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Saturdays Will Change Forever as McCoy announces retirement

It’s the kind of announcement that induced disbelief, the kind of declaration that no racing fan ever wanted to hear and a proclamation still too surreal to comprehend. AP McCoy’s announcement on Saturday afternoon, that he is to retire at the end of the jumps racing season in late April, may not have been a ‘Where were you when JFK was shot’ moment as we all knew this day would eventually come, but that certainly makes the pill no easier to swallow.

Jockeys have retired before and will do so in the future but McCoy is different on so many levels. Simply put, Tony McCoy is the greatest National Hunt jockey in the history of the game. The most successful of all time and champion on 19 occasions, a 20th almost assured, he has endeared himself to so many with his never say die attitude. His insistence on getting every ounce of effort form his mounts will be something that punters up and down the country are going to sorely miss. He was the ultimate bookmaker’s tormentor. Indeed it is testament to the man that there is so many examples of him never giving up on hopeless causes.

The one that immediately springs to mind was his tour de force performance on Wichita Lineman at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009. The well backed favourite was on and off the bridle for most of the race and having clouted a half a dozen fences, he had no business even being in contention at the top of hill. Nobody would have had a second thought had he come home in his own time but McCoy wasn’t having any of it. Coaxed and cajoled down the hill, both horse and rider looked booked for a place at best. Approaching the last McCoy literally lifted his mouth over the fence. As they climbed racing’s most gruelling hill, now deep into the torture chamber, McCoy asked Wichita Lineman for one last big effort and the horse once more duly responded and incredibly got up in the shadow of the post. The crowd went berserk.

Racing UK contributor Graham Cunningham summed up the ride perfectly when he uttered the following: ‘It’s just freakish, it’s just animalistic, it’s powerful, it’s irresistible, it’s unbeatable because the horse was never going well from an early stage. He was getting severe reminders from half way. But just look at McCoy and the people who have backed this horse ante-post and on the day, he still has four lengths to make up that white face coming through the gloom. And people who have backed Wichita Lineman are now saying I need you more than want you and I want you for all time and the Wichita Lineman gets it on the line!’

Cheltenham 10/03/09

His feats are unlikely to ever be matched. He has ridden 4,315 winners to date in Britain and Ireland. To put that into context his close adversary Ruby Walsh has yet to reach 2,500 winners. In April he’ll claim a 20th successive jockey’s championship and his record breaking 289 winners in a single season will never be broken. In typical McCoy style he unassuming stated that he had ‘overachieved’.

He has though, like every jump jockey, endured bone crunching falls over the years but with every tumble comes the chance of serious injury – a fear ever present for his loved ones. Now a father to two children and at 40 years young, it is easy to see why he has made such a decision. Even more understandable was the sport’s reaction to the announcement.

Sure, nobody has thankfully died here and quite rightly we should be celebrating a sporting legend retiring and a champion going out on high. But there is loss, a void that is going to be difficult to fill. National Hunt racing has lost its greatest ambassador and arguably it’s best attraction. In truth, Saturday’s just won’t feel the same anymore.