Tributes have been paid to 19-times champion jump jockey AP (Tony) McCoy after he announced live on television that he will retire by the end of the season.
He made the announcement after claiming his 200th winner of the season on Mr Mole in the Betfair Price Rush Chase at Newbury on Saturday.
The 40-year-old told Channel 4 Racing: “I want to go while I’m still enjoying racing and while I am still near the top. This is without a doubt the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I’ve been dreading this day.”
He added: “However, I know it’s the right time to end a career I’ve loved.”
Later on Twitter he posted: “Made the toughest decision of my life announcing my retirement by the end of the season. Thanks for all the well wishes, really appreciate it.”
The jockey, from Moneyglass in Co Antrim, has ridden over 4,300 career winners.
Yesterday, he added to a momentous weekend by winning the Irish Hennessy Gold Cup on board Carlingford Lough at Leopardstown.
Stormont Culture Minister Caral Ní Chuilín said: “There have been many great Irish sportsmen and Tony McCoy has reached a pedestal which will match any of them.
“The word ‘legend’ is sometimes used liberally but in the case of Tony McCoy there is no dispute – he is a true legend of his sport.
“He is an incredible sportsman who has made many sacrifices and sustained more than his fair share of injuries.”
SDLP culture, arts and leisure spokesperson Karen McKevitt MLA said: “In the sport of kings, Tony McCoy stands out as an absolute legend.”
On Twitter ex-England footballer and current Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker said: “Congratulations @AP_McCoy on the most staggeringly wonderful career. A true champion.”
And former Liverpool footballer Michael Owen tweeted: “The decision by AP McCoy to retire at the end of the season has shook the Racing world. Absolute legend.”
After news of McCoy’s planned retirement broke, bookmakers reported a “massive move” for punters as they backed the jockey to land the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2015. McCoy is now the 3/1 favourite.
Aoife Heffron, PR Executive at BoyleSports, said: “Having been the first jockey to win the award back in 2012 if would be a fitting send off for AP McCoy to claim it once more as he heads into retirement.”