Another memorable milestone set to fall to McCoy’s iron willpower
Northern Irishman set to pass the 4,000-winner mark later this week
Tony McCoy at Stratford-Upon-Avon racecourse last week. Thc champion jockey is ready to record another mind-boggling achievement. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
I was at a rainy Gowran Park in 1994 for Tony McCoy’s first ever winner over jumps. Riszard was the horse’s name. It would be nice to be able to say the sky opened, shining beams of predictive illumination. But that would be bullshit. At a push most scribblers on duty might recall noting a headline-friendly surname, and a kid with a big chin apprenticed to Jim Bolger: so good luck with that, we’d have figured.
At the time Bolger’s reputation as one of Ireland’s greatest trainers wasn’t confined to just horses. It also included a proven track record at moulding young jockeys under a no-nonsense regime which racecourse rumour suggested might be a cross between Parris Island and a gulag. Despite that, young riding talent clamoured to be let in: opportunity trumps cushy every time.
But what’s sometimes forgotten now is the adolescent McCoy wasn’t even near the top of that local pecking order, never mind any other. In fact a few months after Riszard’s victory, his rider had left for England without fanfare, just another Irish young fella too heavy for the flat game looking for a start across the water over fences. That within just two years he managed to become champion jockey was a mind-boggling achievement in a career that has become full of them, the latest of which is the 4,000 winner landmark that in all likelihood McCoy will reach at some stage this week. In a story that has already torn record- books to shreds, this is just more statistical evidence of what must constitute the single greatest ever example of raw willpower in sport.
Pain and danger
It’s a macho affectation of many sports to big up the horror, glory in the pain, relish the danger, yada-yadda. But jump racing is the only sport where you know you are going to be badly hurt. There are no ifs and buts: if you ride horses over fences it is only a matter of time before you break.
No other sport is so mentally stark. Race cars and you might get lucky. Box well enough and you might never get tagged. Cycle to the top of the Alps and its downhill the other side. Basically, do it right and you reduce the pain and danger.
But no such psychological balm exists in jump-racing. Pain and danger are never more than the next jump away. No amount of talent excuses a jockey from that reality, and McCoy’s story has never been about outrageous talent anyway.
Some observers who saw his first winner over fences, Chickabiddy at Exeter in 1994, apparently all but looked away such was the lack of polish. At the time, it was another North of Ireland man, Richard Dunwoody, who reigned at the top of the game. An obsessive personality himself, Dunwoody’s brutal desire to win was cloaked in a natural style and polish that could make jumping a fence look an organically cooperative exercise between man and beast. There was an aestheticism to it. McCoy has never cared how he gets to the other side, just so long as he gets there, in front.