ON THE SATURDAY of The Grand National, in early-mid April every year, millions up and down the British Isles flock to the bookmakers for a flutter, to place a bet for a number of different reasons. Some only bet because they have partaken in a sweepstake at work, others on the name of the horse, and some for the colours being worn by the smaller than average men (and women – tip of the cap to Katie Walsh). The one constant factor in deciding where to put your money, apart from the institution that the race has become in the sporting calendar, was because Anthony Patrick McCoy is on-board.
Born in Moneyglass, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on 4th May 1974, he has grown into the defining sportsman in his chosen discipline. Pub discussions about who’s better than who over a pint of the dark stuff wouldn’t last very long if the chosen sport up for discussion was jump racing. Far less glamorous than the ubiquitous Barclays Premier League, but far more strenuous on the bodies and minds of the gladiators who choose to make a living going over eight feet high fences between thirty to forty miles per hour. With dwindling crowds and dwindling prize money, it is not a sport for a faint hearted.
On January 12th 2008, AP fell and broke the middle vertebrae in his back; an injury that his doctor believed would take 16 weeks to heal. Thanks to Kriotherapy, he was back in the saddle at Sandown for the first of six rides a week before the Cheltenham Festival, the show of shows for those in the know on the Sport of Kings. A record breaker and a pace setter ever since his first British winner aboard Chickabiddy at Exeter on September 7th 1994, it was no surprise to find out he also holds the ‘Krio’ record amongst professional sportsmen and women, plunging into the cold-room for more than three minutes at -148 degrees Celsius.
McCoy is a nice man behind the gaunt face and the winning glare. At the Grand National Meeting in 2010, this reporter went to the Thursday with his parents. Before one of his races, I asked him for his autograph. He replied, “I’ll come back in a minute”. That is where the signature searching would end with many top athletes, consumed in their self-importance, but AP came back, signed my autograph and when I said thank you he answered, “My pleasure, no trouble”.
If you want to know his statistics, try Google, this is not an article regurgitating facts and figures. What needs to be said more than anything is that he realised the role he played in racing, as it’s figurehead, and ambassador to break through the glass ceiling to wider acclaim. It was very fitting that he remained Box Office to the last in the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown this past Saturday.
The footage of ‘The Greats’ is now in the Archives, and mostly in Black and White. This was history in colour, more often than not the yellow and green of trainer JonJo O’Neill and owner JP McManus. The racing public will pine for one more race, another pump of the fist, another grin flying past the winning post for the illusive winner number 4,349. Don’t Push It.