Channel 4 racing will be hoping for a bumper audience this weekend. But they also know that after Saturday’s show finishes, there will be a huge chunk of talent missing from the rest of their shows for ever.
Unless you hate racing or have been hidden in a stable for the past few months, you will know by now that AP McCoy, champion jump jockey for the last 20 years, is retiring. Saturday will see his last race at Sandown. Channel 4 announced today they are extending their coverage from the course to include his career ending on aptly named Box Office in the 4.25pm race.
On The Clare Balding Show on BT Sport on Thursday, McCoy said he was “dreading” his last day and giving up. And worryingly, some people’s interest in the sport may fade a little once he disappears. It certainly won’t have a positive effect on ratings – that’s what Channel 4 will be dreading.
This is the football equivalent of Messi retiring or the light entertainment version of Ant and Dec quitting TV. Put another way, McCoy has been Champion Jockey for 1040 weeks whilst Roger Federer’s two spells at world number one in tennis equate to 302 weeks. Tiger Woods has spent 545 weeks as golf’s world number one. McCoy is the best and has been for two decades and it will be impossible to replace him.
Sky Sports host Ed Chamberlain tried to sum it up earlier this week when he wrote: “Everyone has their favourite AP McCoy memory.” He was perhaps overstating Brits love of racing a little, but the jockey is a hugely loved rider amongst sports fans everywhere.
Millions will remember his Grand National win in 2010. And he was popular enough to win the BBC’s prestigious Sports Personality of the Year prize in 2010 and come runner up in 2002 and 2013.
TV presenter Clare Balding said: “AP isn’t just the greatest jockey I have ever seen, he is the greatest sportsman I have ever come across. He has never not been champion in his career. I feel very fortunate to have watched him throughout his career and that he chose racing.
“It’s hard to sum up how much admiration I have for him, he is an extraordinary human-being and amazingly kind.”
Losing him in the saddle means a mundane race on Channel 4 will no longer have the trademark drive to the finish from McCoy, often winning from a seemingly impossible situation. No other jockey has the effect he has on so many viewers screaming at their TVs. The McCoy factor is massive in racing.
The one hope is that Channel 4 can persuade him to stay on in some form on the other side of the fence, so to speak. He is great in front of the cameras after years of practice and last month Channel 4 host Nick Luck told me he hopes McCoy will work with the channel in the future, offering his insight and expertise to help viewers pick a winner.
If that happens, it will be one way AP can remain a punter’s friend even after an emotional final Saturday at Sandown.
Mark Jefferies is Showbiz Editor of the Daily Mirror
AP McCoy’s final race will be broadcast live on Saturday 25th April on Channel 4 from 1.25pm