Tony McCoy had hinted to me that he might retire last autumn – but it wasn’t the first time I’d heard that.
He said it a couple of years ago as well, so I suppose I didn’t really believe him to be honest.
It came up in conversation when I said that a horse he rode (I forget the name) would make a decent chaser. He just said: “Well I mightn’t be around to ride him”. I just thought: “I’ve heard that before”.
So when he announced this eight-week ‘lap of honour’ on TV last Saturday what was more surprising was that he didn’t just jump off a horse one day and say that was it.
Richard Johnson said he was surprised but not shocked – and that’s probably the best way of describing it.
Personally, I’m glad he’s going out at the top and gets to do it on his terms. That doesn’t often happen to jump jockeys.
He has simply been the most amazing jockey, athlete, competitor and ambassador that racing will ever have. I can’t see anyone breaking the records he has set for a very, very long time if ever, but AP’s legacy is more than just numbers.
For 20 years, he has been the top dog and set the standard we all had to try and get to. He improved every year as a rider and therefore he dragged the rest of us with him. In spite of his success – he never turned away anyone who sought his advice.
AP changed the way jockeys conducted their lives and altered the way jockeys now prepare for race meetings.
He was so analytical on form and tactics – you had to be as prepared as he was. He knew his strengths in a race but just as importantly knew your weaknesses.
How’s the form
He knew the form of every horse, the ratings of every horse, what they were capable of running to, the flat ratings of novice hurdlers. He always had his homework done and proved that you could always prepare better.
This background knowledge is common practice in the weigh room now. McCoy raised the bar for everyone.
I love riding against him, hated and still hate losing to him. He is incredibly tough yet supremely fair to ride against. He never gives an inch nor sought one and always seemed to be in the right place and was a nightmare to try and get past.
Racing was the biggest winner in AP’s amazing success and likewise now racing will be the biggest loser with his retirement.
Big boots to fill
I haven’t really though about who’ll replace him as JP McManus’s retained rider – but one things for sure they’ll be big boots to fill. Where do you get someone with that work ethic and will to win again?
I’m sure JP will have a few thoughts but it will be a great job for somebody.
He has so many horses in the UK and Ireland that – just like there is now – he’ll probably need a couple of jockeys who can swap in and out when required.
I’d imagine they’ll look for someone who is use to big-race riding with a knowledge of the UK track but who knows? It’s going to be very, very hard to replace Tony McCoy regardless.
Does it make me consider what comes after racing? I’ve five years on McCoy – so I still hope to be riding winners when I’m his age.
Leopardstown was another informative card again on Sunday and there were a couple of striking performances ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.
I suppose the three that impressed me most were the Grade One winners Petit Parisienne (above), Nichols Canyon and Apache Stronghold.
Petit Parisienne improved a good deal on her first run to beat Kalkir in the juvenile hurdle. Don’t forget the winner of the Triumph Hurdle has come from (but not necessarily won) this race for the past three seasons while 2011 winner Unaccompanied went on to be second to Zarkandar in 2012. It’s form to follow.
Nichols Canyon did it the hard way from the front in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle – another race that has thrown up the Supreme Novices Hurdle winner in Vautour and Champagne Fever. We’ll have to wait and see what owner Graham Wylie wants to do because he’ll have a couple of contenders for the Supreme and the Neptune Novices Hurdle but Nichols Canyon could be versatile.
Apache Stonghold showed a great turn of foot to beat Willie’s Valseur Lido and paid a nice compliment to Don Poli in the process who beat him at Christmas albeit over three miles.
Lido may have to step up in trip but Apache Stronghold looks booked for the 2m 4f JLT Novices Chase and has a right chance.
AP made it a weekend to remember when he won his first Hennessy Gold Cup on Carlingford Lough chinning my dad’s horse Foxrock. Connections are thinking about supplementing Foxrock for the Cheltenham Gold Cup now as he’s rapidly improving and that was some run in his first Grade One.
Gold Cup champ Lord Windermere ran one of his best races at Leopardstown and looked like he’d stolen a march on the others so connections will have been pleased after his Lexus performance.
Coneygree was impressive again at Newbury and confirmed what we saw at Kempton on Boxing Day by out-jumping and out-galloping his rivals.
Novices can find it tough in the Gold Cup but it’s an open race and connections may want to take their chance in it rather than go for a crack at the RSA Chase.
On the Champion Chase front Sire De Grugy never looked comfortable on his reappearance after injury on the same card. He never got into a proper rhythm but Mr Mole is improving rapidly.
The Betfair Hurdle was a funny race. It was a ‘standing’ start and a lot of us were caught out of position. I rode Wicklow Brave but never had him where I wanted him and none of the front runners got away quickly so there wasn’t a great pace.
Josh Moore was able to use it to his advantage when Violet Dancer hit the front and if you were on the market leaders Activial and Calipto you could take the result with a pinch of salt.
There’s a few in that race who can come out again and be competitive at Cheltenham.