To try and pick the ten best rides of Tony McCoy’s long and illustrious career is certainly a challenge. After all, there are 4358 winners to choose from with over 33 years in the saddle. Just let those figures sink in for a moment and you begin to understand why he is revered as the Greatest Ever National Hunt Jockey. He rode his first winner at Thurles in 1992 on board a horse called Legal Steps trained by the legendary Jim Bolger and although he officially retired in the spring of 2015 he was coaxed into one last ride in the September of that year by Jack Berry.
That race was the Leger Legends Stakes at Doncaster, a race run in aid of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund, and McCoy’s ride was the 7/2 favourite Gannicus. He duly obliged and ensured a wonderful career ended with a a winner! So I have chosen ten of his greatest rides, I’m sure there have been better ones at smaller courses on wet Monday afternoons but these are milestones along the years in the life of a jockey we will never see the likes of again.
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DON’T PUSH IT
At last, at last, at the 15th attempt McCoy won the race that had eluded him throughout his time in the saddle, The Grand National! In 2010 he had the choice of four JP McManus horses entered for the race but didn’t care much for the chances of any of them until trainer Jonjo O’Neill’s persuasions that he should ride Don’t Push It changed his mind and convinced him that here was the horse to break his jinx in the race. McCoy had been placed on several occasions in the contest and had looked all over the winner in 2005 on Clan Royal but was carried out by a loose horse at Becher’s second time around.
Now here was his chance, he settled Don’t Push It into the main body of the field until well into the second circuit and made his move after Bechers Brook. With six fences to jump there were only a handful in with a chance and Black Apalachi took up the running and tried to take the legs out of his rivals. As they faltered one by one only McCoy’s mount was left as a challenger going over the last, he took over the lead on the run-in and saw out the race by five lengths prompting tears from the jockey and his entourage and massive cheers from the packed grandstands
After proving himself a fine hurdler in the 2006/2007 season by winning four times including a Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, he was highly tried the following year without success. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill and owner JP McManus decided to send him novice chasing the following season, 2008/2009, and he had won twice at Chepstow by early December. He was then put away with Cheltenham in mind and was entered for the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase, a 3 mile contest where he was sent off 5/1 favourite partly because McCoy was in the saddle. He gave the jockey a terrible ride over the 20 fences, he hit the 9th and 10th hard and McCoy had to give him reminders.
He then clobbered the 15th but was making headway under the ministrations of his rider but he then hit 3 out and had plenty to do. But he rallied from 2 out and with McCoy pumping away like a steam engine up the Cheltenham Hill he was able to catch the leader, Maljimar, in the final strides and prevail by a neck, a great victory. As a sad postscript to this Wichita Lineman went to Fairyhouse for the Irish National next time out but fell at the 1st fence and was sadly killed so ending what could have been a promising career for the young horse.
This Class4 is included here because of the strange happenings and the enterprising tactics of Tony McCoy. The year was 2002 and the Feast Of St Raymond Novices Chase was being run at Southwell in late January. McCoy was on the odds-on favourite, Family Business, trained by Martin Pipe and he faced 6 rivals. The 6-year-old had seemed an enterprising point-to-pointer and had won under rules the previous month at Leicester, but nothing in the form book could prepare the punters at the Nottinghamshire course for what they were about to witness. In the 3 mile Chase, two of the seventeen fences had been omitted so the 7 runners set out on their journey. Two of the big outsiders didn’t get very far with one falling at the 1st fence and one at the third, so the other five continued on their way. Family Business made a mistake at the 7th but survived, then jumped left at the 10th and McCoy went out of the side door.
He was listening to the tannoy and heard there was another two fallers at the 12th then another at the 13th. Family Business had been caught by a handler and even though he was miles behind the only horse left in the race he thought it was worth riding out for a place so he remounted, jumped the fence where he had come to grief and set off in pursuit. He was not to know that two of the fallers in front of him had also remounted! McCoy toiled away while way in front of him the other three horses has reached the 14th fence where two of them refused and the other unseated his rider, McCoy and Family Business sailed past this melee and finished alone for one of the most unlikely victories in the history of National Hunt racing.
McCoy stepped in for the ride on Best Mate in the 2001 King George at Kempton on Boxing Day Due to his usual rider Jim Culloty being injured. He was under orders to ride him conservatively in what was his first try at 3 miles. Best Mate travelled well throughout the race but was found wanting when he came to challenge and was beaten by the popular Florida Pearl. McCoy is said to have blamed himself for that defeat but he was given a chance at redemption the following year when Culloty was banned and McCoy found himself back in the saddle for the 2002 race.
This time there were no conservative tactics, McCoy never makes the same mistake twice, he raced Best Mate close up and took up the lead four out. He was joined by Nicky Henderson’s Marlborough after two out and he was looking threatening, they were over the last together but despite Marlborough giving his all McCoy knew how much horse he had under him and he kept on gamely at the finish to win by a length and a half.
Another JP McManus horse trained by Jonjo O’Neill, he had the reputation as something of a plodder which was not really fair. He may have had only a fair record as a hurdler winning only 3 out of 10 starts but he won the Midlands Grand National in his first season when only a 7-year-old. The following season he won the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow then ran third in the Midlands National when trying to reprise his victory of the previous year under a huge weight, on all these occasions McCoy was in the saddle. In 2011/2012 he had a couple of runs before going to Leopardstown for the Lexus Chase at their Christmas meeting where McCoy duly steered him to an 8 lengths victory in the Group 1 race.
From that run connections decided to have a crack at the Gold Cup at Cheltenham with him but he was not really fancied by the bookmakers or the punting public even with McCoy aboard, that was not surprising considering he was up against Kauto Star and Long Run. Synchronised didn’t give his backers much hope when he hit two out of the first three fences and had to be pushed along at the rear of the field, he rallied slightly but then made more mistakes at the 11th and 18th , things were not going well at all. Coming down the hill he hit three out and was only in sixth place but under McCoys driving he was in contention at the last. He went on from Long Run and The Giant Bolster and kept on gamely up the Cheltenham hill for a famous victory.
This Henrietta Knight trained horse was one of the classiest chasers you could wish to see, he was already a Festival winner having won the Grand Annual in 1998 under McCoy. The following season 1998/1999 he won the Tingle Creek at Sandown prior to coming to Cheltenham for the Queen Mother Champion Chase where he was sent off as favourite. He put up a great show with McCoy urging him on but Mick Fitzgerald just got the better of him on Call Equiname when taking the lead in the last 100 yards. So Mrs Knight plotted the following season’s plan of attack and Edredon Bleu promptly won the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon for her but then came a major setback with defeat at Sandown In the Tingle Creek where he was headed before the last and faded into third on the run-in behind Flagship Uberalles and Direct Route.
He had another run at Sandown prior to the Festival but could finish only third again in a Class2 race. So to Cheltenham for the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase more in hope than certainty as he was up against the pair who had defeated him in the Tingle Creek but in one of the greatest pieces of horsemanship I’ve ever seen McCoy sent Edredon Bleu into the lead from the fall of the flag. Four fences from home in the 2 mile contest he kicked him on again but the two protagonists from Sandown were after him and were eating into his lead as they rounded the home turn. McCoy kicked on again and was still in front two out but the chasing pair were upsides him coming to the last. All three jumped the last well and Direct Route seemed to be getting the better of the other two and went a neck in front with 100 yards to go but McCoy would not be denied and urged his mount forward to the line to take victory by a short head.
Known for having finished 3rd in two Aintree Grand Nationals, this quirky individual was trained by Martin Pipe, the trainer who had given McCoy his chance when he came to the UK. Blowing Wind could blow hot and cold, in his career he won twice at the Cheltenham Festival, the County Hurdle in 1998 and Mildmay Of Flete Chase in 2002. The 1998 victory in the County gave him a famous double as he had won the Imperial Cup at Sandown a week earlier winning a huge bonus for the owner. McCoy rode him on both occasions and gave him exemplary rides to ensure victory.
But the race I want to highlight was Blowing Wind’s first run in the Grand National in 2001 where both he and McCoy were going along very nicely despite the carnage going on around them due to the heavy conditions. They had negotiated the first circuit and were heading out again in third place ready to pick off the leaders, they got as far as 19th fence, the first open ditch on second circuit, when they were badly hampered, the horse refused and McCoy was thrown off. Although he was some way behind the leaders, McCoy knew there were few left in the race so decided to remount as did Ruby Walsh who had suffered the same fate as McCoy at the same fence. The pair of them had their own private battle but McCoy got the better of his great rival and came home in his own time to claim third place to the delight of each-way punters.
Here we have a horse who was a Cheltenham specialist having won the Royal & Sun Alliance in 2008 and the Ryanair in 2010. Again trained by Jonjo O’ Neill but this time owned by Trevor Hemings he was a horse who was usually kept off the pace but came with a late run to take the spoils. By the time of the 2011 Ryanair he was a 10-year-old and McCoy was worried he might be susceptible to some of the younger horses who might push him for pace over the last couple of furlongs. So he decided to change tactics and this race shows what a masterful judge of pace he was.
He immediately sent Albertas Run to the front and was not challenged for the lead until the 3rd fence when Rubi Light came upsides but McCoy sent his charge on again until the 10th when Rubi Light came at him again and took over the lead. But McCoy was not flustered and continued to challenge that rival but he hit the 13th, which was five fences from home, and lost a little ground. Again McCoy sent his mount on and took advantage of a blunder by his rival to take the lead once more but by now the pack were closing but Albertas Run was hard driven and he stayed on under pressure on the run-in to stay a length clear of his nearest rival. This was certainly a master tactician at work.
This horse trained then by Carl Llewellyn had not won since 2007 and his last race had been in an amateur riders event at the Cheltenham Festival where he had finished 5th of 19 runners. But when the weights were declared for the 2009 Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown (formerly the Whitbread) and Hennessy was given 10st 7lbs Llewellyn promptly booked McCoy for only his second ever ride on the gelding. His previous ride on the him was a small Novices Hurdle at Uttoxeter which, of course, McCoy won. To make this weight for the Sandown race meant he would have to spend many hours in the sauna and this fact was not overlooked by the punters or the bookmakers and Hennessy was backed down to second favourite.
McCoy made the the weight but from the off the gelding was not always fluent at his fences and by the 13th of the 24 fences he had to be pushed along. Two horses had gone clear and McCoy drove his mount to chase them from the 17th along with Briery Fox who went clear of Hennessy and took the lead going over the last. McCoy’s charge was 6 lengths down in fourth when he took the last but that famous pumping action saw him eat up the ground on the long run-in to the post to catch Briery Fox in the final strides and win by a neck.
MAKE A STAND
A real superstar from Martin Pipe’s stable who won 9 of his 14 hurdle races but his first run at Cheltenham in November 1996 did not at all go to plan. He had won a small race at Stratford the month before and was sent here under Adrian McGuire to run in a Class B Handicap Hurdle, he set his usual strong pace but was headed two out and finished 5th. He then set up winning sequence of four of which McCoy won two including the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January 1997.
Everything was in place for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle itself but Pipe would need a jockey who could judge the race and deal with Make A Stand speed both on the flat and over the obstacles – that could only be Tony McCoy. They never saw another horse from flag to post as he came home by 5 lengths from Theatreworld, breaking the track record in the process, a performance described by the great Alastair Down as “a remorseless display of speed and precision hurdling”. He was injured when trying to employ the same tactics in the Aintree Hurdle three weeks later so we never saw the best of him but that ride from McCoy will live long in the memory.
Find all previous Seymour Biz racing editorials in his weekly column: Saturday Horse Racing Tips