From the plains of Moneyglass in County Antrim to the top of that famous Prestbury Park hill, A.P. McCoy has been to the very pinnacle of National Hunt glory during his stellar racing career. While still acclimatising to the different way of life that is retirement, he tells Paul McNulty how, come March, that old Cheltenham magic never fades.
This will be Tony McCoy’s second consecutive Cheltenham festival commentating from the sidelines instead of being the one commentators fawned over. It’s safe to say he’s still getting used to the transition.
When he was in the saddle – the Antrim native was peerless. He won 20 jockey’s championships in a row and racked up 4358 winners – 1000 more than his nearest pursuer.
He won every race worth winning – including all the big ones at Cheltenham. No wonder he’s struggling with the lack of excitement in everyday life.
Retirement is “a totally different way of life,” he explains. “I’d be lying if I said there was the same excitement because there isn’t. It’s a completely different feeling. I don’t know that there is the fear factor that was there when I was riding.”
While most of us know McCoy as the jockey who won more races than anyone else ever has – he has the opposite view of himself.
“As a jockey, I rode a lot more losers than anyone else. I saw Tiger Woods on TV the other day and he was saying the same thing – he’s lost more golf tournaments than anyone else so he’s used to it. The reality of it is – even though people always talk about all the winners I’ve had; I’ve also rode a lot more losers than anyone else will ever ride so I can’t have been that good.”
That fear factor McCoy speaks about was the driving force behind making him the compulsive winner he became. The 42-year-old was crippled by fear that he’d lose his title, lose the next ride, lose his position at the top.
For years he had four names. He was Tony McCoy in the press and in England. He was AP on the racecard and he was Anthony to his close friends and family. There was only name he cared about though – what he was called by other jockeys. They all called him ‘Champ’. It started off as a joke – but McCoy felt he had to live up to the name.
“Warren Marston christened me ‘Champ’ after I won the jockey’s championship a couple of times. Embarrassingly, it stuck. I thought ‘this would get embarrassing if I’m not the champion anymore’. But luckily I managed to keep it up when I was riding. Did it give me an edge? I don’t know but it was just another thing that made me want to keep being the champ. I didn’t want to be a letdown.”
In many ways the only other Irish sportsman who came close to McCoy’s relentless drive was Roy Keane, who has had his own struggles with retirement. McCoy sees the similarity.
“Maybe I don’t have as many demons as Roy does – but we have a few there between us alright! Like a lot of sportspeople, I still think that I could probably do it. I made myself retire. I didn’t want to go on too long. I think it was the same for Roy really.
“Once you get into your forties as a jump jockey you are into borrowed time. When I started riding, if a jumps jockey managed to make it into his early thirties he was doing well. I know it was the right thing to do, to retire, but it’s still not that easy.”