Horse Racing in 2015: End of the McCoy era

2015-12-22
The highlights of the year

Any review of racing in 2015 has to start with the biggest name in jumps racing finally hanging up his saddle - AP McCoy.

After riding Mr Mole to earn his 200th victory of the season in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury in February, the jockey, who was already home and hosed in his bid for an astonishing 20th straight champion jockeys' title, made the announcement that shocked racing fans across the country.

Such has been his dominance of the jumping game, the following months became a tribute roadshow, with punters up and down the land lining up to pay their respects to the champion.

A packed house saw him bow out in somewhat anti-climactic fashion, as McCoy was not able to secure a fairytale win with his final ride, but it was somewhat fitting for the unassuming Ulsterman.

McCoy has been a goliath of the sport for over two decades, but has not done it in a flashy or arrogant manner, just with the kind of courage and determination that personified his reign.

Despite often relying on meagre rations to provide his sustenance, and travelling the length and breadth of the country in search of more success, McCoy's appetite for winners, whether it be at the major theatres such as the Cheltenham Festival or Aintree, or simply a Monday meeting at Plumpton, was undimmed throughout his career.

McCoy started his career with the inimitable Jim Bolger, who provided his first winner on the Flat, on Regal Steps at Thurles back in 1992.

He then defied his boss, who felt he needed an extra year in Ireland, and joined Toby Balding for the start of the 1994/95 season in the UK, and championships flowed right from the outset.

Never one to shy away from record-breaking achievements during his career, McCoy started by setting a landmark of 74 winners en route to the conditionals' championship, then a record which has since been surpassed.

After joining up with Martin Pipe, then very much the leading trainer in jumps racing, some of the records he set since then are likely to stand the test of time for much longer.

After securing his 1000th winner with victory on Majadou at Cheltenham in December 1999, McCoy then had a season without equal just two years later.

Sir Gordon Richards' all-time record of winners in a season had stood since 1947, with very little competition, but McCoy simply blew that mark away in 2001/02, recording a staggering 289 winners in a breathless campaign which included his 1500th winner.

Richard Dunwoody had held the record for most career winners as a jumps jockey with 1699, but it seemed inevitable that barring injury McCoy would eclipse that, and despite the rider getting his fair share of knocks along the way, he soon set records that simply defied all previously-held beliefs.

He notched his 2000th winner in 2004, then the 3000 was reached five years later, before he reached an unimaginable 4000 winners at Towcester in 2013.

Riding in the green and gold silks of JP McManus, the millionaire owner who had employed the champion since 2003, McCoy produced a ride that was symptomatic of his entire career - a never-say-die surge after the last to drive Mountain Tunes to victory at Towcester.

The news of his impending retirement after over two decades at the top of his game should not have been a shock, but it was, as his appetite for success had been such that as the 2014/15 season got into full swing, the possibility of 300 winners in a season was a very real prospect.

However, injuries put paid to those plans and could have been the catalyst for the decision to retire, though McCoy, who described himself as being "very lucky", probably wouldn't see it that way.

As 2015 draws to a close, there is something just a little odd about the jumps season this year. With no McCoy dominance, it looks almost certain that the man who has spent much of the last 20 years in the shadows of the champion, Richard Johnson, will gain a richly-deserved first jockeys' title.

There is surely no one who would begrudge Johnson a title or two, and his commanding lead suggests in the race for top jockey is such that he could easily be the man to take McCoy's mantle.

The fact he has recorded the second most winners by a jumps jockey in his career without ever wrestling the crown of champion from McCoy speaks volumes for McCoy's talents, but also means he is well placed to take over and seems to be slipping into his role with aplomb.

There are other pretenders to the crown in jumps racing, though, with a trio of big names all very much on the up.

Barry Geraghty has taken over the job with JP McManus, and while his desire for winners, however they come, may not be as fierce as his predecessor's, his stylish riding for both McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson is likely to provide him with plenty of winners, especially at the big festivals.

Sam Twiston-Davies is attached to the champion trainer Paul Nicholls' yard, and can call upon the support of his father, trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, so a bright future looks in store for him, while Aidan Coleman is another jockey with plenty to look forward to considering the number of winners he has churned out in recent months.

So, although the loss of McCoy is undoubtedly a big one, there is still plenty of riding talent ready to take his place.

The other big story of the jumps season came with the blue riband, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and the meteoric rise of Coneygree.

Trained by Mark Bradstock in his tiny yard in Oxfordshire and bred by the late Lord Oaksey, Coneygree was hardly the archetype of a champion staying chaser.

Added to that was the fact he was a novice, having only made his debut over fences four months before the Gold Cup.

No horse since Captain Christy back in 1974 had managed to win the Gold Cup as a novice, but Coneygree looked an old hand on the day, jumping and galloping his rivals into submission under Nico De Boinville.

If Coneygree was the equine superstar of the Cheltenham Festival, then surely the human one was Willie Mullins, whose stable of horses churned out winner after winner.

First Douvan took the Supreme Novices', Un De Sceaux the Arkle, then Faugheen landed the Champion Hurdle. 

Those victories in themselves would be enough to satisfy most trainers, but Mullins masterminded arguably the most brilliant of performances at the Prestbury Park jamboree, when Vautour was simply breathtaking in the JLT Novices' Chase.

A potential Gold Cup clash with Coneygree could be in store at Cheltenham in March, a prospect which leaves many salivating at the thought.

A veteran of the weighing room was the shining star of 2015 on the Flat too, but any talk of Frankie Dettori retiring is certainly premature.

The much-loved Italian rider has had his fair share of struggles in recent years, and may have been thinking of following McCoy's lead into the retirement ranks, but a spectacular summer saw him back to his irrepressible best.

Dettori joined forces with John Gosden's yard, and after seeing an impressive performance from Jack Hobbs at Sandown, he rode the same horse against his stablemate in the Dante Stakes at York, the big trial for the Derby.

Despite coming out on the losing end of the argument, Dettori could barely contain his delight after seeing Golden Horn sweep past him on the Knavesmire, knowing that it would be him on board when it came around to Epsom.

A stunning effort on the Epsom Downs saw Dettori secure only his second Derby success in a long career, with further Group One glory coming in the Eclipse at Sandown four weeks later.

Although the colt blotted his previously immaculate copybook with defeat in the Juddmonte International at York, a somewhat hard-fought success in the Irish Champion Stakes followed, before taking on the mighty Treve in a highly-anticipated Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Treve was seeking her third win in the Longchamp showpiece and had looked hugely impressive when landing the Prix Vermeille, a major trial for the Arc run over the same course and distance.

The Arc itself turned into a Dettori masterclass, though. Held out wide early on, Golden Horn tracked the pacemakers before unleashing his unstoppable run. Treve and her contemporaries could not catch the mighty Golden Horn, giving Gosden, Dettori and owner Anthony Oppenheimer plenty to smile about.

Though Golden Horn's days on the racecourse are no more, as he has been retired to stud, his impact on the 2015 Flat season was enormous, and he appeared to rejuvenate the fortunes of Dettori, who we hope will be gracing our courses for many more years to come.

There is plenty to look forward to in 2016, from stars both human and equine, so although McCoy's decision to end his exploits in the saddle leaves a big hole, it looks ready to be filled with plenty of equine and human superstars.

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