13 January 2002

The extraordinary Tony McCoy continues his quest for more records with a hard-earned Warwick double

The road to Gordon Richards’ 269 record will be as long and hard as any in sport. Tony McCoy rode the 201st and 202nd winners of his remarkable season, but as he got dressed afterwards your first thoughts were as much sympathy as admiration.

For the day had also included three hard-slog losers, and as he gingerly put a silver victory salver into his bag, the soreness of his three falls on Wednesday and the strain of wasting that 5 foot 11 inch frame down to near 10 stone for what has already been a 699-ride season, was all too obvious. A long piece of sticking plaster covered the back of his neck and his mouth pinched in discomfort as he bent down. If he just worked in an office you would tell him not to bother turning up until Wednesday.

But McCoy doesn’t do days off. In company with fellow jockey Norman Williamson, he was off to catch a plane for Dublin – three rides at Leopardstown today including the favourite Doonaree in the featured Pierse Hurdle. So at least there will be a decent meal that evening. “No,” he says with that haunted, starvation look, “he only has 10st 7lb, it will have to be something very small.”

He is, of course, on a treadmill of his own making. At 27 and in his ninth British season, he feels the pain and the privation all right but he has set himself this task, this quite unequalled set of daily challenges and that, as far as Anthony Patrick McCoy is concerned, is the end of it. We may worry about him, but first and foremost we have to marvel at what he does.

“He is just quite extraordinary,” said trainer and former record-breaking champion jockey Jonjo O’Neill yesterday. O’Neill had just watched his German-bred Miros storm away with Warwick’s Gerrard Tolworth Hurdle with McCoy a distant fifth on the disappointing French import Stormez, but his mind was still on the ride McCoy had given his Native Man to reach the 200 mark at Huntingdon on Friday. “The horse breaks blood vessels, but Tony just nursed him. He can ride any race, any way. There has never been anyone near him.”

What O’Neill and other professionals particularly admire is the way McCoy has now added patience and cunning to the unequalled compulsion which immediately set him apart. Time was when much more often than not he would attack his races from the start, prepared to drive his horse every stride for three miles if necessary. He can still do that when needed, but both yesterday’s winners, Seebald and Classified, were typically dropped in behind the pace early on and eased up to take control of their races later.

Classified hacked up to put himself on course for Cheltenham’s long distance Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle and Seebald was equally impressive en route to the Arkle, but only after apparently taking a chance with one of the early fences. “No, he was fine,” said McCoy afterwards about the Steve McManaman-Robbie Fowler flag carrier who was winning for the seventh time in succession, “he wasn’t a very good jumper of hurdles, but he is a great jumper of fences.”

Suddenly you get a glimpse of what drives him. There may have been curled lip dismissals of some of his less successful partners but here was a horse who was giving him the drug, the winners, he craves. He has honed his body and his mind into a freakish, centaur like machine. He now can only fuel it if with constant re-injections of that winning buzz. It’s tough but it’s now his destiny.

There were plenty of other highlights. The Last Fling living up to his name in Warwick’s richest ever chase, the grey Turgeonev winging home in Ascot’s Victor Chandler Chase for the versatile Tim Easterby stable, which 25 minutes later sent out Barton to saunter home at Newcastle and set himself up, like Turgeonev, for Cheltenham.

But the day, like so many others before and to come, belonged to a tall young man setting himself a daily task no other athlete even approaches. There will be bad days amongst the good ones, and falls may yet stop the record attempt. But sport, not just racing, should rejoice the fact that it has Tony McCoy.

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