Esther McCarthy on 'stunning' new doc 'Being AP'

Chanelle McCoy and husband AP
Chanelle McCoy and husband AP

"This year is a good year, honey, to call it a day.”

They were among the hardest words Chanelle McCoy would have to speak in her marriage, because they were the last thing her husband wanted to hear.

The man sitting opposite in the restaurant that Chanelle was trying to convince was legendary jockey AP McCoy: part man, part machine, and by his own admission part addict.

The gripping husband and wife drama is captured in a stunning new fly-on-the-wall film.

The documentary lays bare the struggles AP underwent as he prepared to retire – and the conflict it caused with those he loves the most. 

Being AP is a warts-and-all account of the jockey as he comes to the painful realisation that his sporting career is nearing an end as he approaches 40. And it depicts how his difficulty in making the decision impacts on Chanelle as he struggles with letting go of the sport.

One of the most riveting scenes in the movie, filmed throughout this year’s National Hunt season, shows Chanelle and Tony – who have two kids – having lunch, and the jockey discussing two fellow riders who had to be resuscitated following nasty falls.

“In the space of like 10 minutes we’re talking about two jockeys being resuscitated,” she ventures. “This year is a good year, honey, to call it a day.”

He becomes incensed at the suggestion of calling it quits, and so upset that he’s unable to eat his lunch. 

“That’s the way it is. Why on earth would any year be a good year to call it a day?” he says.

Another scene in the film shows a frustrated Chanelle planning a family holiday as Tony has an injury that will see him out for weeks. The jockey says he doesn’t want to go, so despondent is he at the thought of not reaching his target of 300 winners in his final season.

A film crew spent the past year shadowing the top jockey as he came to terms with hanging up his saddle. The resulting movie will be released in Irish cinemas on November 27.

“This is an addiction, and I’ve become an addict to this way of life,” says McCoy, as he wrestles with the idea of saying goodbye to the sport he loves.

He even jokes that he’ll spend his first weekend out of the saddle “at home, getting counselling for my addiction”.

“It’d be great to not have a care in the world, to not worry about whether you’re winning or not winning. It’s not the end of the world – but it’s the end of the world to me,” he says.

This obsession with winning, combined with drive and sheer talent, was what made McCoy the most successful jockey of his generation.

He rode more than 4,000 winners during an illustrious career and was champion jockey for each and every one of the 20 years that he competed as a professional.

These are records that many sporting pundits feel will never be broken.

However, when it came to leaving the sport of kings earlier this year, the documentary shows how he could not go quietly.

At one point in the film, he even toys with the idea of continuing until he increases his tally of wins to an incredible 5,000.

“People ask me about riding 5,000 winners and my wife would kill me for saying that, but you’ve got to give yourself targets and goals,” he says.

He wrestled and resisted for months with the very notion, before admitting in the film: “Every part of my life was structured and controlled. But I could never control getting old.”

The film also captures his relationship with his great friend and agent Dave Roberts, who has guided him and booked every ride since the beginning of his career. And he holds great affection for the his long-time boss JP McManus and trainer Jonjo O’Neill, in whose famous green and gold stripes he landed so many winners.

His 2014-15 season got off to a super start, but injury followed and the film shows an in-denial McCoy trying to shake off the pain of broken ribs following a fall before being advised to take time out by doctors. 

“Pain is temporary, losing is permanent,” he says before taking on the advice.

Still, he knows what pain feels like. During a visit to his doctor, he charts a list of injuries so lengthy he’s unable to recount them all. 

But they include a broken leg, arm, both wrists, shoulder blades, collar bones, and all of his ribs. He has also broken several vertebrae in his back, punctured his lungs and lost many of his teeth.

The film was shot by award-winning director Anthony Wonke, who had no idea this would be the jockey’s last season.

“No-one had any idea as to whether 2014/15 was to be AP’s final season,” said producer Nick Ryle. 

“This is a man who has fallen off a horse jumping a fence at speed over 700 times. So the chance to capture his legacy whilst still riding was exciting.” 

After consulting Chanelle and his agent, McCoy decides to announce his retirement after riding his 200th winner of the season, bringing to an end one of the greatest sporting careers ever.

It sent shock waves around the locker room, where an incredulous Ruby Walsh asks: “What are you going to do?” 

“Get a job,” replies McCoy, without missing a beat.