As if the Cheltenham Festival required an extra injection of drama, we now have the storyline of AP McCoy’s final appearance at Prestbury Park before he rides off, via Aintree, into retirement. Surely millions will be tuning in to Channel 4 Racing to see how the script ends.
McCoy, numerically at least, is the best jockey that National Hunt racing has ever seen. It’s hard to believe anyone will ever get near his mammoth tally that stands at over 4,300 winners. At the age of 40, and in sight of his 20th jockeys’ title, McCoy has decided the time is right to hang up his saddle.
Selecting a handful of photographs to document the career of someone so successful and associated with any number of brilliant horses over two decades is a difficult task. This month’s Big Picture Special dedicated to the jockey, features some defining images, all captured by George Selwyn.
The question now is who will succeed McCoy, both as owner JP McManus’s retained rider and in the jockeys’ table
Everyone will have their own favourite memories of McCoy in action and, while it may seem strange to pick a horse that didn’t win, his ride on Denman in the 2010 Gold Cup is one that sticks out in my mind.
Denman had jumped poorly on his previous outing at Newbury when unseating McCoy, who was riding ‘The Tank’ for the first time. There had been some discussion in racing circles that he wasn’t the right partner for the dual Hennessy and Gold Cup winner, whose previous big wins had come under Ruby Walsh and Sam Thomas.
At Cheltenham, McCoy produced a ride that, for me, encapsulated everything he is about: aggression, strength, fearlessness and determination. Always prominent in the race, he fired Denman into the final five fences, as if their Newbury nightmare had never happened, and although they came up short against Imperial Commander, it was a terrific performance by horse and jockey.
Of course, alongside the moments of triumph and euphoria, the Gold Cups, Grand National and festival winners, there have been dark days, tragedies that recall the names of Gloria Victis, Valiramix and Synchronised. The mental strength needed to overcome these setbacks must be phenomenal and cannot be underestimated.
The question now is who will succeed McCoy, both as owner JP McManus’s retained rider and in the jockeys’ table. No-one would begrudge Richard Johnson his first championship after chasing McCoy in vain for so many years but there will be a host of rivals now thinking they are in with a realistic chance.
One man who could emerge as a contender is McCoy’s replacement at the Pipe stable, Tom Scudamore. He has broken the 100-winner barrier for two seasons running and would love to emulate his dad, Peter, the eight-time champion who recorded seven successive titles between 1985 and 1992.
In this month’s Big Interview, father and son talk to Julian Muscat about life in the saddle, how their relationship has changed over the years and why they have been inspired to succeed by their family background.
Those who believe that riding the most winners doesn’t necessarily make you the greatest jockey will find support in Peter Scudamore’s assessment of his son’s career.
“It was a big thrill to see Tom ride 100 winners in a season for the first time,” he says. “I started riding at a time when 70 winners would make you champion jockey, but to ride 100 winners is still a big milestone. It shows you are up there with the best.
“People want the next in line to be even better than the one before, and while Tom is probably a better jockey than I was, I won all those titles.”
Tom Scudamore may have to wait another year to try and win the Gold Cup – one of the few races that eluded his father – although exciting novice Kings Palace could be that horse in 2016.
One man who does look to have an outstanding chance in this year’s blue riband is Oliver Sherwood. He tells Tim Richards about his big hope Many Clouds and looks back over some of his previous 1,000 winners.