Tony McCoy once summed up the essential ingredient in the make-up of a champion jump jockey with searing simplicity.
“You have to think you’re unbreakable,” he said.
It is a conviction which has taken McCoy to an astonishing 4,000 career wins to confirm his status as the most courageous, most committed, most enduringly brilliant jump jockey on the planet. A jockey who, like flat racing’s Lester Piggott before him, has secured an affection in the public at large which transcends his sport.
There is no doubt McCoyis up there in any poll with the most exalted sportsmen in these islands.
Up there, in truth, with some of the most courageous sportsmen who ever lived, even if McCoy’s world is an insular one which makes comparison largely futile.
There are few more stirring sights in sport, however, than McCoy driving on thundering hooves at Cheltenham against the backdrop of Cleeve Hill as he did when partnering Mr Mulligan to the Gold Cup crown in 1997. There are few afternoons more emotional than seeing him bring home Best Mate in the King George VI in 2002.
Yet the real beauty of McCoy is that in a world when so many footballers command £150,000 a week and complain endlessly, McCoy, whose nearest rival on the graph of jump greats remains the retired Richard Dunwoody on 1699 winners, simply gets on with the job.
A job with constant threat of injury and the daily sacrifice of trying to hone his 5ft 10in, 10 stone-plus frame, into the sort of anorexic shape capable of feeding his addiction for winners.
No blow-outs allowed in the McCoy household. No nightclubs, no drinking, no self-indulgence. Giving your best when threat of being maimed or worse rises with the sun each working day is what propels McCoy’s feat of 4,000 winners and 18 straight champion jockey titles to the level of the greats.
There have been injuries. Many of them. None worse than the fractured vertebra he suffered after a fall at Warwick in January 2008, not long after the birth of his daughter Eve.
Typically, McCoy’s main concern was whether he would be fit to ride at Cheltenham less than two months later.
After the obligatory operation and lengthy stay in hospital a course of cryotherapy was prescribed in which he underwent twice-daily exposure to temperatures of minus 130C.
Unsurprisingly, he made it to jump racing’s Mecca.
For so long the one blot on his career was his inability to win the Grand National, the greatest horse race of them all, even if it is an event which relies on luck as much as talent. Immortality was conferred on McCoy in 2010, however, when he finally claimed the National crown on Don’t Push It and suddenly his fame and acclaim rose a notch to a level not seen since the prime of Piggott and that other flat legend, Gordon Richards, the latter whose record of 269 winners in a season was smashed by McCoy’s haul of 289 in 2001-02.
Why, McCoy even lifted the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award in 2010, the first jockey to do so and some even dared to think the realisation of a lifetime’s dream might see McCoy contemplate retirement.
That was not to know the man.
A man who lives and breathes his sport. A man who at 39 is as hungry for winners as he was as a 17-year-old lad when he first visited the winners’ enclosure on Legal Steps in a flat race at Thurles.
So what next for the man who thinks he is “unbreakable” and whose record might last a century?
It is dangerous in jump racing to take anything for granted – but you can be sure the number 5,000 has crossed the mind of Anthony Peter McCoy.
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