Since announcing his imminent retirement after partnering Mr Mole to victory in Newbury’s Game Spirit Chase of February 7th, the day finally came at Sandown Park yesterday afternoon when the 20-time champion jockey donned the silks of his great friend and retainer JP McManus for the last time in competitive action, finishing third on the rider’s two mounts, Mr Mole and Box Office, in front of a sell-out crowd, there in their masses to pay tribute to the greatest national hunt jockey the sport has ever seen.
Horseracing has rarely witnessed an imotional amphitheatre to match that of the day racegoers, young and old, joined forces in unison to say a big thank you to a man who has provided those of us who love the sport with a daily dose of awe-inspiring entertainment, fuelled by a determination and will to win that is rarely seen on any sporting stage, and a professionalism that others within this and all other disciplines can only marvel at.
There are few, if any, words that have been left unsaid to put in perspective the effect the man known by most as simply AP has had on, not just national hunt racing, but sport in general, and it is hard to imagine a greater role model for those in the early stages of a budding career. Some believe that the champ had several years left at the top of his game, a view almost certainly true, but the day would have come when someone in the grandstand would turn around and say ‘ he would have won on that one in his heyday, ‘ a remark tinged with sadness. Thankfully that will never happen.
Following a never to be matched twentieth title, his timing as ever is probably perfect, no matter how hard it is to say a last goodbye, but, on a personal level, the image that will stay with me forever is the emotion showed by arch-rival Richard Johnson who, on beating his great friend and rival in their last ever encounter, could barely hold back the tears in realisation that the pair of ‘ jumping warriors ‘ who have put their lives on the line day in day out for almost a quarter of a century would never lock horns again.
Some sportsmen would revel in the retirement of a rival who had prevented them from reaching similar heights, due to the bad fortune of being born in the same era, but such is the respect both riders have for each other they are that much stronger for the fierce competition, and while we all wish AP every success in whatever venture he chooses to persue the great man leaves the sport in good hands. The king is dead – long live the king.