AP McCoy: 'Invincible' champion jockey in tearful Sandown farewell
When the final furlong came, there was to be no fairytale winner for AP McCoy, but you would barely have known it from the emotional send-off for the record-breaking jockey.
Sun-kissed Sandown Park in Surrey was the venue for an extraordinary celebration of a remarkable career.
His two third-placed finishes, on Mr Mole and Box Office, were not the stuff of which legends were built, but this was all about saluting a man bowing out after two decades at the top.
There was a jockeys' guard of honour and celebrity tributes, while a sell-out crowd of more than 18,000 were there to see the 20-time champion in action one last time.
Here, we round-up a day of tears and cheers as the rider who booted home more than 4,300 winners competed on a racetrack for the final time.
Respect among the riders
McCoy was sprayed with champagne as he entered the weighing room for the last time, which would be quite a treat if he wasn't teetotal.
Seen as an ambassador for the sport, and a mentor to younger riders, there is a genuine respect and kinship from his weighing room colleagues.
More than 30 jockeys formed a special guard of honour for McCoy as he entered the parade ring to collect the champion jockey's trophy for a 20th and final time.
He looked choked by the reception as cheers went up from the packed stands and later confessed to tears behind his racing goggles as he went out for his final ride.
It was perhaps fitting that he should be denied one more winner in his final race by Richard Johnson on Ted Budd, the man who has been runner-up to him in the title race 16 times.
"It's sad that he won't be sat next to me. He's a good friend as much as anything else," said Johnson, who had a double on the day after winning earlier on Menorah.
"From a racing point of view, I'm quite glad he won't be there to do me on the line before the winning post comes."
McCoy said he would love to be back at the track in a year's time to see Johnson finally crowned champion.
The unreal McCoy
More than 1,000 weeks at the top of his game, more than 40 broken bones, and driven on by the pursuit of winners, it was little wonder his contemporaries were quick to pay tribute.
Ruby Walsh, the Cheltenham Festival's all-time leading rider, summed up the feelings of many: "He was so damn good that he always made you try harder.
"He has set standards and targets that are going to be in the history books for a long, long time and to be able to say I rode with him, and beat him the odd time, is a privilege."
Before McCoy came along, the eight titles won by Peter Scudamore were a record in the sport.
"He's just brilliant," said Walsh. "What makes Messi, what makes Ronaldo, what makes Federer, what makes any of them? They are just unbelievably talented."
Transcending the sport
Arsenal's thrilling 3-2 FA Cup final win over Manchester United in 1979 made McCoy a Gunners fan for life.
It was a team sprinkled with players from the north and south of Ireland, legends such as Pat Jennings, Frank Stapleton, Sammy Nelson and Liam Brady.
Brady was there at Sandown Park and called McCoy his hero. Some accolade from a man who holds the same hero status as the jockey.
The former midfielder loves his jump racing, but someone less equated with the National Hunt scene paid a particularly nice tribute.
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who presented him with the champion jockey trophy, said: "AP McCoy is made of something else altogether. For 20 years he has been at the top of his game, riding winners, week in week out. I can think of no other sportsman or woman who can match his record.
"Like the Arsenal team of 2003-04, he's proven that he truly is an invincible. It was an incredible honour to award him with his trophy for the final time on the day he retires."
The punters' pal
"Go on AP, go on you legend." It was a regular refrain as McCoy went out for his final rides. This was the punters' pal after all.
Race-goers had McCoy masks and paddle sticks with the hashtag #ThanksAP, which trended on Twitter for much of Saturday.
Two former stable lads were among the throng, not there to have a bet, just to bear witness to the end of an iconic sporting career.
Charlie Tipthorp and Asa Wingate, both 43, from the Isle of Wight, called the rider a "phenomenon".
"It shouldn't be physically possible what he's done. He's been followed by an ambulance every day for so many years," said Asa, proudly wearing a scarf in the green and gold colours of racehorse owner JP McManus that McCoy is so associated with.
"He's not just the greatest jockey, he is the greatest sportsman I have seen. He is a racing machine."
Charlie, who worked for trainers including Guy Harwood and Josh Gifford, said: "I just wanted to be here to see him jump off a horse for the last time.
"He's modest and being a jockey, it's a tough game, and can be hard to have a heart, but he has one."
Getting a good press
McCoy's wife Chanelle said he was an even better person than a jockey and it was a family affair as she enjoyed the day with daughter Eve, seven, and 20-month-old son Archie (AP junior).
The jockey's relatives were spectators to a hearty round of applause from journalists as McCoy concluded a news conference, flanked by boss McManus and trainer Jonjo O'Neill.
Unlike some top-flight athletes, he has been accessible, given engaging interviews and grown over the years from a reticent, sometimes moody individual, to be an accomplished and eloquent speaker.
Broadcaster and author Brough Scott, a former amateur rider himself, said: "What's extraordinary about being here is there will never be a farewell like this.
"I've seen the greats like Lester Piggott, Fred Winter, John Francome, you could go on, but no-one gets close to McCoy on a day-to-day basis.
"It is his enduring excellence on starvation rations, riding at a stone-and-a-half below his natural weight. Other sports stars are in awe of him.
"He was just unbelievably difficult to beat - from Plumpton on a wet Wednesday to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham."
|Cornelius Lysaght, BBC racing correspondent|
|"Amid all the piles of McCoy stats, there's one that stands out for me; despite being on the tall side and naturally heavier than many riding weights, he's never once put up overweight - nothing demonstrates better his single-minded, professional approach.|
|"Now much of the talk is of his future, though what about racing's future? Of late, so much of the sport's undoubted positive profile has been built on his broad back. The challenge now is to keep that energy going in life after McCoy."|
The final farewell
The risks associated with jump racing were illustrated as preparations began for McCoy to receive his trophy. The racehorse Rolling Aces died after collapsing on the walkway when returning from the second race.
McCoy is estimated to have suffered 1,000 falls in his career, and broken more than 40 bones. He is lucky, though.
Two years ago, amateur jockey JT McNamara was paralysed from the neck down after a fall at the Cheltenham Festival.
His cousin Robbie McNamara is in hospital with serious injuries, while Davy Condon has been told he cannot ride again after being hurt in the Grand National.
McCoy has been a reluctant retiree but he will travel to the Punchestown Festival in Ireland as a spectator for the first time this week, with two important calling points on his agenda.
"I'm going to see Robbie McNamara in hospital on Tuesday morning, and John Thomas (JT) on Wednesday so I have very little to complain about," he said.
McCoy goes out as he has pretty much always been - the champion. As his family wished, he got out in one piece. Perhaps the biggest victory of all.