The jumps season gets underway at its Cheltenham headquarters this weekend but for the first time in over twenty years, Antony Peter McCoy will not ride at the Gloucester track anymore. Nor will he be champion jumps jockey, a title he has held since the year I was born. The Northern Irishman will not grace any racecourse, don his usual green-and-yellow silks nor lift any equestrian trophy. The buzz and emotion of his swansong last season won’t just evaporate; it’ll be consciously missing.
In a sport of ever-changing fortunes, horses and courses – with a British fixture list of three-hundred-and-sixty-two days a year – AP McCoy has been a constant. It’s important to point out this wasn’t just for avid racing fans; he was in fact the figurehead of our sport to the wider community, even crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010. More importantly, a figurehead we could rely upon.
Integrity shouldn’t be a quality underestimated. Unlike jump racing, some sports have lately been landed with the disgrace of their previously hailed frontmen – look little further than Lance Armstrong in Cycling or the ever-present drugs bans of sprinters in Athletics. But jump racing, a sport always held at the height of suspicion, particularly by animal rights groups, was gifted with Tony McCoy – a consistent and dependable flag-bearer for the sport we love. On a racecourse, non-racing fans would seek out his name on a racecard in an act of trusting familiarity. We always knew he could be relied upon to perform the role of introducing our friends to the sport. How many racing fans were converted to the sport because of him? I’ll raise my hand eagerly to that.
Equine or human, the old champions have gone. Kauto Star and his brigade of the late noughties are yet to be emulated in recent times and now the McCoy-sized rug beneath our twenty year-old feet has slipped from under us. The jumps season of 2015-16 will need to bring it’s own new brilliance. Who will take up that mantle? On the human front, Richard Johnson, in the shadow of McCoy for so many years should finally get his time to shine though a battle royale with the young and talented Sam Twiston-Davies is not out the question… nor would it be discouraged. Sparks of equine skill were seen last season in the courageous Coneygree, winner of the Gold Cup, as well as Grand National winner Many Clouds. Can they assert their dominance like the old guard? The possibilities are igniting our impatient brains already.
Heroes. Sought. Apply now; we’re ready.