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AP McCoy interview: His greatest achievement & motivation

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The following feature is available free for reproduction in full or in part.

The jockey AP (Tony) McCoy is unquestionably the greatest jump jockey of all time. His achievements are sufficiently remarkable that they transcend the racing world and have caught the attention of the public at large. So much so that he was voted Sports Personality of the Year in 2010, the same year he won the Grand National. He has won almost every big race there is to win, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and King George VI Chase. He has been champion jockey every season since turning pro, a record 18 consecutive times. In 1995, he broke Sir Gordon Richards’ record of most winners in a season. He is on course to ride his 4000th winner in the next few days. No other jump jockey has managed 3000.

As Channel 4 Racing looks forward to the jump season ahead, AP discusses how he stays motivated (and thin!), what he regards as his greatest achievement, and how he’s also been turning his hand to a rather different skill of late.

The jump season is upon us. Do you find yourself getting excited at this time of year?

Yeah, very much so, because you’re looking forward to riding some of the better horses – they’re all back in training, and they’ll be getting prepared for their first runs of the season. So you start getting excited, thinking you’ve got some good horses. They’re all good at this time of the year. So there’s plenty to look forward to.

How far ahead do you look? When do you start planning for the big meetings?

You probably start preparing horses over the next couple of weeks. There’s the Paddy Power Gold Cup meeting (November 15 – 17), and the Hennessey Heritage Festival (November 28 – 30) coming up, and before that the likes of the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton (November 9), so those are the races that the better horses will be targeting for their first runs of the season. Those are the main meetings we’re looking forward to, to start with.

At what stage do your thoughts turn to who you’re going to be riding at Cheltenham and the national and so on?

Races like the Grand National might only be a couple of weeks beforehand. In the case of Don’t Push It [McCoy’s 2010 winner] it was the day beforehand! For races like The Champion Hurdle or The Gold Cup, there’s a fair chance that you’ll known a couple of months in advance what the likely horses are that you’ll be riding. Those Championship races are more likely to be worked out a couple of months in advance.

What are your favourite meetings?

Obviously the Cheltenham Festival is the main one. Everyone gears their whole year around hoping they’ll get a horse good enough to win at Cheltenham. I like the Paddy Power meeting at Cheltenham at the start of the season, it’s a good opener. All of the major meetings are enjoyable – and they’re all more enjoyable if you win. None of them are that great if you’re not winning.

Are there any horses that you’re particularly excited about riding this season?

Yeah, we’ve got a few. We’ve got a couple of horses that could hopefully progress into Champion Hurdlers: My Tent Or Yours and Jet Ski are the main two – they were both pretty good Novice Hurdlers, so they can both hopefully improve and step up to the mark. There’s a few other ones, the likes of At Fishers Cross, and then you’re always hoping that some of the younger horses will become potential superstars.

There’s a real camaraderie among all the jockeys in the weighing room, isn’t there?

Yeah. Like any sport it’s competitive, and you all want to beat one another, but it’s a little bit different in that it’s more dangerous than any other sport, and there are a lot of risks involved. You can see colleagues and friends being seriously injured and sometimes worse, so that makes it a little different than some other sporting rooms. There’s a lot of humour in there, plenty of banter. If you weren’t in there every day, you’d miss it. It definitely makes the job a lot easier.

You mention the dangers involved. You’ve had so many injuries, it’s probably quicker to ask if there are any body parts you haven’t injured over the years?

Not really, to be honest. They’ve all had a go. You’re right, it’s probably best to tell it to you that way rather than list all the injuries I’ve had. It’s part of the job.

When you’re up and out on a cold day, do you get aches and pains?

No, it’s not too bad, to be honest. Most of the injuries I’ve had have left plenty of scars, but I’m pretty supple and my body’s still in pretty good shape, thankfully.

You’re pretty tall for a jockey [5’10”]. Do you find it tough to keep the weight down?

Yeah, it’s probably one of the more difficult parts of the job. I get up every morning and stand on the scales, and I can’t eat what I want. That’s then only disappointing side of the job – it would be much easier if you could eat away, and not have to have hot baths or saunas all the time.

Do you ever allow yourself any treats?

Yeah, I do. I think you have to treat yourself, otherwise you’d go mad. So when I have a few days off, I eat nice food. I like chocolate, so I’ll eat that. You have to treat yourself, otherwise you’d crack up.

You’re approaching the remarkable statistic of your 4000th career win. That’s a pretty extraordinary achievement, isn’t it?

I know if I can manage to ride 4000 winners I’ll be very proud. It takes a lot of work. The longevity of it is probably the toughest part, to be able to keep going for that length of time, and try and be successful. But I’ve been lucky, I’ve worked for good people, and I’m lucky that I enjoy my job. And no matter how many races you win, there will always be somebody who wins more, so someone will beat it anyway.

I think it’ll be a long time before someone else reaches 4000.

Yeah, hopefully I’ll be dead by then.

What achievements are you most proud of in your career? What really stands out for you?

Breaking Sir Gordon Richards’ record [for most winners in a season] is definitely my greatest achievement, by far. He was 26-times a Champion Jockey, he’s the winning most jockey of all time, and to beat his number of winners in a season is definitely my greatest achievement. His record stood for 55 years and looked like it might never have been broken, so that was by far my greatest achievement, I’ve no doubt.

You’ve done it all in your sport and, as you say, there’s a lot of sacrifice involved. How do you stay motivated top keep on pushing yourself?

I probably live in fear of failure every day of my life. I worry a lot about not being as good as I once was, and I have done that for the last 18 years. When I get up and go racing tomorrow, I have to ride winners more than anyone else, just to keep proving to myself that I can still do it.

Do you have any specific goals you’d still like to achieve in the sport?

As you mentioned, 4000 winners is the obvious goal. After that, I don’t know. I’d like to be Champion Jockey at the end of this season, and if I am, that would be the 19th year. Maybe I’d like to go on and win 20. And I’ve got a bit of a private battle going on with Martin Pipe, where I said I was going to break his record [for the number of winners he trained] which is 4,182. Whether I ever get round to that, who knows, but it would wind him up if nothing else.

You won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010. Did that make you realise that your achievements were recognised outside of the racing community?

Yeah, in some ways it did, because a jockey had never won it before. But at the same time, the racing community made that happen with all the votes that I got, so many people in the racing community supported it and got behind it. I’ve never really done my job to try and get adulation from others, it’s about my own fulfilment. You can’t necessarily change the opinion other people have of you, all you can do is do your best for yourself, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.

You’re away from home an awful lot – that must be tough.

Yeah, you do a lot of travelling – but the other side of it is there are a lot of jockeys out there who would love to be doing as much travelling as me, because it means you’re getting the rides. It’s probably seven-days-a-week during the winter time, you’re not home much, so the travelling can be tough.

You’ve got a novel coming out next month. Tell me about that?

It’s about a young jockey. The people who published my autobiography, Orion, asked me if I’d be interested in doing a novel a few years ago, and I said I’d give it a go. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. It’s about a young jockey who’s got a vendetta against three people who set his old man up. It’s quite racy in places, and I don’t mean in horse-racing terms. I enjoyed doing it, and I hope people will enjoy reading it.

How do you relax? You play a bit of golf, don’t you?

Yeah, I play golf whenever I can. I like sports, I like going to the football. I watch a lot of sport, I play a bit of golf and go to the football, to watch Arsenal, whenever I can. I find it pretty easy to relax, luckily.

What are the best and worst things about what you do?

The best thing about what I do is I get to live my life doing a job which is really a hobby. It’s not really like a nine-to-five job that other people have to go through. And the worst thing about it is that you can’t do it forever. Unlike most jobs, there’s an age after which you just can’t do it anymore. It won’t last forever.

If you had to choose between your book becoming a bestseller, having your most successful racing season ever, or Arsenal winning the title, which would you go for?

I’m very selfish, so it would be having my best season ever, without a doubt.

Channel 4 Racing: Home to horseracing every Saturday plus key mid-week Festivals.

The Morning Line 8am with Channel 4 Racing live from 1:30pm.

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