O'Sullevan hails McCoy success

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The Independent Online

The "voice of racing" Sir Peter O'Sullevan has expressed his delight at Tony McCoy being voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

The 15-times champion jump jockey ended racing's wait to win the award when gaining a landslide success at the ceremony in Birmingham on Sunday night.

"It was fantastic. I was so sorry to miss it. It was only the second time I've ever missed it and it was one I would have most liked to have been present at," said O'Sullevan.

"I thought it was absolutely marvellous AP winning and I thought his acceptance was perfection. He's a serious role model and I think it's marvellous for the sport.

"It was really tremendous and so well merited. His single mindedness and dedication has been exceptional.

"At the same time he is the only Sport for Good ambassador representing racing with something like 60 sporting icons. It's a wonderful global organisation designed to help young people and keep them off the streets.

"He's a very generous-hearted person and like his boss, JP (McManus), his work is anonymous, but it is widely appreciated within racing. That's why his success was particularly emotional.

"We've waited a long time for this recognition. You'd have thought with Lester (Piggott) and Frankie (Dettori) not able to win it we'd never win it."

Channel 4 Racing pundit John McCririck believes that the time is now right for McCoy to receive a knighthood.

"You must remember that a year ago he wasn't even nominated, so winning the Grand National on Don't Push It was the vital thing," he said.

"It shows the sense of the British public and with Phil Taylor second, the 15-times darts champion.

"And in fairness it gives real credit to Racing for Change. The BHA and Nick Attenborough launched a tremendous campaign not only on the racing pages but on the sports pages, getting him onto the news pages and into magazines and also the part AP played in it.

"We know what an extraordinary human being he is and I think he should be get a knighthood.

"We've got Sir Gordon Richards as the only other jockey that was knighted and it would be fantastic if it was in this year's honours list. If not, then he certainly deserves a knighthood. No man has worked harder for it.

"We know his attributes and now the public does and we've got two recognisable faces in racing - Frankie Dettori and AP.

"It is up to the establishment to say this man is a true giant in our world."

Recently-crowned champion Flat jockey Paul Hanagan felt privileged to be in the audience as McCoy lifted the trophy.

"I was fortunate to be at the awards and it was a very special night with AP winning it, he's an inspiration to everyone in the sport," he said.

McCoy's total domination over his peers reached new heights when he teamed up with trainer Martin Pipe, who has now retired.

"I was glued to the TV and I had my few votes for AP," said Pipe.

"He totally deserves it and I was very proud. He's the best jockey of all time and I can honestly say he is a true friend.

"He's great for racing and great for sport. He thoroughly deserves it and to get 40% of the vote is incredible.

"He always stood out, he always had so much dedication to win and he gets the best out of every horse.

"It really was great to see him win the Grand National. He's always worked very hard at it and his desire to do it day in and day out is phenomenal.

"Pridwell beating Istabraq is one that really sticks out for me. He coaxed him home to put his head in front.

"One of AP's great strengths is that he knows exactly where the winning line is.

"There are so many happy memories, he rode over 1,500 winners for us," he told At The Races.

Leading racing figures have been quick to pay their own tributes, with outgoing BHA chief executive Nic Coward effusive in his praise for McCoy.

He said: "It's fantastic that the sporting genius of AP McCoy has been recognised in this way.

"A few years years ago at the outset of Racing for Change, we discussed a jockey ever becoming Sports Personality of the Year.

"It seemed a long shot, but an all time great has done it."

Champion National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls said: "I'm really impressed at how the whole of racing got behind him.

"A brilliant result for AP to win it and a fantastic result for the sport."

Frankie Dettori, who managed third place in the award in 1996, said: "A massive well done to McCoy.

"He really deserves this for all he's achieved and it's also a brilliant result for racing."

Ryan Moore, a three-times champion jockey on the Flat, said: "I'm really delighted that he won but he really should have won it 10 years ago."

John Francome, a seven-times champion jockey in the 1970s and 80s, said: "This award is long overdue, it's just a pity that he had to win a Grand National to get it."

His long-time friend and former weighing room colleague, Mick Fitzgerald, said: "Racing needed this and it shows what a strong sport we are to achieve it.

"In racing we know that he's a brilliant sportsman, and now the wider sports world knows as well."

Trainer Nicky Henderson, who has second claim on McCoy's services, said: "From our point of view we are lucky to see him regularly and I'm lucky to count him as a friend as much as a jockey.

"The likes of John Francome, Peter Scudamore and Richard Dunwoody were great jockeys who changed the face of riding but AP dwarfed what they achieved.

"It shows the magnitude of the man."

Ruby Walsh, who stays with McCoy on his many trips over to England, said: "It's no more than a sports person who achieves so much every year, competes as competitively and consistently and wins so much so often, deserves."

McCoy spent the formative years of his career in England under the tutelage of Toby Balding, who had masterminded the careers of the likes of Adrian Maguire and Peter Scudamore through their early days.

Balding said: "I went to see him ride at Wexford where he got beat but when I met him afterwards he immediately impressed me.

"He'd had a good grounding. Jim Bolger did an amazing job with him and he'd ridden winners on the Flat.

"The greatest thing about him is that he is a great listener, he always has been, and he's an intelligent man.

"I remember once telling him he had earned a holiday and told him to go home for a bit but all he did was get himself three rides at Kilbeggan, racing was all he wanted to do."

McCoy's agent, Dave Roberts, added: "It's very hard to tell him not to ride when he has falls.

"But If AP says, 'I'm ready to go', then we go.

"He's a little bit of a freak in the sense he keeps getting back from falls, but he knows his own body.

"From his point of view I think he'd ride in every race every day, but I've grown a lot choosier in the latter years when it comes to what he rides."

Owner Jim Lewis provided McCoy with two of the biggest victories of his career, with Best Mate in the 2002 King George VI Chase and Edredon Bleu in the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

"Anthony's performance on Edredon Bleu was terrific. They were headed 100 yards out but got back up. Also it was the last time the Queen Mother presented the trophy which made it extra special," said Lewis.

"We've always had a nice relationship. Everybody knows about his achievements but not everybody knows him as a man. He's a gent."

The last word is left for Jim Bolger, with whom it all began for McCoy.

"It was a very enjoyable show - I'm delighted for Anthony and his family," said the County Carlow handler.

"I remember him very well. He was a lovely young man, very mannerly and very active about the place.

"As a person, he was a bit special, but I wouldn't have been foolish enough to think he was going to be champion jockey.

"But as time went on, there were big possibilities for him.

"Nobody could be happier than I was and how it has worked out."