Tony McCoy yesterday produced the kind of swashbuckling ride for which he has become so famed as he secured his 4,000th winner over jumps at Towcester.
A huge crowd descended on the Northamptonshire circuit – which, as always, offered free admission – in the hope of seeing history being made and McCoy was in no mood to let his supporters down.
Having earlier suffered disappointment when 3-1 favourite Church Field could finish only fifth in the Agetur Handicap Hurdle, the 18-times champion again teamed up with trainer Jonjo O’Neill and owner JP McManus as 6-4 favourite Mountain Tunes kicked off his career under Rules in the Weatherbys Novices’ Hurdle.
Having travelled strongly for much of the two-mile-five-furlong journey, the Irish point-to-point winner appeared booked for minor honours as Panama Petrus and Kris Spin asserted from the home turn.
However, the 39-year-old rider had not given up on Mountain Tunes back in third and galvanised his mount to ensure he was in with a chance jumping the final obstacle.
Kris Spin held a narrow advantage on touching down, but McCoy threw everything at the market leader and, with the packed grandstands roaring in anticipation, Mountain Tunes claimed victory by half a length.
McCoy had made no secret of his desire to secure his 4,000th winner in the green and gold silks of McManus, to whom he has held a retainer for the last nine years, and the delight on his face as he passed the post in front was clear.
With McManus, O’Neill and his family on hand to immediately join in the celebrations, McCoy admitted it was a fairytale end to his quest to reach the incredible milestone.
McCoy said: “It was just amazing, it couldn’t have worked out any better.
“To do it for Jonjo and the McManus’s is brilliant as they’ve been so good to me. It was always hopefully going to be in JP’s colours. I’ve had the same agent, Dave Roberts, from day one and his dad sadly passed away yesterday so I’d like to dedicate this to him.
“To have Chanelle [wife], Eve and Archie [children] here is great and to do it in the McManus silks means a lot – Eve thinks they belong to me!
“I’m very lucky I work in a great sport. I get lots of support and work for great people. You only have to look at the amount of people who have come out today and supported me. I feel very humbled by it.
“I don’t feel I’m any different to anyone else. I hope everyone in the weighing room doesn’t think I am any different after today.
“I’ve ridden 4,000 winners. I’ll try to ride a few more. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved and being able to last, one way or another. I’m lucky and proud to have done it.
“I live in the fear of not winning, but I wouldn’t be in this job if I didn’t enjoy what I do. You have to have goals. Otherwise you get a bit lazy. I’m one of those people who needs to chase something. I find it easier because I love what I do, but it keeps me working that bit harder.”
Of his winning ride, McCoy said: “To be honest, I didn’t give Mountain Tunes a good ride. Jonjo told me he was a nice horse and to ride him like one and not be worried about everyone else watching. The horse was fantastic. You can’t win any horse race without their help and I’ve ridden some fantastic horses.
“There is a sense of relief, no doubt, but, for the first time in my life, I feel a sense of pride of what I’ve achieved.
“When I got out there [on the track] the thought never came into my head that someone was watching me. When I’m out there, I’m on my own.
“It wasn’t until I got past the winning post today that I felt I was doing something different.”
McCoy was quick to speak of JT McNamara, the jockey who was left paralysed following a fall at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
He said: “Every season I want to be champion jockey but, as a jump jockey, you have to take it day by day. The last two weekends I’ve spent at Southport with John Thomas McNamara after racing and that is the reality of this game.”
Asked about riding 5,000 winners, McCoy said: “Anything is possible.”
McManus embraced McCoy when he dismounted and said: “What a man and what a ride. That ride sums him up. I remember when he first came to the UK, Christy Roche brought him to my attention and he said ‘you know this AP, he’s getting 7lb and he should be giving weight away’.”
McManus announced he would pay for drinks at Towcester so everyone could celebrate. He said: “I was delighted to have the opportunity to buy a drink for everybody here to toast what AP has done today. I’m very fortunate.”
O’Neill said: “He’s an amazing man, fantastic, that was brilliant to watch – 4,000 winners or not, that was a brilliant race to watch.”
McCoy’s 4,000 winners have come from 16,152 rides – a strike rate of 24.8 percent – and his feat in reaching the landmark can be put in perspective with Richard Johnson, the next most successful jump jockey, on 2,567.
Johnson, 15-times a runner-up to McCoy in the jockeys’ championship, was one of many to pay tribute.
“What he’s achieved has been amazing,” he said. “He has completely rewritten what we thought was achievable in a season, and a career. He rarely makes mistakes – you would struggle to think of one. He is a machine who turns out winners.”
McCoy’s former boss Martin Pipe, with whom he forged such a prolific partnership, labelled the Ulsterman “absolutely phenomenal”.
“I’m sure he rode over 1,000 winners for me,” Pipe said last night. “It’s absolutely amazing. AP is just absolutely phenomenal. Always Perfect – his two initials.
“He’s absolutely incredible. Not only is he a great friend, he’s a brilliant jockey and a brilliant role model for the young jockeys to follow.”
Speaking at the beginning of this month, McCoy had reiterated his admiration for Pipe and that he had one eye on his former ally’s career total of winners. He said: “When I rode 3,000 I never thought that would happen, but Martin Pipe’s record of 4,182 is something that I’ve thought about.
“We still keep in touch, when I had a spare 20 minutes we had a chat and his figure is there for me to aim at.”