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Being AP

You know the story by now: young lad from Moneyglass in County Antrim grows up to be a jockey, breaks every record and just about every bone, exorcises the demons, conquers the world. (Sorry for the spoiler.) But to see AP McCoy laid bare in Being AP, a (quart) season squeezed into a (pint) 90-minute documovie, is to be invited into the 20-time champion’s world, into his life, into his home, so that you can witness at first hand the characteristics that make McCoy the unique individual that he is.

“It’s like being an addict,” he says. “I am addicted to my way of life. But it’s all about winning. That’s what you’re really addicted to. The adrenaline is in winning.”

It’s a theme that runs through the entire 90 minutes, from the start of the 2014/15 National Hunt season, from the summertime drive to the fastest 50, the fastest 100, to the end. To Mr Mole’s win at Newbury in February, McCoy’s 200th winner of the season, to the announcement of retirement that goes with it, and all the way through the autograph hunters to Cheltenham and to Aintree and on to Sandown when he stopped.

You wonder if the producers knew that it would be McCoy’s final season, that he would retire at the end of it, but they couldn’t have known. Wife Chanelle didn’t know, agent Dave Roberts didn’t know. AP himself didn’t know. It was an educated guess, but the fact that it is his last makes the documentary all the more compelling.

That said, the talk of retirement, the threat of retirement, is present from the start. There is a realisation from the champ from early that the end of the road is in sight, but he doesn’t really want to look. Chanelle talks about it to camera, about wanting him to retire in one piece, about the dangers of her husband’s chosen profession. She brings it up over lunch, but AP doesn’t want to talk about it. We’re done with this conversation.

He says that he wants to go out when people are still asking why he retired, not why he didn’t retire. He nails that one too.

“No matter how much you drive, you still can’t be as good as you want to be. You have to chase the thing that you can’t ever catch. I don’t think I was ever really content in my life.”

We had heard about the night that AP sat down with his agent Dave Roberts and Chanelle over dinner and told them that he had decided to retire, but we live through every step here. The decision to send the camera with Roberts in his car on his way to the McCoys’ house that night is inspired. Dave isn’t sure. AP could have something to tell him. It could be retirement, it could be something else. It could just be dinner!

“If he’s sat on a horse for the first time,” Roberts tells us, “that horse has an uncanny knack of improving. And it happens so many times, it can’t be coincidence. He gives the horse such confidence so that, even the next time he runs, he thinks, oh I quite like this.”

The turmoil is there too, the anguish, like when the drive to 300 winners for the season is derailed by another fall. He talks about wanting to bang his shoulder off the wall, because it was his injured shoulder that derailed the drive, not the fall.

“I used to think that the demons had their Olympic Games in my head.”

He agrees to go off to the sun for a week with Chanelle, allow his shoulder time to recover, get some Vitamin D, but he is a reluctant traveler.

“It’s not all about you, you know,” Chanelle tells him.

“Since when?”

He comes around to the idea though. He relents. He can’t ride anyway, so he may as well get away.

“Remind me why I’m bringing you again?” he asks his wife.

“I’m on suicide watch.”

We get a different perspective on that day at Newbury when he announces his retirement after riding his 200th winner of the season. The camera along the inside rail trained on Mr Mole, up and down with every bump in the road that runs around the inside of Newbury’s chase track. We see him embrace Dave Roberts when he pulls up. This time, we know what’s coming.

And then the interview with Rishi Persad on Channel 4. I won’t be riding 200 winners again, there’s some news for you now Rishi. We see it from afar, we see it through the camera trained on the camera trained on the champ.

It is a pity that the trip back home to Moneyglass lies on the cutting room floor. There was good stuff in there, his interaction with his parents Peadar and Claire, with his siblings, with elder sisters Anne Marie and Róisín.

“Have you nothing prepared? You are the guest speaker, I think it’s safe to assume that you are going to have to speak.”

Nothing like an elder sibling to knock the corners off you, 20-time champion or not 20-time champion.

And his talk to the kids at his old school St Olcan’s.

“Jim Bolger makes Mr O’Grady look like a cuddly bear.”

Even so, it is compelling viewing as, towards the end the prospect of retirement begins to settle in.

“I don’t see this as a second life,” says the champ. “I see this more as a first life. The last one was more of a dream really. I might have lived the dream, but I’m awake now.”

“The only time we will ever fully realise what he has achieved,” says Dave Roberts, “is when he retires.”

Now he has. Now we do.

© The Sunday Times, 8th November 2015