AP McCoy; the winning machine that simply won't stop
As he sits on the brink of a remarkable achievement, we take a look at one of Ireland’s greatest sportsmen.
Sporting records fall into a couple of different classes. There are the ones you can see being broken, like Usain Bolt’s world record, probably by the man himself one day. There are the ones that seem likely but no more than that, like Jack Nicklaus’ 18 Majors (we're still looking at you Tiger). Then there are those that you know you won’t live long enough to see smashed, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
Then there’s jockey AP McCoy. His number of winners, 3,998 at the time of writing, is out on its own like a distant planet, never to be reached by another living soul. When, not if, he hits the 4,000 mark this week, he will be rightly lauded as a true giant of his, or any, sport, and one of this island’s all-time greats.
The life of a jump jockey is not an easy one. Speak to any of them and they will soon regale you with tales of broken bones, long car journeys to far flung racecourses, and miserable rides in freezing conditions on no hopers.
They all do it because they love it, but nobody loves the act of winning as much as Anthony Peter McCoy. You don’t rack up winners at that rate McCoy does without being driven, and driven beyond the norm at that.
It’s 21 years since the 17-year old rode his first winner, a Jim Bolger horse called Legal Steps in a Flat race in Thurles. The youngster continued to grow, meaning he was destined for a career over obstacles rather than the Flat.
In September 1994 he rode his first winner in England, aboard Chickabiddy at Exeter, and it has been a cavalcade of success - very hard won success in fairness - ever since. For some sports people the numbers don’t do justice to the greatness of their achievements but once again, McCoy is an exception.
In that first season in Britain he won the conditional jockeys title. The following year he booted home 175 winners to win his first Jockey Championship. He has been champion jockey ever since, a frankly ridiculous feat in a sport where injuries can knock you out for months at a time.
Ups and downs: Being attended to after a fall at Newbury in 2002
In his second year he rode 189 winners, 253 the next, 186 the next and in the 1999/2000 season he rode his 1000th winner, Majadou at Cheltenham. Since then his average of about 200 winners a year has managed to not only retain his precious champion status, it has also propelled him past every other jockey who ever hopped into to saddle.
In 2001/02 he rode 289 winners, the most ever in a season, beating Gordon Richards records. He blew past the win totals of Richard Dunwoody (1699), Peter Scudamore (1678) and John Francome (1138), his predecessors as champion jockey all the way back to 1980/81, with ease. In time, he should accumulate more winners than all three combined.
And that’s the key part of this week. Yes, we will stop to acknowledge a great feat, but McCoy himself won’t. When he breaks it, he won’t take the day off to enjoy it. Instead he will fulfil his requirements, at Towcester, or Musselburgh, or Hexham, looking to grab another win.
These places, and horses, are far from the glamour days of National Hunt racing. He’s had those too, of course. Gold Cups (2), Champion Hurdles (3), a King George, a Tingle Creek and a full suite of Grand Nationals, completed by his Aintree success on Don’t Push It in 2010 mean he has tasted all the highs that his sport has to offer.
'Appy McCoy: The champ really enjoyed finally landing the Grand National on Don't Push It
But he is not sated. In fact, as he told Andrew Longmore in this week’s Sunday Times, there is only one scenario in which he will quit. “Mentally I wouldn’t be able to cope with not being the champion. If that day comes, and I’d like to think I’d see it coming, there’d only be one reason and that’s because I’m not good enough anymore.”
As it stands, a few months shy of his 40th birthday, he is still far and away the best. You hear the phrase 'only AP would have gotten that win out of that horse' with stunning regularity at courses and betting shops. He's a marvel, and he might be in some of his best ever form.
It is only the first week in November and he already has 117 winners. Over the last fortnight, has been winning at a rate of one in three and if you fancy a punt, Ladbrokes are offering 5/1 that the Antrim man will eventually break the 5,000 winner mark.
Would you bet against him?