Perhaps it had to happen in a usually quiet corner of Northamptonshire, as Towcester racecourse is no stranger to historic moments in racing. It’s where in 1989 Peter Scudamore became the first jockey to ride 200 winners in a season. It’s where in 2011 Robert Thornton passed the 1,000 mark. Now it has one of racing’s greatest ever moments in its scrapbook.
It would be easy to write a litany of praise or a list of milestones, but you’ll find those in the papers and website. Instead, a few thoughts on what it was like to be there to see history in the making.
Clerk of the course Robert Bellamy knew there would be a big crowd, and the estimate on the day was that was approximately one of us watching for every one of McCoy’s winners. I decided mine was Wichita Lineman at Cheltenham in 2009. McCoy more or less dragged him up the hill to lead on the line after several jumping errors left him looking a lost cause at the top of the hill.
There was a good hint that connection felt confident this was the day when I saw JP McManus a couple of steps ahead of me as I walked in. I had decided not to bet on either of McCoy’s rides. It wasn’t that I thought I might jinx him, but I did think the weight of expectation and interest had forced the price in unreasonably. I couldn’t bring myself to back against him either.
There were a couple of dozen bookmakers there, twice as many as usual. There were queues for everything, yes, even the loos. And there were plenty of racing’s names in evidence. Security and temporary barriers marked out a bit of breathing space outside the weighing room.
The overwhelming feeling throughout the afternoon was one of warmth towards him, and that would have been the case even without a bright autumn sun. The only complaint I heard came from a woman who worked at Goldman Sachs. They hadn’t allowed her to take just a half-day off to come, but had made her use a whole day’s leave.
Both his rides were for Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus. The first, Church Field, went off a 3/1 favourite, but made a couple of mistakes and didn’t ever look like winning. To be honest, neither did Mountain Tunes, who was two lengths down in third at the final flight. He made up half of that in the first couple of strides up the hill, and the jockey was at his strongest to overhaul Kris Spin in the final few yards.
Then it was controlled mayhem. A victory parade past the stands gave people time to hurry to the parade ring, where they were stood six deep as he came in. I’ve no idea what was said in the interviews, as just at that moment, the course PA went on the blink. But it didn’t matter. Fellow jockeys all came out and found a use for the champagne they knew McCoy wouldn’t drink. There was a trophy handed over, made especially for the occasion. There were spontaneous cheers. I half expected the jockeys to pick him up and throw him in the air, but they didn’t.
After a shower he spent half an hour signing racecards, proof we had been there. One chap had a £2 betting slip which McCoy gladly signed, and that won’t ever be cashed in. It was a wonderful afternoon, and a privilege to see history in the making.
So now he’s reached 4,000 winners, what is there left for McCoy? A couple of years ago, when his autobiography came out, he pondered if he could continue riding at the age of 39 or 40. We know the answer to that one already. He ends the book telling his wife, Chanelle, “that I am going to try to ride more winners than Martin Pipe has trained. That’s 4,182. I am joking, though. Really I am. Honestly.”
Well, at the rate he’s banged in winners over the last five years, close on 200 a season, McCoy will hit that landmark at the age of 40 in a little under 12 months time. Maybe he will stop then… and then start again. Has he any aspirations to train? I don’t know about that, but I wouldn’t put it past him to embark on that career, and not to stop until he’s beaten Pipe’s total again. There’ll be plenty to talk about over the next 20 years if that happens.