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Friday 20 April 2018

Just like every bone in his body, McCoy smashes record in style

How should we salute the record-breaking jockey Tony McCoy?

The man's achievement is phenomenal. Maybe a new coinage should be minted with AP's gaunt features bearing testimony to the triumph of skill, bravery and persistence.

At Towcester yesterday, McCoy gave a premium demonstration of his sublime horsemanship and undeniable will to win as he notched up his record-breaking four thousandth victory in thrilling style.

ENDURANCE

To those with just a passing interest in horse racing, the scale of McCoy's remarkable achievement might require some explanation. Four thousand wins over jumps, the toughest form of the Sport of Kings, speaks of many great attributes. Perhaps the most crucial being the spirit of endurance.

When Memory Man Jimmy Magee was a boy, Gordon Richards was already a legend for being the most decorated jockey of all time. The man with the most race wins in history.

In September 1994 Tony McCoy rode his first winner. It took him just eight years to smash Sir Gordon's record.

By then it was obvious that AP McCoy, as his name appears on racecards, was a sensational talent. A one-off. A superman who did it the hard way. Over jumps. In all weathers.

McCoy's resilience is staggering.

Every punter has an AP story to tell. And just as you'll find people to enthuse about an All-Ireland final win, Italia '90 or seeing Muhammad Ali in action, I've witnessed first-hand the raw courage, the tenacity, the refusal to give up that has made Tony McCoy the greatest horseman. Ever.

It was at the Cheltenham Festival, the Olympics of National Hunt racing, five years ago when the fear was that Tony McCoy might never ride, or maybe walk, again. Eight weeks earlier, McCoy received a serious kicking when fell under the chasing pack at Warwick, shattering two vertebrae in his back.

DAMAGED

The concern was real. Surgeons operated and, using four screws, attached two metal plates to the damaged area. McCoy was forced to recuperate. But briefly. Before Cheltenham he was back in the saddle. Most of us who saw him in the parade ring didn't give much for his chances of riding a winner. He looked gaunt and haunted, his face pinched from pain. But he came up the hill to claim second place twice, including a gritty performance in the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase.

"You try to be positive," he said. "It's very difficult to win here. But you try to do your best to win on the day."

Just as cinema audiences willed Rocky Balboa to get off the bloodied canvas, everyone at the course wanted to see McCoy win. When the second day's racing was cancelled due to high winds, McCoy travelled to another meeting. Gruelling punishment of a body in which almost every bone had been broken at least once while racing is part of this man's vocation.

On the following day, there was an unnatural steeliness in McCoy's eyes as he left the parade ring on Alberta's Run. He came back in triumph for the first time since that potentially career-ending fall eight weeks earlier. Naturally, he was jubilant and ecstatic. But by the time he'd dismounted, McCoy was back in competitive mode. "I should have been a bit cooler," he complained.

"Iron Man," I thought.

McCoy's sporting life has been about defying the odds, breaking records, setting new targets.

OUTSTANDING

Three years ago, he became the first jockey ever to win the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award. When he focused on winning an unprecedented 4,000 races, he admitted: "It would be something to be proud of."

Last week, as he anticipated hitting the magic figure, he conceded: "I know how hard it's been physically and mentally to achieve (so) I might say to myself, 'You've done all right, like'."

Who knows what goal the man from Co Antrim, who's now also a novelist by the way, is now setting for himself.

But after yesterday's outstanding milestone it's up to us to ensure that this living legend is properly honoured.

Let him know that, yes, he's done all right.

See Sport: Pages 56-57

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