“I’m really an incredibly spoilt human being,” he warns pretty early on. That’s coming from someone who’s been up since 6.15am, schooled eight horses over fences, sat in a sauna for 40 minutes and already ridden in one race. And he did all this on the back of just one piece of toast, a cup of tea and, more importantly, no lunch. It’s not hard to think of more spoiling days, particularly as he only has a small portion of fish and vegetables (no potatoes) to look forward to for his dinner.
McCoy’s amazing story began in County Antrim on 4 May 1974 and AP recalls how there is a photo of him sitting on the back of a horse at the tender age of just two. “None of my four sisters or brother had ever ridden a horse before,” he says, “So the whole thing really was a bit bizarre.”
Yet by the time he was 13, the years spent with ponies had convinced him he should become a jockey. Within two years he was based with trainer Jim Bolger in Kilkenny and served his flat apprenticeship there for four and a half years. “I moved to England in 1994. I was Champion Conditional Jockey in my first season and have been Champion Jockey every season since.”
He makes the whole journey sound so simple, but it would be wrong to underestimate the sweat, toil and pain he has endured to reach the very top of his profession. He has had more than 13,000 rides which means he has covered a distance on horseback which would very nearly take him around the world twice. It’s also worth remembering that the journey hasn’t always been a smooth one. He has fallen off well over 500 of those mounts and has broken both shoulder blades, a middle and lower vertebrae, his ankle, wrist, leg, cheekbone, not to mention various ribs and teeth. Even after all this, he describes himself as an incredibly lucky person.
RAISE THE BAR
Fortune certainly favoured him at Aintree in April when, at the 15th attempt, he finally won the Grand National. “The whole day was amazing,” he recalls as a wide smile appears on his face. “I have never experienced an atmosphere like it and never will again. It was definitely my greatest day’s racing, but I don’t think it’s my greatest achievement; that would still be breaking Sir Gordon Richards’ record of winners in a season.” That record of 269 winners had stood for 55 years – until McCoy raised the bar by 20 in 2002.
His wife Chanelle and three-year-old daughter Eve now give McCoy the perfect distraction after a bad day at the office. “I used to be a terrible dweller on things,” he confesses. “I used to go home and replay races over and over again, watching out for mistakes. It used to drive me demented. Now, Eve wants entertaining and she doesn’t care whether I had a successful day or not.”
So, if he’s not watching Peppa Pig or reading stories to Eve, the 36-year-old can often be found with a set of golf clubs on his shoulder. “I was lucky enough to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods in the summer. You need a lot of luck to ride a National winner, but not everyone can say they have played 18 holes with Tiger.” Perhaps Woods, too, brags about having played with Tony McCoy.
“I’m also a huge Arsenal fan,” he goes on. “I often travel to see them for a midweek Champions League or Carling Cup game.” He also confesses to being a huge sports fan and a bit of a couch potato. “I love watching all sport… football, snooker, golf, darts, boxing... you name it.”
On Sunday he will take his place among the select group of 10 sportsmen and women he spends so much time watching, to face the public vote for the title of BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
He admires Graeme McDowell enormously for winning a Major and then the Ryder Cup, but feels fellow golfer Lee Westwood is the one they all have to beat. “Lee’s achievement in dethroning Tiger as world No1 is enormous. Everyone sets out to reach the top and he has done just that.”
He won’t be drawn on life after riding, although he admits that there is a lot more behind him than in front; an equally apt description of most of the races he rides in. “I’m not thinking about that yet,” he insists. “When you start thinking about that, then you know it’s time to stop. I know it’s going to come eventually, but I want to go out as champion and not slide down the pecking order.”
There can be few sportsmen out there with more drive and determination. McCoy departs with his mantra that no matter what you win, there will always be someone who has achieved more than you. In his case, that may not be true.
CV | TONY MCCOY
Name: Anthony Peter (AP) McCoy
Born: Moneyglass, Co Antrim, 4 May 1974
Achievements: Champion Jockey every year since 1995; more than 3,000 winners; Grand National winner (2010)
Other major wins: King George VI Chase, Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Cheltenham Gold Cup