Fifteen Years A Bridesmaid
We’re living in a golden age.
In my lifetime I’ve been allowed to stay up and watch Muhammad Ali in his pomp. I’ve seen Diego Maradona essentially carry an otherwise mediocre Argentina side to victory in the World Cup on his ridiculously talented shoulders. Sachin Tendulkar has taken the expectation of a billion people on board and still been able to set standards in aesthetic beauty, sheer durability and weight of scoring. Michael Schumacher and Tiger Woods have taken sports I wouldn’t normally touch with a bargepole and made me want to watch them as they set astonishing levels of consistent performance and achievement.
That’s just some of the people who are going to end up as truly immortal sporting figures. Hopefully one more will be added to this rarified company, and typically it won’t be in a global final in front of a worldwide audience of billions, but at a (probably) drizzly, overcast Towcester racecourse.
Step forward Anthony Peter McCoy.
Now there are some people who will tell you that the milestone he is approaching, 4,000 winners, is just a number. Well to be fair to them they are right, it is just a number. The reason it has no relevance to anything previously (unlike scoring 1,000 runs in May or 30 goals in a season) is that no one ever thought that any human being would approach it. And yet here we are.
Some context. Purists of a slightly older vintage will put forward three names, John Francome, Richard Dunwoody, and Peter Scudamore as better jockeys in terms of horsemanship and technique. Well Francome was champion jockey 7 times, and retired having ridden 1,138 winners. However he does also seem to have discovered the secret of eternal youth.
Dunwoody finished top of the tree 3 times, and rode 1,699 winners, and Scudamore was top man 8 times, taking 1,678 rides to the winner’s enclosure.
Now look at 4,000 again. Bit more impressive isn’t it?
In the glamour races McCoy has a decent if not outstanding record. He has won all the big glamour races (Grand National, King George, Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase etc. etc. etc.). His greatness isn’t in winning the big ones though. In common with his long time employer Martin Pipe it is in the day in day out grind of the national Hunt season.
McCoy is made of flesh and blood for sure. He has, in common with most top jockeys, broken almost every bone in his body, often many times, and keeps coming back for more. Every single day. He earns his money cajoling and sometimes manhandling journeyman runners over the line on a wet Tuesday at Chepstow. His work is glitz free, dangerous, and sometimes brutal, but in terms of success he is simply the best there has ever been, and probably ever will be because in a world where riders return to the saddle from having their spleen removed after 27 days he sets the standard in durability, hard work, professionalism, and sheer class.
He won the conditional (amateur) jockey’s title in his first year in Toby Balding’s yard, and he’s been tougher than the rest in a weighing room full of tough guys and girls (where breakfast is often a mug of sweet, tea, a piece of dry toast, and an hour sweating in the bath) for the last 18 consecutive paid years (Scudamore is closest with 7 on the bounce). You know you’re doing well when your fellow pros call you Champ and aren’t being sarcastic.
It may have taken him more than 15 consecutive titles for the wider public to accept him by voting him Sports personality of the year in 2010, but within racing he was a legend no matter if he kept losing out to pretty boy footballers and flash in the pan boxers. So here’s to him, despite being an Arsenal fan and having tucked me up on several nags in the past that I had bet against.
Best of luck tomorrow Tony; I wanted to be the first.
Champion Conditional Jockey 1995
Champion Jockey 1996 – 2013
BBC Sports Personality Of The Year 2010