Tony McCoy thanked the racing public for making the last two months of his career the most memorable of all as their appreciation helped him cope with the thought of retirement.
Since announcing his intention to retire in February, McCoy has enjoyed a farewell tour up and down the country as well as travelling over to Ireland, with attendances at usually mundane midweek meetings boosted by his presence.
The adulation shown to him has made the 20-times champion jockey realise just how much he affected the lives of the racing fraternity but while the decision to quit seemed to some to come out of the blue, McCoy feels he owes it to his family to go out at the top.
In the aftermath of returning to the unsaddling enclosure for the final time at Sandown on Saturday, McCoy admitted it had been “one of the hardest days my life”.
He did not enjoy the fairytale finish so many would have wished for as he rode the final two mounts of his illustrious career, with Mr Mole claiming third in the bet365 AP McCoy Celebration Chase and Box Office finishing in the same place in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle. However, speaking yesterday on the first morning he could no longer call himself a jockey, McCoy admitted he was overwhelmed by the reception he got from the sell-out 18,000 crowd at Sandown.
He said: “It was very difficult to take it all in yesterday [Saturday]. The crowd, the people round the parade ring, the great racing public came out in force and I was very flattered and honoured by it all.
“To get a reception like that for doing something I’ve loved to do for pretty much all my life, I’m really going to miss it. I told all the lads yesterday to enjoy it while you’re doing it because the end comes quickly.
“It’s very nice to feel that I have the respect of people up and down the country. For the last 21 years I’ve ridden up and down the country pretty much full on but over the last two-and-a-half months people have come out to give me a wonderful welcome and I’m very grateful of that.
“It would be very difficult not to notice how that has developed and I’d like to thank all those people for coming out and making the last few months of my career so special and making it a little bit easier.
“I thought it would die down but it never really did and those are things I’ll remember forever. When I looked around yesterday, as difficult as it was, it helped me realise I’d made the right decision. If I’d carried on and maybe not been as good as I was a lot of these people might not have come out. It’s hard to say it but it is probably the right decision.
“I never felt like I did a day’s work in my life, I’ve felt a lot of satisfaction and fulfilment and I’m very proud of what I’ve been lucky enough to achieve but so many people have helped that happen. I was just the lucky one who got on the best horse most of the time. The owners, the trainers, the lads, the horses, I could go on all day thanking people.
“Obviously my wife Chanelle wanted me to retire but at the same time I knew myself it was the right time for my family. My mum and dad are in their 70s now and don’t enjoy watching me as much any more because of the dangers involved, so it makes their life easier.”
The 40-year-old’s departure marks the end of his long domination of the National Hunt sphere, which yielded 31 Cheltenham Festival winners as well as two Gold Cups and one famous Grand National success.
McCoy bows out having dominated the jockeys’ title for two decades, with the now-decommissioned trophy awarded for one final time before his ride on Mr Mole.
A total of 4,357 career winners have been banked since he first struck gold with Legal Steps at Thurles in March 1992, with Capard King giving him a final triumph at Ayr on 17 April.
McCoy points to Don’t Push It’s Grand National victory in 2010 as one of the seminal moments of his career, along with Synchronised’s 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup win and his 4,000th success aboard Mountain Tunes at Towcester in 2013.
“Probably the three best days in racing I had were on horses trained by Jonjo [O’Neill],” he said. “Winning the Grand National on Don’t Push It [was one] as winning that meant I was lucky enough to be the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. That was down to Jonjo, as was Synchronised and Mountain Tunes. I’ve been so lucky with the horses I have ridden, they have been my first love.”