With both the Aintree and Irish Grand Nationals in the books for 2017, we have a chance to consider the toughest sportspeople in the world. National Hunt jockeys.
There is something undeniably unique about the jockey. The skill set possessed is remarkable: the obvious things like incredible fitness, balance, timing and gutsiness are there for all to see. But then there is the endlessly impressive mental toughness and ability to endure incredible physical pain, while most of the time dehydrated and massively underweight.
Sports Science Need not Apply
More so today than ever before, an incredible emphasis is placed on nutrition and sports science but it is my understanding that in horse racing the horse is the focus of this practice. Presumably, it does not take a sports scientist to tell the jockey to starve yourself, smoke like a trooper to subside the pangs of hunger and learn to love the sauna to ensure you can make weight. The demands are incredible, the risks even more so and it’s very difficult to think of another sport where the human participant puts themselves at such risk both physically and mentally, while simultaneously applying their unique skill-set.
A quote of AP McCoy’s, perhaps the greatest of all time, which appeared in many publications after his retirement on 2015 jumps out. It is surely a line one will only hear from a jockey, and particularly a national hunt one, in terms of the attitude towards competing when the body has been physically beaten to a pulp. Speaking about possibly riding 300 winners in 2015, the Champion Jockey stated,
“…I got injured at Worcester one day – I dislocated my collarbone, I punctured my lung and I broke a couple of ribs – and the crazy thing about it was I went back racing three days later thinking I could get through it.”
Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, for McCoy he broke the dislocated collarbone not long after and was required to stand down for……. three weeks. Frankly, that alone I find hard to fathom. The commitment, desire and plain old fashioned toughness shown by these men and women is something to truly marvel.
Despite his seemingly endless stream of personal achievements in the realms of both chasing and hurdling, perhaps what A.P. McCoy will be best remembered for is the true grit and almost superhuman threshold for pain, arguably unique amongst jockeys, that set him apart from even his own band of brothers.