With his impassive stare and determined, jutting jaw Tony McCoy looks like a man who when you approach him it is a case of “who dares wins”.
But AP, as he is affectionately known, is one of the nicest people in racing and couldn’t be more helpful when it comes down to the nittty gritty — namely the horses he feels he has a chance on in Cheltenham.
Cheltenham is the grand prize for all jockeys. “That goes without saying,” he told me. “The jockeys would prefer to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup rather than the Grand National, that is my view anyway.
“It is the public who prefer the National and that’s what makes it so big every year. I have yet to win it, so perhaps I am biased.
“But I have had a previous success in the Gold Cup with Mr Mulligan and of course I was twice a winner in the Champion Hurdle with Make A Stand and Brave Inca. So I can’t complain.
“This year I feel I have a marvellous chance with Denman in the Gold Cup but don’t push me on it. He disappointed when falling at Newbury in a prep race but you have to make allowances. He was being trained by Paul Nicholls for the Gold Cup and that is the way it stands at present.
“To be perfectly honest, I feel that Denman can win the Gold Cup despite his recent aberration. So I am hopeful and it will really make my day if I could return to the podium at the end of the Gold Cup.
“There is no doubt that the Gold Cup is the pinnacle in this game. Anything can happen but I am really confident for once that I can produce the goods.
“It is easy to talk about your prospects at Cheltenham but it is a very hard place at which to win.
“I have had 21 successes there since 1995, when I made my first appearance.
“The only jockey I have to fear at present is Ruby Walsh who is the leading jockey of the moment. But then he had a tremendous selection of rides and he should be odds-on favourite to win the Jockeys Championship at the Festival.
“There is pressure on Ruby for everyone knows he is on the big race specialists, and he has a worthy favourite for the Gold Cup in Kauto Star but I intend to upset him with Denman.
“I am not looking back with anger at that last defeat. It is something you can gain from and perhaps Denman wasn’t at his best. But everyone knows the Gold Cup is his major objective and I aim to bring him home in front.”
McCoy pointed out that he has a fine record as a jockey at Cheltenham and has beaten the likes of John Francome, Richard Dunwoody and Charlie Swan in the ranks of Festival favourites.
“That’s not bad is it?” said Tony with an impish grin.
“Of course I will not be annoyed if Ruby takes over this year as he is a close friend and I put him up at my house every time he comes over for the Festival. We are extremely good friends and we admire each others’ style.”
McCoy was at pains to remind me that it was Walsh’s father, Ted, who organised a helicopter to take McCoy and Walsh to Billy Rock’s funeral. Rock was McCoy’s mentor and his death saddened him in a way which no one quite knows.
In fact, at the funeral I remember Tony sobbing on my wife’s shoulder, he was really devastated by it. For Rock had been the man who launched his career back in those early days when McCoy was just a small boy buzzing about the stable as a willing hand.
I remember one day when Rock had a big race winner at Down Royal he realised he couldn’t find young McCoy and we discovered him in one of the racing stables contentedly bedded with Rock’s horse!
McCoy went everywhere with Rock in those days and he still looks back with affection at the man who taught him all he knows. He was responsible for him hitting the road to triumph, first of all with Toby Balding and then Paul Nicholls before he moved on to Martin Pipe; since then he has signed up with Jonjo O’Neill.
Before then he was a flat jockey and was signed up by Jim Bolger who carved out McCoy’s early career until he was badly injured in a fall.
As a result his weight went up, which meant he could no longer ride on the flat but had to turn to the jumping game.
Back to Cheltenham meanwhile, and McCoy is of the opinion that he has at least four good rides at this year’s Festival.|Captain Cee Bee from the Eddie Harty stable is in the Arkle Novices Chase and is expected to win, while Karabac is fancied strongly for the World Hurdle.
Binocular is among the big names for the Champion Hurdle and then of course we have Denman in the Gold Cup.
All being well, McCoy feels he can land a reasonable haul from what he regards as the toughest and most satisfactory meeting of the year.
Whether or not he does, remains to be seen, but you can be sure that his winning smile will still be on his face win, lose or draw. He has a charismatic personalty and they can’t change it.