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Unique AP McCoy can never be replaced

By Richard Forristal

Published 31/12/2015

Leading the field: AP McCoy won a record 20 consecutive Champion Jockey titles
Leading the field: AP McCoy won a record 20 consecutive Champion Jockey titles

Even in his departure, AP McCoy changed the game. During 20 years of relentless, uninterrupted dominance, racing's most successful jump jockey transformed his profession from within. He changed attitudes of and towards jockeys, raising standards to an unprecedented level and redefining what it is to be a committed professional.

Through his undying hunger and an unnatural defiance of an above-average pain threshold, McCoy elevated the sport to another realm. His absence, then, was always going to leave a gaping void.

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This was a man who had changed the face of the sport, so his loss to it would leave it unrecognisable.

In 2016, for the first time since 1996, the British jump jockeys' trophy will have someone else's name on it.

Indeed, there will have to be a new trophy commissioned, as the British Horseracing Authority elected to award McCoy in perpetuity the one that he won perpetually.

It was a fitting tribute, because that is how deep McCoy's legacy runs. He owned the title - and now he is gone.

It is less than a year since the iconic figure from Moneyglass in Co Antrim made his intentions known live on TV after a typically valiant victory aboard Mr Mole at Newbury, but there remains a peculiar feel to the sport without the constancy of his feats. They were always there. He was never not champion.

The announcement, while a shock in its nature, was not unexpected. It had been clear for some time that McCoy wouldn't be chasing the 5,000-winner landmark, and, when the quest for an elusive 300-winner season floundered after a record-breaking early salvo, many surmised that championship No.20 might be his last.

When he made his intentions known, though, it crystallised his status as one of the greatest sports people.

We will never see another McCoy. That much is for certain, because he was a freak in terms of what he could forbear, both physically and mentally.

It should be physiologically impossible to remain injury-free for long enough to win 20 jump jockeys' titles in succession.

In reality, it is, but McCoy was so persistently driven by the fear of losing his crown that he went at it with a feverish gusto in the early months of the season, when most jockeys of his calibre are enjoying downtime. He never let up or let his focus slip.

The effect was twofold. On the one hand, he gave himself a mental edge over his rivals by sickening them from the get-go; on the other, he gave himself sufficient breathing space to absorb losses if he suffered an injury.

Somehow, though, McCoy did it, year in, year out. From Plumpton to Perth and everywhere in between, he clocked up the miles on a daily basis in the search for one more win. From such ordinary opportunities, he fashioned something truly extraordinary.

He rode with broken bones, punctured lungs, stitches and smashed teeth, because he could never let up.

Maybe more accurately, he could have, but he didn't want to give anyone else a sniff. He simply never allowed himself to relent from the grind.

"Pain is temporary, losing is permanent," McCoy scoffed in the insightful documentary 'Being AP' that was released in the autumn.

"It is like being an addict; I'm an addict to my way of life, to horses, to winning, because it's a drug. It wears off and you have to go back chasing it. I'm an addict to winning - that's what it is all about. The adrenalin is in winning."

After his glorious swansong at Sandown, one that movingly reduced the closest thing that he had to a nemesis in Richard Johnson to tears after he won the race in which McCoy signed off, the departing hero declared: "I am a has-been. A retired sportsman. I may as well go away and die now."

He was joking, but such was the ferocity with which McCoy lived his competitive life that you can be sure that - to him - it will have felt like there was some truth in what he was saying. What was left to achieve now?

This was the same single-minded mentality that had for so long, as he so candidly revealed in his penultimate autobiography, reduced his wife Chanelle to a subordinate role in his life. It was always evident in the categorical manner in which McCoy spoke of defeat and disappointments.

As someone who had won so much and had so much to be thankful for, it hinted a selfish, one-dimensional view of his own existence that didn't sit all too easily with some outsiders looking in.

This correspondent has previously related how, at a time when we shared a place in the weigh room, a statement that he made revealed to me the cavernous difference between us.

"All that matters to me in life is riding winners," he said in an interview at the time.

That's not all that matters to me, I vividly remember thinking. In all likelihood, it isn't all that matters for most jockeys, but it was a line that cut straight to the essence of McCoy's very being at the time. His dedication was absolute.

No one else possessed the same unambiguous approach, the same tunnel vision.

From the moment that McCoy burst on to the scene as a conditional rider with Toby Balding, he rode like his life depended on it. That's what set him apart.

It was never that he was just better or more talented than everyone else. He simply wanted it more than everyone else.

You could maybe match him for ability, but no one matched his ambition and his Spartan devotion to the cause over such a prolonged period.

In clocking up 4,358 winners, a memorable Grand National triumph on Don't Push It in 2010, two Gold Cup successes, three Champion Hurdles and a grand total of 31 Cheltenham Festival winners, McCoy did it all, over and over.

It took a while, but, in the end, his brilliance was recognised beyond the confines of the racing pages. He took the game to the sports pages and far beyond, a point highlighted by the acclaim that he generated in his adopted homeland across the water.

Following his Grand National victory, in 2010 he became racing's first recipient of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Whatever your take on that distinction, he was just the second Irishman to achieve the feat, emulating his fellow Ulsterman, Barry McGuigan.

This year, he received a Lifetime Achievement award at the same ceremony in Belfast.

Maybe even more remarkably, in March the 'Daily Telegraph' had him at number one on their list of the top 10 greatest living sports people in the UK. Ahead of Steve Redgrave and Bobby Charlton.

Alex Ferguson wasn't included in the Telegraph's top 10, but jump racing without McCoy is a bit like Man United without the abrasive Scot. It's not the same - and it never will be again.

Belfast Telegraph

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