Tearful Tony McCoy denied victories in final races of career - Sports Illustrated

Tearful Tony McCoy denied victories in final races of career

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ESHER, England (AP) Surrounded by an 18,000-capacity crowd at Sandown Park racecourse, Tony McCoy pulled down his goggles to mask the tears.

Realizing this was finally the end of a glittering career, this fiercest of competitors - the most successful jump jockey in British racing history - was overwhelmed by the emotion of his last ever race.

McCoy wanted to go out on a high, still a champion. He did just that on Saturday by collecting the champion jockey trophy for a 20th consecutive year to take home for good.

The Hollywood ending would have seen his record of 4,348 jumps winners extended, but a pair of third places for McCoy did nothing to lessen the celebratory atmosphere. Saturday's winners had to take a back seat as he was acclaimed for one last time.

There was even an AP McCoy Celebration Chase, although the man himself - on board Mr. Mole - couldn't catch winner Special Tiara or Sprinter Sacre.

In the final ride of his illustrious career in the Handicap Hurdle, McCoy summoned every last ounce of resolve but 5-2 favorite Box Office was too far behind Brother Tedd and Gran Maestro.

''There were tears coming back on Box Office but I pulled my goggles down so nobody would notice,'' said the usually unflappable McCoy, who is popularly known as AP.

''The reception I had and the noise, it was never difficult not to become emotional.''

The eyes around Sandown were trained all day on the 40-year-old Northern Irishman wearing the customary green and yellow silks of retained owner JP McManus. He spent the hours before his final two races seeming to meet every request for selfies and autographs from fans as he was mobbed around the parade ring.

''We have a very lucky and privileged way of life,'' McCoy later explained, in a cautionary message to stars from across the sporting spectrum.

Such is McCoy's fame that the former England and Arsenal soccer player Ian Wright handed over the champion trophy in the sun-kissed parade ring as racegoers sang ''For he's a jolly good fellow.''

And always a champion. Since McCoy's first season as a professional in 1996, he has won the champion jockey title every year in Britain. Now there will be a vacancy.

It was apt that McCoy's great rival, Richard Johnson, who has continuously finished runner-up in the annual rankings, won that final race on Brother Tedd.

''In every sport you need someone to drive you to the end,'' McCoy said.

But, for once, Johnson would happily have accepted being second best.

''It's a sad day,'' the 37-year-old Johnson said. ''He's been one of my best friends for a long time. It's great to ride a winner but it's an amazing day for him, he's the one we should look at.''

The king of jump racing went into retirement with the acclamation of the royal family.

''To win 20 championships is an exceptional achievement, perhaps unmatched in any other sporting discipline, and he has done it in a tough, exhilarating and often dangerous sport,'' Princess Anne, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, said in the Racing Post newspaper.

McCoy has already received two lesser royal honors, and a knighthood could be next. When McCoy posed with his champion trophy, a banner appeared behind him in the parade ring: ''Your majesty, please Sir AP McCoy''.

McCoy has won every big British race at least once, including the Grand National in 2010 on his 15th attempt, and rewritten virtually every record in the book.

''All records get broken, I hope I'm dead,'' McCoy quipped.

But amid the witty asides, McCoy paused to reflect on those jockeys who have been fatally or seriously injured chasing their dreams.

McCoy's own body was battered in the pursuit of glory. Most of his teeth are chipped or are replacements. He has suffered punctured lungs, broken his leg, ankle, thumb, lower and middle vertebrae, ribs, wrist, arm, shoulder blades, collarbones and cheekbones.

However much of a wrench McCoy finds retirement, from Sunday he can savor the memories of a career that produced winners from March 1992 at Thurles in Ireland until this month at Ayr in Scotland.

''I wanted to go out while I was still performing well, while I was still enjoying it and while I was still the champion jockey,'' McCoy said.

But there is trepidation about what life without racing will be like.

''Enjoy it while you can because it doesn't half finish quick,'' McCoy said in a parting message to jockeys. ''The best things in my life are behind me ... so it's going to be tough.''


Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris