Matt Tombs / Thursday 7th November 2013 / 22:00
Life expectancy has increased from about 50 to 80 in the last century, massively changing our society. Nearly everything about that has been good, but one downside is that the likelihood of a relatively comfortable old age, (compared to a 100 years ago,) has made us an incredibly risk averse society by comparison. That’s only human nature – if you expect something to kill you by the time you’re 50 (and if it doesn’t and you get to be old its likely to be a really hard existence) – you’re likely to want to live your young adult life to the full, without worrying too much about the risks.
That almost inevitable risk aversion in modern society means there are fewer heroes, as many people feel they’ve got much more to lose by taking big risks. That just makes the daily risk taken by jump jockeys all the more heroic. For many of us, that bravery is an integral part of why we love jumps racing more than other sports where participants are just as skillful, but need to be rather less courageous.
Anyone who rides regularly over obstacles has to be brave, not just to do it, but to keep doing it after suffering the inevitable injuries. Even amongst the tough and brave there will always be the occasional person who takes those qualities to a completely different level, and in racing that person is Tony McCoy.
Of all the iron man stories, for me the most awe inspiring concerns a fall at Warwick in January 2008 that left McCoy with two shattered vertebrae in his back and another with 2 fractures. That meant no chance of riding at the Festival 8 weeks later.
Unless of course you decide to subject yourself to cryotherapy – sitting in a chamber at minus 145 degrees. Allegedly even McCoy found that painful.
One of the most amazing things about McCoy is his appetite for winning on moderate and bad horses. Once in their 30s most of the top jockeys become much more selective about what horses they ride and give themselves days off to recharge their batteries. That ought to enhance their longevity, but McCoy doesn’t need that. 0-90 handicap on a Monday? Same complete and total effort as in the Gold Cup. The drive he has is astonishing.
There’s been much debate about his best ride, and realistically he’s best placed to call it, as he knows just how any particular horse was acting during a race. A couple of years ago he picked out Wichita Lineman in the open 3m handicap chase at the Festival, and the recent poll in the Racing Post suggests that’s right.
Looking at top class races, I’d add his Aintree Hurdle win on Pridwell. Pridwell was one of only two horses to beat Istabraq in his pomp, (both were over 2½m on bad ground which stretched the champion’s suspect stamina.) The other was the great Limestone Lad who beat Istabraq fair and square but, talented horse though he was, Pridwell had no business beating Istabraq even at the trip. McCoy somehow got the, often reluctant, Pridwell up by a neck under a huge drive.
McCoy used to get a lot of stick for not smiling and being talkative. Of course it’s great when someone is interviewed and they’re upbeat and full of interesting views. But geniuses are geniuses naturally and us lesser mortals need to try and accept that. Some are flawed, George Best style, and don’t fully utilise their God given talents. By contrast, others are so focused that in those sorts of interviews their mind is often in a different place – in McCoy’s case, absorbed in how to win the very next race he’s riding in.
Better to remember how modest and humble he is. Inevitably deflecting praise to the horse or the trainer when the difference between winning and losing was his ride. He represents the jockeys, good and not so good and is always willing to devote his time for good causes – illustrating that being brilliant at your job is no reason not to be a role model in your wider life too.
Appropriately enough, the 4,000th winner wasn’t on the likes of My Tent Or Yours, Jezki or At Fishers Cross. It was at Towcester in a novices’ hurdle. Mountain Tunes will be a name for racing quiz goers to remember and this point winner looked a nice enough long term prospect when winning on his rules debut. He had looked much less of a short term prospect, bucking and kicking in the paddock and green in the race. Coming to 2 out he looked beaten, but, on script, McCoy produced a typically power packed finish to get him up by ½l close home.
McCoy will be 40 in May and has said he wants to go out at the top, (and that he couldn’t see himself continuing to ride if someone else was champion.) He’s set himself his old boss Martin Pipe’s tally of 4,182 winners as his next target. I think it might well be his final one. He’ll be champion for the 19th time this season and if he’s champion again for a 20th time next season he’ll beat Pipe’s landmark of 4,182.
Ladbrokes originally priced up the total McCoy career winners with less than 4,500 at 7/2, which was crazy. There is no way McCoy will want to carry on once his powers are in decline and he probably wouldn’t get to 4,500 by the end of the 2015/16 season. The 7/2 is long gone but 7/4 is still good value as my guess is he’ll retire at or close to the end of next season. The 5/6 Paddy Power are offering on him to retire before the end of the 2018/19 season should be about 1/10.
There aren’t many heroes around these days, and we’ll miss him all too soon, so lets all raise a glass tonight to AP.
Genius. Iron Man. Hero.
AP McCoy Specials