Review – Being AP
“The thing is about records is that they always get broken. I want to make it as hard as possible for those who are going to break them.”
These are the words of a jockey who has saddled 4,358 winners and has been jumps champion for 20 consecutive years.
A stubborn, obsessive and perhaps a selfish character, though not the most thrilling of personalities, there is no doubt at that Tony McCoy, better known as AP, is a born winner.
When director Anthony Wonke started making his BBC documentary ‘Being AP’, he was expected to follow McCoy through another record-breaking campaign as the Northern Irishman aimed to complete his dream of 300 winners in one season.
However, in what ended up being the final season of his career in 2015, it is soon clear that it is not possible. With McCoy then at the age of 40, injuries are taking their toll and a realisation that the end is near.
We see a man who regards retirement as ‘the end of your life’ facing up to that very prospect, and musing on the demands of being devoted to racing at the very highest level.
“McCoy fears retirement more than anything else, more than the most serious of injury and perhaps even death”
“You can win the biggest horse races in the country and then the next race race you can be in the back of an ambulance. So you can go from a very huge high, to a very sad low very quickly,” AP reflects, as he reels off the list of injuries he has amassed over his career, from dislocated shoulders to broken ribs.
“I am not the one that is being weak, it is a part of the body that is weak. I wanted to bang my shoulder off the wall to punish it,” says McCoy, admitting he deliberately ignored his injuries as a way of trying to overcome them.
Having seen her husband amass all these wounds, McCoy’s remarkably tolerant wife Chanelle is clearly keen to see her husband consider retirement and end his career in one piece.
Her role in this film is particularly interesting, not one you imagine that was originally planned, but adds another dimension.
“Why on earth would any year be a good year to call it a day?” McCoy responds to his wife as they have a sincere yet awkward talk over dinner about his future.
His stubbornness is clear – McCoy fears retirement more than anything else, more than the most serious of injury and perhaps even death.
It is an eye-opening scene. The effect of such determination and obsession on family life, is at times obvious, but never more than here.
Whilst Chanelle worries about her husband, he continues to act oblivious to any danger, growing frustrated and awkward when questioned on life after riding.
It is an interesting insight on how dedication can affect others around you.
McCoy’s reluctant decision to retire comes in the film’s most interesting and insightful scene, as his riding manager Dave Roberts is called to a surprise meeting with AP and his wife.
“Ironically, moving away from the ever-present danger of racing into the safer world of retirement, takes McCoy out his comfort zone”
As the three talk about moments from his career and his attitude to riding, his wife describing AP’s attitude towards trying to ignore the reality of life: “You were so stubborn, I’m not listening to my collarbone, so what if it is shattered, my lung is punctured, my ribs are broken, I will continue riding.”
AP is still seemingly unsatisfied and unable to get over any failures, even just before he reveals his plan to retire after riding 200 winners for the season.
“That really mentally messed with my head. Broke my heart that did, to think that I was actually going to ride 300 winners, and then, I’m not going to ride 300 winners. The thought of it make me want to cry.”
Despite saying he was “relieved”, there is clearly still frustration and sadness when talking to his commercial manager about possibilities after his career.
The look on his face after the suggestion that he could be the face of a peanut butter campaign is not that of someone who is looking forward to life after racing.
The film itself is not perfect. Running at 96 minutes, there are parts which feel unnecessary and over-produced, trying too hard to create drama which at times comes off as unnatural, though perhaps this is down to McCoy’s personality.
As such a driven winner, he is someone who struggles to look back on his life, when all he wants to do is think about the next triumph.
The director got lucky with his subject here, though. A film which was meant to simply be about winning is in fact, an incredible though sometimes painful insight of the realisation that the natural-born winner will not be able to win for much longer.
Ironically, moving away from the ever-present danger of racing into the safer world of retirement, takes McCoy out his comfort zone which makes everything a bit more interesting.