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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Cheers, tears and adulation as Sir Anthony McCoy departs

Thousands of fans watch the champ receive his 20th and final champion jockey
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First published on Sunday, April 26, 2015 

It is always the emotions born of loss that hit home the hardest and on an afternoon like no other at Sandown yesterday – a mix of sunny celebration peppered with an air of elegy – the long goodbye became final.

For me it didn't really hit home until the camera lingered long on AP McCoy and Box Office as the great man made his way down the rhododendron walk for the ultimate time. I thought to myself "what can he be feeling like at this moment?" and suddenly AP gave an answer by pulling his goggles down - later admitting that he was plenty teary and thought a little discreet hiding of the fact might not be a bad idea.

But on this day even McCoy, a living monument to rigid self-discipline and iron control, could not hold back his feelings as he said goodbye to the only life he has ever known amid an astounding outpouring of adulatory affection from a public determined to make every last second of McCoy's career resonate to cheers, roars and thanks.

In the paddock after the second race AP was presented with his 20th trophy for winning the jump jockeys' title. The Sandown crowd besieged the ceremony, ten to 12 deep on the long balcony at the back of the stands and ramming every vantage point round the paddock awaiting a man the likes of whom will never be seen again.

A guard of honour formed by every jockey and valet in the weighing room awaited him. AP appeared, face set hard against the tribute because only he truly understood the measure of respect and momentousness of tribute the weighing room was displaying and he passed between the lines of fellow madmen to a massive blast of sound from the assembled faithful who knew the sands were running fast and that these were precious moments indeed.

But if you wanted a real measure of how we all felt you had only to hear the sound whenever AP appeared in front of the heaving stands. 'Cheered to the echo' does not begin to get there as when he went to post on both Mr Mole and Box Office the place erupted in acclaim.

The crowd at Sandown following Tony McCoy's last ride
When he returned on Box Office he made his way down in front of the grandstands – making no bones about it later that he was in bits – and the gathered thousands roared their last heartfelt hurrahs for him as he waved mistily to all those who, he at last understands, all but venerate him and love him for the extraordinary heights to which he has taken jump racing.

After a final choked television interview AP made it back to the sanctuary of the weighing room, but as he went to weigh in he was soaked with sprayed champagne by his fellow jockeys and, having wiped away the bubbles, merely said: "I don't know how you lads can drink that stuff."

Nothing has become AP more or enhanced his legend even further than the utterly brilliant fashion in which he has conducted himself since he announced the clock was ticking. Yesterday he hurled himself into proceedings just as he has at every gaff track in recent weeks.

He led Don't Push It round the paddock in the parade of champions, took the jockeys' trophy round the paddock on a lap of honour and all day at every opportunity he signed autographs and posed for pictures.

He was witty and relaxed at the late-afternoon press conference where there was an indication of just how much this longed-for moment meant to his wife Chanelle. Sat with the enchanting and highly mischievous Eve on her knee, Chanelle was blinking back tears, and why the hell not? Down all the years she has lived with the fear of the perils AP runs daily and here, at last, he was safely back in harbour.

An emotional Tony McCoy walks back to the weighing room for the last time
And McCoy reminded us of what the job's ferocity can entail. He said: "I am going to see Robbie McNamara on Tuesday and JT on Wednesday and that will put a lot of things in perspective very quickly. And down the years there have been lads we have lost and I will never forget them."

Nor us AP. All exits are tricky to time – in every walk of life famous people hang on too long – but he has gone with his sails full and left us wanting more.

This sunny afternoon in Surrey was another world to the freezing gaff-track days when he would tramp back mud-spattered having hauled another semi-willing conveyance past the post to build those unparalleled numbers.

And part of the joy of watching him down the years is that he has become such a tremendous individual and so much more than a jockey. Down countless ages the light of his achievements will shine like some eternal flame.

No wonder that Sandown was so high on emotion yesterday. Yes, we were left with an empty feeling but also a triumphant one that someone admired without reservation is safe and in a workable number of pieces.

Goodbyes are never easy and the racing public and AP have been together for two decades so pangs are inevitable. But the pleasures have far outweighed any fleeting pain felt yesterday and the passing from sight of AP McCoy, jump jockey and sportsman beyond compare, was essentially joyous and infinitely memorable.

An occasion worthy of the riding phenomenon of all time.

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Even McCoy could not hold back his feelings as he said goodbye to the only life he has known

Key data

A P McCoy
E.W. Terms
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