McCoy quick to show he is the real thing

RACING: From Co Antrim, via the Curragh, a talented young rider tracks the boot steps of Adrian Maguire
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The Independent Online

Senior riders nicknamed Adrian Maguire "the Golden Child" when he arrived in Britain's weighing rooms. Now, it seems, he has a younger brother. Tony McCoy currently leads the jump jockeys' championship with 48 winners. Yet this time last year the 21-year-old had been in Britain for three weeks and had ridden just one winner.

Even in a sport which can pluck names from obscurity on a whim, McCoy's ascent has been surprisingly swift, but it shows every sign of proving unusually durable too. After five months of his first season without the benefit of a weight allowance, he is at the top of the riders' table - eight wins clear of his nearest pursuer, Martin Pipe's stable jockey, David Bridgwater, and 34 wins ahead of Maguire.

Yesterday, McCoy was a 5-1 chance with William Hill to add the senior title to the conditional riders' championship he won last year. Only Bridgwater (8-11) and Maguire (15-8) were quoted at shorter odds. Those prices, however, were being cut last night after Norman Williamson, another contender, broke a leg at Sedgefield.

A McCoy ride on a recent afternoon at Huntingdon exemplified his talent. A small mare making her debut over fences, needed a little time to adjust. McCoy gave her space, a chance to measure her fences, and when she took a long look at the open ditch in front of the stands, her rider was balanced and prepared, ready to coax her across.

By the time they left the back for the final time, she was jumping with fluency and enthusiasm. McCoy reeled in the leader after the second-last, his mount pulling double, and then quickened away for a comfortable success. The mare's first experience of fences, which could so easily have been traumatic, instead brought reassurance and success.

Afterwards, McCoy was modest but satisfied. It was a good day's work. One ride, one win is worth much more than the riding fees from a dozen losers. Zajira is the sort of novice to run up a sequence, and McCoy has just earned the right to share it.

At his age, he can afford to take a long-term view, but there is a rich streak of ambition mixed in with his surprise at how rapidly he has found success. "I have absolutely no thoughts about the championship," he said, "but it's something I want some day and, hopefully, sooner rather than later."

As with so many Irish riders, his youth is deceptive. McCoy started riding point-to-pointers in County Antrim as a schoolboy, and showed such promise that a four-and-a-half year apprenticeship at Jim Bolger's blue-chip Flat stable followed. Eventually, though, the scales told him that his future in the saddle would be over the jumps.

"I got an awful lot of experience at Jim Bolger's which has done me a lot of good," McCoy said. "It definitely put a few finishing touches on me before I came over here. I'd already started to ride some winners over hurdles, for all the small yards, but while I was still claiming I wanted to get into a yard where there might be a job at the end of it. Then Toby Balding made it his business to come and get me, and everything that's happened since then, I owe to him."

Balding was one of the first British trainers to appreciate the depth of Adrian Maguire's talent, and McCoy was shrewd enough to realise that might help his own name-recognition. "I knew that Adrian had come out of there, so if I got a good start the publicity would definitely be a big help to me."

It was a smart move, but then McCoy has a useful knack for good publicity. The highlight of last season was not just his success in the conditionals' championship, but also the fact that his 74 winners beat the previous record total for a claimer, which was set by Maguire. Then, his decision to ride throughout the new summer jumping season gave him an invaluable head-start in the new campaign.

As he continues to hold tight to his lead, his self-belief, already strong, can only grow still further. Jump-racing is too capricious a pursuit for firm targets or career-plans, but Tony McCoy knows he is good, and knows what he wants. He says he would like to be the champion sooner rather than later. It may be sooner than he would dare to dream.