Tony McCoy reaches 4,000 winners mark: Legendary jockey's marvellous milestone the result of a fierce will to win

Tunnel vision and determination carry champion to jumps landmark

It may be appropriate that, up until his 4,000th jumps winner on Mountain Tunes at Towcester, the feat of which Tony McCoy was proudest was that of beating one of his sport's most enduring records, Sir Gordon Richards' 1947 tally of 269 winners in a season. McCoy passed that particular milestone in 2002, just one of so many along his way. Two of the constant questions about his extraordinary achievements have been why and how and Richards, in his autobiography published 58 years ago, could have been telling of our man when he summed up his career.

His final chapter was entitled "The Secret Of My Success", but anyone hoping for a deep and meaningful analysis of his motivation no more got it from him than from the modern phenomenon. But perhaps a statement of the bleedin' obvious needs no further embellishment. "The will to win," wrote the 26-times Flat champion, "that was my secret. You have to have ability, you have to have the gift of jockeyship, you have to be a horseman, you must learn to judge pace and distance, you must be quick to see an opening, you must sense when your horse is doing his utmost and when he is not, you must never miss a trick. But all these things are no use to you without the will to win. And that means concentration on the job, at all times."

Whatever McCoy's technical talents, they have been developed and honed by that last. His dedication and resolution, single-mindedness and tunnel vision are the stuff of legend. In times of stress his lantern-jawed countenance turns introverted, haggard and hunted; there are expressions of frustration and fury and self-recrimination.

Because his professional bodyweight needs to be something like a stone and a half below the natural weight for his not especially slight 5ft 10in frame, his physical condition is a constant preoccupation, in a combination of exercise, sweating in saunas and hot baths and moderate, sometimes frugal, eating.

The man from Moneyglass, Co Antrim, has raised the bar beyond reach, almost beyond imagination, and started doing so from the start. He won the apprentices' title with a record total, has been champion every senior season since and should collect a 19th title next April. In his record-breaking season he became the only jump jockey to ride a four-figure total of mounts - he climbed into the saddle 1,006 times - and posted a score of 289, at a strike rate of 29 per cent. He set time records for his totals - fastest 500, 1,000, 2,000. He is the only man to have ridden 3,000 jump winners, which he did four years ago, and has amassed nearly 1,500 more than the next man, the 14-times championship runner-up Richard Johnson.

Make no mistake, there is quality in there too. He has won just about every major race in the calendar, including two Cheltenham Gold Cups, three Champion Hurdles, a King George VI Chase and, famously at his 15th attempt three years ago, a Grand National. Ironically, it was his triumph in a race that depends as much on luck as skill in the winning that thrust him fully into the sporting public's consciousness and made him the first jockey to become the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year. The trade has long known about him; he has been voted to 20 Lesters - racing's Oscars - by his peers.

But it is the numbers, and the targets they represent, that give one of the clues to what sets him apart. Nearly any jockey can win on a horse that is measurably better than its opponents, but only a few win on horses that should not win and only one around at the moment does so on a fairly regular basis. It may be significant that, in the relatively recent history of in-play online betting, McCoy has easily the best record for winning on a beast whose chance had supposedly gone and who traded at 1,000-1 in running.

On Family Business at Southwell, for instance, he fell with more than a circuit to race, but remounted and persevered; on Folie A Deux at Warwick he was a well-detached last with half a mile to run, still last at the final fence but half a length in front at the line. He himself nominates a success of the type, when he motivated the quirky but talented Wichita Lineman to victory in the final strides of the William Hill Trophy at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, as his best performance in the saddle. Others to stick in the mind are Pridwell's head defeat of the peerless Istabraq at Aintree and more recently Synchronised's success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last year.

The job of jump jockey is one of the few where the participants are routinely followed round by an ambulance as they get on with it and McCoy has broken or dislocated almost every bone in his body (a lot of them several times), including vertebrae, shoulder blades, ribs, legs, ankle, cheekbones, collarbones, fingers and teeth. Famously, he suffered a broken back at Warwick in January 2008, the type of injury that usually takes 16 weeks to heal but, with the Cheltenham Festival as a spur and the help of five sessions in 10 days in a cryotherapy chamber at temperatures of a record minus 149C, he was back in eight.

His obsession was rewarded on that occasion with a victory on Albertas Run at his sport's showpiece occasion.

His body is as strong as his mind and a litany of his injuries, and recovery processes, apparently gobsmacked no less a fellow sports star than Tiger Woods when the pair played together in a charity golf tournament a few years ago.

But again, McCoy's view - part down to heredity, part to environment - is that if that is what it takes, that is what it takes. He followed the example of his hard-working carpenter and builder father Peadar; he served his time as a young jockey first with local man Billy Rock, then in Co Carlow with Jim Bolger, whose regime tended to make a Jesuit college look relaxedly liberal; he has never drunk alcohol or smoked.

McCoy rode both his first winner, Legal Steps, in a Flat race at Thurles in 1992 at the age of 17, and his first jumps winner, on Riszard at Gowran Park two years later, for Bolger, with his first British winner coming on Chickabiddy for Gordon Edwards later in 1994. In 1997 he joined forces with Martin Pipe and became part of that 15-times champion trainer's winning conveyor belt. It was the desire for new challenges (and perhaps a reputed £1m retainer) that nine years ago took him to the job as retained rider to J P McManus, whose chief trainer in Britain is Jonjo O'Neill.

To his delight, the landmark winner Mountain Tunes (given a typical ride of finesse and insistence) is owned by McManus and trained by O'Neill, and came in front of his wife Chanelle and their two children Eve, six today, and three-month-old Archie Peadar, the baby dressed in a babygro matching McManus's green-and-yellow silks. The youngsters are particularly precious; McCoy's fertility was badly affected by the privations of his professional life.

Throughout everything, 39-year-old McCoy - who has always said he will not retire while he is still capable of being champion - has stayed humble, aware of his ability but not dazzled by it. "I don't feel I'm any different to anyone else," he said, "and I hope everyone in the weighing room doesn't think I am any different after today. I've ridden 4,000 winners, I'll try to ride a few more. I'm really proud of what I've achieved and being able to last, one way or another. I'm proud, and feel privileged and lucky to work in a great sport."

 

Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Sport
video
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Life & Style
Wasp factory: 1.3 million examples of the Vespa scooter have been sold in the last decade
motoringIconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books