'Black sheep' AP McCoy: Never being happy is what makes a top jockey happy

AP McCoy retired from a career as the world's top jump jockey with 4,357 winners to his credit, having been champion jockey a record-breaking 20 consecutive times. But did it all make the Co Antrim man happy? Well, yes and no, he tells Joanne Sweeney

Tony McCoy in his native Moneyglass, Co Antrim, two years ago when he took part in a charity Donkey Derby Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Joanne Sweeney

SIR Anthony Peter, or AP, or Tony McCoy as he's known throughout the world, has to be the most celebrated 'black sheep' of any family.

Yet despite achieving fame, fortune and a glittering sporting career, that's precisely how the 20-time champion jockey categorises his position in the McCoy clan.

The reason? He's the stubborn child who, at the age of 15, dared to leave the modest home in Moneyslane, Co Antrim, of his parents Peadar and Claire and his five siblings to grab the opportunity to pursue his dream of being a jockey.

I tell McCoy, retired for two-and-a-half years now, that his mum once told me she was fiercely proud of all her children equally, not just of of him as a superstar of the racing world. However, he good-naturedly gives me his own take on that claim.

"I'm the black sheep. Don't be in any doubt at all about that – I'm the black sheep," he says emphatically. "Everybody may think, 'Your son has done great' but in Claire's eyes, I'm the black sheep. I left home, so that's it."

It's fair to say that from riding his first winner in 1992 as a 17-year-old, McCoy still hasn't found what he's looking for in replacing the exquisite "torture" he put on himself as he clocked up 4,357 winners.

"Somebody said to me not long after I retired that sports people are the only people who die twice," he tells me when we chat, on one of his flying trips back home to see his family.

"I'm aware that what I had before is gone and it's not replaceable... I'm not getting it back. No matter what I go into in my life now, it's never going to be the same because all I ever wanted to be was a jockey."

McCoy won all the big races, the notables being the Cheltenham Gold Cup – twice, in 1997 and 2012 – and the Grand National, on board the aptly-named Don't Push It, in 2010. He was the first jockey to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in in 2010 and the RTE Sports Personality of the Year in 2013.

Of course he chose to retire at the top of his game in 2015, claiming the champion jockey honour for the last time and making room – at last – for his nearest rival, Richard Johnson, to take the honour in the past two years.

Since then he has become a racing commentator for ITV, played a lot of pro-am golf tournaments around the world and taken a lot of holidays. He was knighted last year and amid rubbing shoulders with other sporting greats such as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, was recently guest speaker at the Irish News Allstars awards.

Life is very different now for the father-of-two – Eve (10) and Archie (four) – and his wife, Lady Chanelle McCoy, a successful businesswoman who joined the dragons on Ireland's Dragons' Den earlier this year.

"It's very different in that when I was a jockey, when you got up in the morning, you would be under pressure," he reflects. "You are always chasing goals and in a funny kind of way you're never content. You're always chasing something more and the goalposts always move no matter how well you do.

"It's a terrible thing to say that you're never happy because obviously being never happy is what makes you happy. I know the psychology of it is not right, but I think you enjoy the torture. You enjoy the not being content; you enjoy being under pressure.

"I said to someone not long ago that I don't think I was content the 20 years I was riding but I must have been happy because that was why I did it. It obviously must have satisfied me and made me tick."

He has come to realise that replacing his riding obsession and being 'the best' will not be easy as he negotiates the rest of his life.

"People say that you must love being on TV. I do it because I like watching horses and I like talking about them but it ain't like riding. For me the biggest problem will be finding something that I really, really enjoy.

"I'm 100 per cent of the opinion that what you do in life, whatever business you're in, to be really successful you have to really enjoy it. I keep thinking over the last two and a half years that something will come up. It's going to come but I'm not sure [what]."

A retiree at 43, McCoy now has time to wake up and smell the coffee, do the school runs, and eat steak and chips and sweets, which he couldn't before due to the strict diet regime he needed to adhere to. As one of racing's taller jockeys, at 5ft 10in, keeping his weight down was always an issue for him.

He also discovered he has feet of clay like the rest of us when he noticed he had put on two and a half stone since he hung up his riding boots.

"I was 10st 2lbs on the day I retired and my body fat percentage was 6.5 per cent, which was low. Then, during Royal Ascot, where I was working for ITV, I went to put on one of my waistcoats and I couldn't get it on.

"Basically from that morning I thought that I would never be one of those people [who permanently lose shape after the end of their sporting career] and I started going back to the gym and eating healthily. I got back down to 11st 7lb. And I'll need to get on a healthy buzz again before Christmas."

McCoy knows that his relentless pursuit of the next win has come at a great personal cost to his family and himself, particularly when you consider that most of the bones in his body were broken at some time over his career. But it was fatherhood that ultimately saved him from complete immersion in his sport.

"I would say that I've been better person since the kids came along. The kids really changed my attitude and made me a nicer person. Anyway, I'm not near as selfish as I was and I'm not the same person I was since I retired," he reflects.

"Sometimes I think, God, what would I do if that was Evie or Archie and I was watching TV and got a phone call to say that your child is being put on a spinal board and you don't know if they will ever walk again.

"There are times that I feel a bit guilty about what I put my mother through and particularly when she says that her biggest regret in life is letting me leave home at 15. My daughter Eve is now 10 and if someone told me that she's leaving home in five years I would be gutted."

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