Taking place every December, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award highlights those at the height of sporting achievement that year. All sports are eligible though the recipient has to be either British or for their sport to be mostly played in this country. A short list of contenders is drawn up and the general public vote for the eventual winner. A who’s who of sports greats have won the competition – which first took place in 1954 – over the years. Stirling Moss, Henry Cooper, Lennox Lewis, Andy Murrow, the list goes on. In 2019 cricketer Ben Stokes took the prize.
So how has the sport of horse racing fared over this period of time? Well, if we extend the classification to horse / equine sports in general, in the early years of BBC Sports Personality, Show Jumping did especially well. In the very first year it was held, Showjumper Pat Smythe came third and in 1960, Welshman David Broome, another Showjumper won the award.
Horse racing waited the longest time to receive Sports Personality recognition. It wasn’t until 1996 that jockey Frankie Dettori came third in the competition (due to his astonishing achievement of riding all seven winners at Ascot – now known as Frankie’s Magnificent Seven). In 2002 fellow jockey Tony Mccoy joined Frankie by grabbing third spot that year. In 2010, off the back of winning the Grand National riding Don’t Push It, he then went two steps better and became the first and only jockey to have won the Sports Personality of the Year award. In 2013 he against featured, this time placing third again.
With such a stellar career it’s no surprise Tony McCoy received recognition on a national level by sports and especially horse racing fans. The Irishman rode over 4000 winners over the course of his career and he was the British jump racing Champion Jockey a staggering 20 years in a row. Grand National aside, he’s also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, King George VI Chase, Queen Mother Champion Chase and countless other high profile races. In 2016 Mccoy was knighted, making him Sir Anthony Peter McCoy.
In 2021, jockey Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to ever win the Aintree Grand National on Minella Times (shamefully it wasn’t until the late 70s that the first female jockey even took part in the Grand National) . This was fresh from winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Rachael does most of her racing in Ireland and looks a certainty to win the RTÉ Sports Person of the Year (the Irish version of Sports Personality). Unfortunately it appears that Rachael Blackmore is ineligible for consideration for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2021 accolade. Current favourite for that accolade is Dina Asher-Smith.
In Britain, the 2019/20 National Hunt season was originally due to end on April 25, but concluded prematurely, on March 18, when the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) announced that all horse racing would be suspended until the end of April, at the earliest, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, Brian Hughes, who is based in Cleveland in North East England, rode 141 winners, 19 more than his nearest rival, Richard Johnson, to win the Jump Jockeys’ Championship for the first time. Indeed, Hughes became the first jockey other than Johnson or Sir Anthony McCoy to win the title since 1995/96 and the first northern-based jockey to do so since Jonjo O’Neill in 1979/80.
Originally from County Armagh, Northern Ireland, Hughes, 34, was Champion Conditional Jockey in 2007/08, but achieved his best seasonal tally as a fully-fledged professional in 2018/19, when he rode 146 winners. However, even in the abbreviated 2019/20 season, Hughes only fell five short of that total and, while Richard Johnson was sidelined for nearly six weeks in January and February with a broken arm, few could deny that the newly-crowned champion fully deserved his success. In fact, Hughes was already three winners ahead when Johnson sustained the injury – he was unseated from his mount, Westend Story, in a novices’ chase at Exeter on January 21 and subsequently kicked by a rival – and, with a career-best strike rate of 20%, his title win was hardly a fluke.
Undoubtedly the greatest National Hunt jockey in history, Sir Anthony McCoy, a.k.a. Tony McCoy, requires little introduction. Born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1974, McCoy was Champion Conditional Jockey in 1995/96 and, thereafter, Champion Jockey every year for two decades until his retirement in April, 2015. All told, McCoy rode a record 4,348 winners over obstacles, an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that he stands 5’10” tall and, throughout his career, required a punishing regime to maintain his weight at around 10st 3lb. In 2016, McCoy was knighted for services to horse racing, making him just the second jockey in history, after Sir Gordon Richards in 1953, to be awarded a knighthood.
Indeed, in 2001/02, en route to his seventh Jump Jockeys’ Championship, McCoy rode 289 winners, thereby breaking the British record for the most winners in a single season, 269, set by Sir Gordon Richards in 1947. In August 2002, McCoy also succeeded Richard Dunwoody as the most prolific jockey in British National Hunt history, when Mighty Montefalco, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, landed odds of 8/13 at Uttoxeter to bring up winner number 1,700. After winning the Jump Jockeys’ Championship again in 2002/03, with 258 winners McCoy set his sights on riding 300 winners in 2003/04; he suffered a major setback when breaking his arm in a fall at Worcester in June, with just 36 winners on the board, but still managed 209 winners in the season as a whole.
The Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup represent the pinnacle of achievement in their respective divisions of National Hunt racing so, unsurprisingly, jockeys who have managed to win both races in the same season are few and far between. Norman Williamson did so in 1995, courtesy of Alderbrook and Master Oats, respectively, both trained by Kim Bailey.
However, the last jockey to complete the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double was Sir Anthony McCoy, popularly known as A.P. McCoy or Tony McCoy. On March 11, 1997, McCoy rode the six-year-old Make A Stand, trained by Martin Pipe, to a five-length victory in the Champion Hurdle at odds of 7/1. Two days later, he also rode the nine-year-old Mr. Mulligan, trained by Noel Chance, to a nine-length victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup at odds of 20/1. All told, McCoy rode three winners at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival – the other being Or Royal, also trained by Martin Pipe, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy – which were sufficient to win him the leading jockey award for the first time.