It was business, but not quite as usual, for Tony McCoy on Sunday as racing began to take in the 19-time champion jockey’s shock announcement that he is to retire at the end of the season.
An emotional McCoy rode two winners for his boss J P McManus at Leopardstown, including Carlingford Lough, who overcame a late blunder to land the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup under a trademark never-say-die drive. The 40-year-old Ulsterman spent the rest of the afternoon chatting to well-wishers and signing autographs.But beforehand he took time to elaborate on the timing of what came to many as a bolt from the blue.
Far from it being a snap decision, McCoy revealed that the plan to call it a day this season had been brewing in his mind for the past five years. He told attheraces: “I spoke at length to J P about it after Punchestown last April and had another brief conversation with him earlier in the week. But, though I said it jokingly to the press on Saturday, it really was five years ago when I started thinking that my target was 20 titles and that this should be my last year.”
The 2010 BBC Sports Personality of the Year is less sure about the exact date of his retirement. “I plan to ride at the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree, of course, but I’m not so sure what will happen after that,” he said. “I’ve got it in the back of my mind that I would like to retire on a winner, but we’ll see.”
McCoy almost choked on the words as he dramatically revealed his intentions live on television at Newbury on Saturday straight after Mr Mole had provided him with the ninth campaign double century of a wonderful career.He readily agreed that it is a day he had long been dreading, but added: “I’ve had no second thoughts. I’m a realist. I know I can’t go on forever.”
Rival jockey Ruby Walsh led Sunday’s tributes. “He’s made of concrete,” he said. “It has been an honour and a privilege riding against him.”
His father, trainer Ted, recalled McCoy’s early days and how he was always the perfect little gent “even when he wasn’t two hands higher than a duck”.
Jonjo O’Neill, with whom McCoy has enjoyed so much success, including his 2010 Grand National triumph on Don’t Push It, calls McCoy “a magic man,” but ran out of superlatives years ago.Champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins said: “I’m delighted that he is retiring on his own terms. He’s an inspiration to all athletes.”
McCoy’s own verdict was characteristically modest. “I’ve over-achieved,” he said. “There have been numerous jockeys every bit as good as me. I look back on my career and I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, but I think I’ve done well; I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved.
“And so many people have helped me, even Richard Johnson [perennial runner-up in the jockeys’ championship], who has driven me to the ends of the earth and challenged me every day for the last however many years.”
And of course McCoy has always been incredibly driven. “The more you win, the more you need to win, until in the end the fear of losing is greater than the enjoyment of winning,” he said.
His retirement will leave a huge void. Barry Geraghty is the best guess to take his place as McManus’s retained rider, while Johnson may at long last rule the realm now that the king is abdicating.
Nobody will feel the loss more than McCoy himself. His wish list includes playing more golf, watching Rory McIlroy win the Masters and Arsenal winning the Champions League. But he added: “I’m concerned that after a few days at home with not much happening, this obsessive thing in my personality will mean I’ll have to do something that challenges me.”