It goes without saying that AP McCoy will be the man in the spotlight for the remainder of the jump season. The great man’s announcement that he was to retire at the end of the campaign has put him in the spotlight even more than was the case before – which takes some doing. But in the process all the column inches and all the televisual focus are bound to detract attention away from his rivals. There is a sense that the next few months will become the AP McCoy show.
If that feels as though it is slightly out of step with the ethos of what is, after all, one of the most democratically competitive of sports, imagine what it feels like for his fellow jockeys. Never mind being gladdened by the prospect of seeing the back of him – something they have all done all too literally many times already – it would be a surprise if there were not one or two slightly bruised egos amongst their ranks. They are after all a competitive bunch.
At the time of going to press, McCoy – inevitably – sits atop the Jockeys’ Championship table, although the figure of 202 wins which the table shows will no doubt be out of date before the metaphorical ink is dry. Perhaps equally inevitably, however, is the name in second place.
The Runner up
Not for the first time, the runners’ up berth behind McCoy is occupied by Richard Johnson (123 wins). It is hard not to think that Johnson of all people will be ready to see the curtain finally come down on the McCoy era.
Johnson has finished second to McCoy in the Championship race no fewer than 15 times. The 37-year-old boasts a career tally of more than 2,800 winners. That is more than anyone barring you know who and he is relishing the prospect of a shot at the title. He is, he says, ready to give it everything he has got. Johnson is evens favourite ahead of the likes of Sam Twiston-Davies, Tom Scudamore and Barry Geraghty. It says much about the long shadow that McCoy casts that even though he has declared his retirement so emphatically in recent weeks he still makes that list.
But that favouritism – like so much else without McCoy involved – has a hollow ring to it. As Johnson has been quick to point out, winning the title is one thing. But winning the title and beating the greatest jump jockey to have set foot in a stirrup would be an altogether different achievement.
Before we get too carried away with ourselves, let us remember that the current campaign is far from over. Never mind taking anything for granted come next winter, there is no guarantee that Johnson will even be at the races next season. As he enters the veteran stage of his career, Philip Hobbs’ jockey of choice will be all too aware that the vagaries of fitness and good health are not something that he can necessarily take for granted.
A Sentimental Send off
Doubtless, McCoy will be buoyed around the country on a wave of sentiment over the coming months – and quite rightly so. He is still the greatest proponent of his sport any of us are ever likely to see. What he has achieved is simply off the scale. When you look at the numbers – 4,300+ winners compared to Johnson’s tally of 2,800+ and his winning ratio of 30% (this season) the extent of his dominance is inescapable. It is almost as though he has not been competing on the same turf as his rivals.
But it would be perhaps fitting if Richard Johnson were to steal the limelight in one of the season’s very biggest races. After so many long, hard years in the great champion’s shadow, now would be the perfect time to show the public just how good McCoy has had to be to beat him.