very difficult for Don’t Push It to win another Grand National given the big weight he will be carrying.
“Don’t Push It has always been a very good horse but he is very hot headed and is a bit of a recluse.
“He has a state-of-the-art complex open to him but he chooses to live out in a field with just a sheep for company,” smiled McCoy.
“I suppose you could say he’s ‘different’. But he always had huge potential,” he added.
“In the Grand National, if your horse is jumping well early on, then you know you are in with a chance.
“I have been on horses in the National in the past and I have known after a few jumps that I am not going to get round.
“But on Don’t Push It last year, I knew from a very early stage that he was enjoying himself.
“And he’s the sort of horse that, when he enjoys himself, he can be very good.”
McCoy yesterday returned from a two-day ban, incurred because of the controversial new stricter whip rules.
The ban had originally been for five days — and ironically its reduction cost McCoy a holiday in the sun.
“If it had stayed at five days I would have headed off somewhere hot.
“Not everyone is going to agree with the rules that a governing body set down.
“But if the sport is better for the new rules then we have to try to abide by them.
“Personally I think the rules were fine the way they were. Maybe the punishments should have been more severe.
“We are basically allowed to use the whip half as much as before, yet the punishments are now roughly twice what they used to be.
“If you are competitive, in the heat of the moment if your horse is responding, you will keep trying to find a bit more and it’s difficult to keep count.
“It will take a bit of time for us all to get used to it.
“I don’t think the authorities in Ireland, France, America, wherever, will follow Britain’s lead.
“In stewarding in Ireland there is more emphasis on common sense and discretion — and I think racing is better for that.
“No-one ever wants to see horses getting abused and they don’t get abused under Irish rules,” stressed McCoy, who cited Peddlers Cross, Captain Chris and, particularly, Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly — the Champion Hurdle winner — as horses that have impressed him recently.
“Hurricane Fly is a very, very good horse. But he has had a lot of injury problems.
“He has a chance of being like Kauto Star (left) or Istabraq — a truly great horse. But it will depend on his injury situation. He’s the one they all have to beat at the moment,” he said.
McCoy is renowned for his love of riding winners — he has well over 3,000 to his name after all and, at 37, has no intention of calling it a day for a long time yet.
“Your hunger for winners gets stronger because you are living in fear of not being as good as you were before, not winning as many races,” he said. “But it’s easier to be hungry if you enjoy what you are doing.
“I love what I do and don’t actually feel that I have ever done a proper day’s work in my life.
“I feel very lucky I do a job I love doing,” he explained.
“Things used to get me down a lot more when I was younger than they do now.
“But my daughter Eve (right) is four and when I come home after racing, it doesn’t matter how it has gone, she wants entertaining.
“She wants me to watch ‘Peppa Pig’ or ‘Dora the Explorer’ and read stories to her.
“There’s no time to be dwelling on what has happened that day — which makes things easier.
“But time is the enemy of every sportsperson and at some point your career comes to an end.
“When you enjoy what you are doing, you want to go on a bit longer.
“I don’t think about retiring — when the time comes, it comes,” said McCoy, who feels he might not be cut out for a career as a trainer once he steps down from the saddle for the last time.
“You have to be careful what you say about a fella’s horse because it is his pride and joy,” he said.
“Sometimes I’m not sure that I’d be great at not telling an owner what he doesn’t want to hear. Sometimes I’d be more truthful than diplomatic and
that’s not always the best route for a trainer to take. Dealing with the owners is as much of an art as training the horses.
“I love racing so I’d like to stay involved in some way,” he added.
McCoy, who has just brought out an autobiography, has already dabbled in television work.
“It’s fine if you are going to be good at it but I wouldn’t want to be one of those sportspeople that people find very hard to listen to,” he said.
McCoy will not shirk the issue when the time comes to retire, and is brutally honest about his switch from the stable of champion trainer Martin Pipe back in 2004 to Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus.
“I rode for Martin for a long time and felt the need to prove myself. Any jockey riding for Martin could have been champion jockey,” is McCoy’s frank assessment.
“I rode 189 winners for him in one year — that showed that he had the numerical power to make anyone champion.
“He could have made even a mediocre jockey the champion.
“I felt that riding for Jonjo and JP would be a new challenge, something different.
“After all, if it wasn’t for Jonjo and JP, I wouldn’t have won the Grand National.”
AP McCoy, My Autobiography (published by Orion Books)