Early next month Tony McCoy will celebrate his 38th birthday. Recognising that jump jockeys can’t go on riding for ever, he’s also begun to plan his retirement. But it won’t be happening just yet. There are a few more milestones he wants to pass first.
The first of them might well prove the most difficult. On Saturday he hopes to ride the winner of the Grand National for the second time in three years. That’s not unprecedented in itself, but to do so on a horse that won Cheltenham’s Gold Cup just a few weeks earlier doesn’t happen very often. Golden Miller and Gerry Wilson were the last pair to manage that, 78 years ago in 1934.
McCoy acknowledges that his mount, Synchronised is not the most impressive looking horse. He says, “There’s not a lot of presence or stature about him. He’s the sort of horse that, if you had 500 to choose from at the sales, he’d probably be the last you would pick. He’s the ugly duckling. But he’s a winner. He’ll keep digging when others give in. He’s got a lot more heart and courage than talent or ability. He’s also a lot better than Don’t Push It.”
But good enough to do the double? I don’t think so.
In two weeks time the National Hunt season ends, and McCoy has had the Jockey’s championship sewn up for a long time. It will be his 17th in a row. His next goal is number 18. He says, “The new season starts on 29 April and I want to be fresh. I want next season’s title even more than this season’s.” It will need a desperate fall that puts him out of action for several months to stop him.
Then there’s the target of riding 300 winners in a season, something no jump jockey has ever done. He came close to that in the 2001-02 season when he was first past the post 289 times, but since then he’s reduced the number of rides he takes, and the winners have declined alongside this. But McCoy doesn’t rule out a 300 season. “Riding 289 winners in a season is my greatest achievement without a doubt. But I’d love 300 winners in a season. This year I thought I was on target. I really thought it might be possible. And then I got that 10 day suspension at Wetherby (when he and eight other jockeys failed to pull up after a yellow flag was waved to stop the race). You need a lot of luck for 300 winners.”
During the last five years McCoy has averaged around 190 winners a season. At that rate he’ll need another three seasons to reach his next milestone. In his days as stable jockey for Martin Pipe, McCoy rode many of the horses that helped Pipe set a training record of 4,182 winners. Now the former trainer is goading McCoy that he won’t be able to ride as many winners as he has trained. Pipe says, “I say to him that he’ll never be able to do it because I know that winds him up and makes it more likely he will break the record. I always say to him that he never will but I very much hope he does.”
McCoy reckons the two have been joking about this for several years. “It’s really a half-serious private joke between me and him, and it has been since he gave up training. Who knows what the future will bring? I’ve got to keep going and stay in one piece. Mind you, Martin has said to me more than once that if I get close to his record he might start training again.”
There you have it. A Gold Cup/Grand National seasonal double; 300 winners in a season; more championships, and beating Martin Pipe’s training record of 4,182: plenty of goals to reach yet. So just when will McCoy retire? He says, “I never used to think about it until I won the National. Now I get asked about it a lot. But I’m very lucky and unlucky at the same time. I don’t work. I just do what I absolutely love to do. But I’m unlucky in the sense I keep asking myself: @How can I give this up? How can I replace it?’ I can’t.”
Except, that is, “Being champion jockey is the most important thing in the world to me – apart from my family. If I lost the jockeys’ championship I wouldn’t ride again. But I’ve no intention of losing it.”
So now you know.