If Tony McCoy, was to be crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year on December 19th, at the LG Arena in Birmingham, it would be a fitting reward for an incomparable jockey, who has rewritten the jump racing record books to the point that it may be another century at least before anyone comes close to surpassing the fifteen time champion jockey’s extraordinary achievements and milestones.
However, before the horse racing community begin to get too carried away about McCoy receiving much deserved and long awaited wider sporting recognition, they should bear in mind a number of factors that have continually prevented the sport obtaining acclaim in this long standing, annual ceremony that reflects and celebrates the sporting year.
Firstly, horse racing’s record is markedly poor, when it is compared to the majority of sports that have produced recipients of this prestigious, but somewhat flawed honour.
Since it’s inception in 1954, horse racing has failed to have a single jockey step up to collect the main award. In fact, only Frankie Dettori in 1996 (finished 3rd) and McCoy himself, in 2002 (also 3rd) have been part of the rostrum at the show’s denouement.
This reflects the general standing of horse racing with the British public, who fail to grasp the quirky complexities that make the sport such a fascinating attraction for those who worship at the altar of equine brilliance. It’s only on Grand National Day where the sport transcends its core audience and manages to impact on the wider nation.
Overall, history has shown that the sports that have had the baulk of success in recent years are athletics, team sports or heartland Olympic sports such as cycling or equestrian. This boils down to these sports appealing to our sense of patriotism. Most of the previous decade’s winners have achieved something while representing either England or Great Britain.
Horse Racing is not concerned with international competition, after all, it is primarily about horses, who are not that fussed about national identity! McCoy ultimately doesn’t have the opportunity to deliver a moment that can lift a nation in the same way that Andrew Flintoff did when helping England to regain the Ashes in 2005, or as David Beckham did, with his picture-book free-kick against Greece in 2001.
Yes, McCoy did have a golden moment this year, when finally breaking his duck in the Grand National, a race that brought an audience of over seven million viewers to the BBC. However, the National is not about collective ecstasy in the same way that winning the Ashes or success for the England football team, can unite a nation of sports followers. The majority who watch the Aintree spectacular are concerned with how the horse they have backed has got on, rather than the deeper stories of sporting endeavour.
On the night, it could well come down to how the BBC decide to edit the show, in the sense of how much horse racing features, in recent years it has received minimal airtime, especially compared to golf, a sport which includes McCoy’s biggest two rivals for the gong, Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, the latter became the first European to win the U.S Open in forty years and the former reached the summit of the world golf rankings.
Ultimately, the types of people who vote in a contest like this are generally not those with a natural affection for horse racing, which leaves up to horse racing lovers to vote en masse and make sure that one of British sports leading lights is not left in the starting stalls once again.