By Marcus Armytage, The Telegraph
A P McCoy was beaten on the last two rides of his career yesterday, finishing third on both Mr Mole and, in his very last ride, Box Office. But, on an extraordinary celebratory day for the sport at Sandown, National Hunt’s champion jockey was acclaimed like no other rider in racing history, his every appearance outside the weighing room cheered, three cheered, jolly good fellowed and clapped.
He may not have been able to add to his tally of 4,348 career winners but that was largely irrelevant to the 18,300 – 7,000 more than last year – racegoers who came to pay homage to a sporting great and man described by his great friend and rival Ruby Walsh as “made of concrete”.
A final winner may have eluded him but even the champion himself conceded that, in a sport in which not everyone walks away and few go on their own terms, quitting in this way, at the very top of his game with a 20th Championship trophy under his arm, was up there among his finest victories.
AP McCoy is applauded by his fellow jockeys
For once this meeting, which concludes the National Hunt season, was not about the horses or the racing or even the past 12 months, which it annually celebrates. It was about one man, McCoy, and two decades at the top of his sport. And the jockey, who has known nothing different from getting up every day and going racing for the past 21 years, admitted that the incessant clapping and cheering as he rode Box Office back down the course following his last race – a reception worthy of Grand National winner – reduced him to tears.
“I was able to disguise it on the way out by pulling down my goggles,” he said.
For much of the race McCoy, in the rear half of the field, took the brave man’s route down the inside on Box Office until, half way down the back, he switched out to get a bit of daylight and a run. His progress was smooth and, turning in, his mount moved into contention and the sunset beckoned until, after the second last, Brother Tedd and Gran Maestro began to draw away from him.
It was more than apt that in his last race the winner should be ridden by Richard Johnson, the jockey who has finished second to McCoy in the title race a staggering 15 times. If there is any justice in the world, Johnson, 37, will be the first champion of the post-McCoy era and it is certainly McCoy’s wish that he is.
His second last ride and last in a chase, Mr Mole, could only finish 10 lengths third to Special Tiara, the 3-1 favorite, in the bet365 A P McCoy Celebration Chase, a race hurriedly renamed in his honor. Mr Mole, who was cheered all the way to the start and roared past the grandstands the first time, jumped to the front down the hill and matched the winner stride for stride over Sandown’s famous Railway fences. But the writing was on the wall going to the second last, where he began to come under pressure from McCoy, while Noel Fehily, on the winner, was still travelling ominously well. Even McCoy, famous for lifting them home, could not carry Mr Mole any closer than a respectable 10 lengths behind Special Tiara.
Before his first ride on what was a surreal afternoon for both McCoy and the sport, the jockey had fought to keep control of his emotions as he was given a rousing welcome, one that would have done Cheltenham proud, when he came out to the paddock, through a guard of honor from his weighing-room colleagues, to be presented with the trophy for his 20th jump jockeys title from the former Arsenal footballer Ian Wright. “The day’s been very enjoyable,” McCoy said when it was all over and life had already begun as a former jockey.
“I’ve been very touched by it all. I’m going to miss what I do, did. I always hoped I could retire on this day. The BHA are letting me keep the trophy and it’s been in my house since it was made in 2007 and, every morning while I’ve had my breakfast, it’s been my goal to win it back.”
He added: “I feel very honoured and flattered by all the attention. I’ve reconsidered retirement every day since I announced it but it’s not going to change and the crowds who’ve come today have proved to me I’ve chosen the right time.”
Even though McCoy predicted that his astonishing record would one day be beaten, Jonjo O’Neill, his trainer, said that we would never see the like of him again.
AP McCoy is presented with his jump jockeys title
That may well be true but one of McCoy’s other tasks earlier in the day had been to present the 17‑year-old Sean Bowen with the conditional jockeys’ championship after sealing it with victory on Lil Rockerfeller in the first. Bowen pointed out that McCoy had won three titles before he was even born, but the jockey is a remarkable young talent and it is not inconceivable that in a year’s time he could become the first jockey since McCoy to win the conditional jockeys’ title and then the senior title in consecutive seasons.