Racing: McCoy forsakes Pipe's riches in hunt for quality over quantity
Friday 30 April 2004
It was the moment we thought would never come but Tony McCoy announced it on Wednesday evening under the guise of "a new challenge" riding for Jonjo O'Neill. The reality must now be that the multiple champion jockey has lost his most vital skill, an unceasing appetite for winners. McCoy as a championship animal is on the way down.
After nine straight jockeys' titles, the crown will still have to be prised from the Ulsterman's head, but he has surrendered his main weaponry. Leaving Martin Pipe, and his 14 championships, is close to an abdication.
"The biggest shock comes because AP has said that being champion jockey means more to him than anything," Peter Scudamore, the original leading stable jockey at Pipe's Somerset yard, said yesterday. "The one way of guaranteeing being champion jockey is riding for Martin Pipe. Now he is giving someone else a chance. If Richard Johnson gets it, for example, he would have a serious chance of becoming champion."
So why go? It is known that some owners at Pond House have become increasingly disquieted by McCoy's aggressive riding technique, but the jockey is not being forced out. He goes of his own choosing and he goes to take up an offer which is thought to have been on the table for three years.
The branding is that McCoy is linking with O'Neill, though, in fact, he is joining forces with JP McManus. The owner has top horses, a top trainer and top facilities at his Jackdaws Castle in Gloucestershire. Liam Cooper, O'Neill's favoured jockey, always seemed a misfit in this matrix. McCoy fits more snugly.
"I'm surprised and yet I'm not," Scudamore added. "I totally understand it because it's all about pounds, shillings and pence at the end of the day. He's a professional jockey and he's got to earn the best living he can. In a few years' time he's going to have to stop and make a different living.
"Every day you can look at the back of the newspapers and stories about football players switching clubs because they have been offered more money. He'll have had a better offer financially to go to Jonjo's."
In terms of a retainer that would not have been difficult because Pipe does not do them. He argues the percentage cut - the productivity bonus - from all the winners he supplies is sufficient reward.
McManus is not as ostensibly niggardly and is well known for spraying some of his £400m fortune around the sport of National Hunt racing. It is another reason why McCoy's British domination is approaching the buffers. It is almost certain there will be commitments in McManus's green and gold livery both in Ireland and France on days when the jockey would normally be mopping up domestic winners.
McCoy himself is rich by most people's standards, but he will be 30 next week and may have seen the finishing line to his current trade. It could also be that perspectives are apt to change when you mix with affluent owners, among them rich young sportsmen like Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman.
Pipe pretended yesterday that he had not thought about McCoy's successor, even though Richard Johnson probably has his luggage out on the front step already. The habitual runner-up to McCoy in the championship possesses similar qualities of ability, fortitude and insatiability. He gave what was close to an acceptance speech yesterday.
"It'll be a great job for somebody," Johnson said. "Mr Pipe has been champion trainer for a long, long time and I'm sure he's not going to be knocked off his pedestal for a long time still. Whoever gets the job will be a very lucky man. It's definitely one of the best jobs in the country. He's champion trainer again this year and that speaks for itself."
The posting of stable jockey at Nicholashayne has ambiguous connotations. Scudamore and McCoy made a great success of it. Richard Dunwoody and David Bridgwater departed leaving the impression that Pipe was not the easiest of confederates.
"Everybody seems to think that it's this difficult position, one that Dunwoody couldn't stand and Bridgwater couldn't stand. I've always thought of it as the best job in racing," Scudamore said. "Riding for Pipe is like playing striker for one of the leading football teams. There is that pressure to perform and if you don't like that pressure you're hardly likely to have got the job in the first place."
Pipe yesterday thanked McCoy for his great contribution to the operation and this time there was no pretending. There has been no huge fallout. "We have had a fabulous eight years together and I think we must have been one of the best partnerships in racing history. We'll miss him here, we've had some great times," the trainer said.
"There've been too many highlights to mention really, but it was a great moment when he rode his 2,000th winner on Magical Bailiwick. There were many Cheltenham Festival winners, too numerous to mention, but his ride on Make A Stand in the Champion Hurdle would be one of the highlights. I'm sure he will carry on his success, he is a brilliant jockey and surely one of the greats. I wish him all the best and he will be greatly missed here."
Tony McCoy, who has been a more relaxed figure in the weighing room of late, now moves on to a different phase of his career. There will be many more great days, but, it appears the long game has gone. He has decided to start smelling the roses rather than knock their tops off with his whip.
WHO WILL REPLACE McCOY? THE RIDERS JOCKEYING FOR THE PIPE POSITION
The customary runner-up to McCoy in recent jockeys' championships and the rider most like him in terms of technique and temperament. Currently linked to another successful Somerset yard with Philip Hobbs, but would find a cross-county call irresistible. Odds-on favourite to get a job which would finally help him to overhaul his great rival.
Already a champion in his native Ireland and acknowledged as one of the best horsemen around. Has advertised his qualities both at the Cheltenham Festival and in the Grand National, but, unlike his compatriot Ruby Walsh, who is firmly established with another Somerset trainer, Paul Nicholls, does not have a firm link in Britain.
Firmly rooted as the leading rider on the northern circuit for several seasons now, a product of the late Gordon Richards' academy at Greystoke. Has fought back from early career reverses to become one of the great stylists. Another who showed he can operate in the cauldron by winning the 1997 Grand National on Lord Gyllene.
The coming man who recently finished third in the championship behind McCoy and Johnson. Has also posted individual exploits to put neon round his name, starting off with a 55,964-1 four-timer at Wetherby. Yet another Aintree winner, on Amberleigh House, he completed a National double when Grey Abbey took the Scottish equivalent.
The long shot who is already an inmate at Pond House, where he works full time, the recent winner of the conditional jockeys' title. Benefited from McCoy's unusual largesse when the champion relinquished several fancied mounts. Inexperienced but Pipe wasn't afraid to give youth its chance when McCoy came along.
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