Belfast Telegraph

Billy Weir on the box: Absolutely peerless Tony McCoy

By Billy Weir

For the past 20-odd years, AP McCoy has been something akin to a jump racing version of Usual Suspects bad man Keyser Sose - his greatest trick was letting you believe that he didn't really exist because despite his fame, fortune and fantastical achievements, he was more the quiet man than myth.

Not anymore. At not long past half four on Saturday, the silks were hung up one last time on a peg in the Sandown Park weighing room, he picked up his huge bottle of mayonnaise and with that, he was gone.

Although, unlike Kevin Spacey, you get the feeling that he hasn't disappeared from our sights for too long as since he announced his retirement the man who largely shunned the limelight for two decades has been illuminated like a lighthouse wearing a hi-vis jacket and a miner's helmet.

He has been everywhere this week, popping up on the Clare Balding Show before being guest of honour on Channel Four's early equine eye-opener on a Saturday, The Morning Line.

Although it did have a slight feel of being more like The Mourning Line as there was a sense it was more RIP than AP with a narrow line being straddled between celebration and commemoration.

"I thought I better come on because it's probably the only time you'll want me again - my last appearance on television I'd have thought," he told presenter Alice Plunkett to an audience that didn't believe a word of it.

There were glowing tributes from comedians and great sportsmen and Tim Henman, who combined the two, but the best came from former rival and one of his best friends, Carl Llewellyn, who summed up why he was so good - "he doesn't do a tap".

Thankfully he didn't have much to do on Saturday afternoon, just the two rides, which was handy as most of his day was spent being interviewed or being presented with something, the big surprise being that Balding hadn't muscled Nick Luck out of the way for the biggest gig in town.

But there was only one star around, as Luck said in his opening piece to camera.

"We celebrate the career that's about to come to a close of quite simply one of the greatest men, one of the greatest sportsmen and a legend in horse racing," he said, as we all started to well up.

By the time we had a guard of honour, a parade and impromptu bursts of singing of 'For He's A Jolly Good Fellow' it was fast becoming more like The Last Night of the Proms although more green and gold being waved than red, white and blue, and when Alastair Down gave his own tribute, I was reaching for the hankies myself.

Time for some perspective from Luck.

"When he was first champion jockey, Google didn't exist and only 17 per cent of us had a mobile phone, it does make you think," he said as we wondered had he Googled this information or texted someone for the stats.

His first chance for a last hurrah came and went on Mr Mole, where, ironically, he was beaten by Sean Bowen, a cherubic chubby-faced star of the future, but he thankfully didn't bring AP onto the stage to show him what he could have won.

Racing's great and good continued to have their say but the best came from a man synonymous with McCoy's magnificence, JP McManus, who revealed the secret of his success was that, "he doesn't just get involved, he gets committed".

"It's a bit like the guy who has bacon and egg for his breakfast, the hen is involved, the pig is committed, AP is the bacon," he said as the collective heads of a nation tilted sideways in the way a dog's does when you slowly let air squeak out of a balloon.

We moved swiftly on for McCoy's final mount, on board the aptly named Box Office, which had never had it so good at Sandown as man, women, boy, girl and foal all stood as one to cheer him to the start. More lumps in throats than steaming lumps in a stable.

There was no fairytale finish. It didn't need one, his story has been so incredible it would have been cruel to ask us to cram in another memory, but while Lady Luck evaded him Mr Luck caught up with him one last time, where AP, choking back the tears, uttered a barely audible, "I've had an unbelievable day" and off he trotted into the sun.

"AP McCoy, what a champion, what a gentleman and it has been an absolute honour and a privilege to bring you his final moments," concluded Luck, but my guess is that you will hear from him again.

Belfast Telegraph

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