FOR the best part of two decades, AP McCoy and Richard Johnson competed in one of the most incredible sporting rivalries of all time.
McCoy was crowned jump racing’s Champion Jockey a record 20 consecutive times between 1995 and 2015.
But the Northern Irishman admits it was his perennial battle with Johnson that inspired him to become the legend he is today.
Now retired McCoy, 44, admits: “In life I think you need someone who challenges you, someone who drives you.
“I got to the point after three or four years thinking: ‘If I beat Richard Johnson, then I’ll beat everyone else’. So you become almost as engrossed in him as you are in yourself.
“After you’ve looked what you’re riding and where you’re going, you start thinking: ‘What’s he riding today?’ That was my mindset for the next 18 or 19 years.”
Enemies on the racecourse, Johnson and McCoy were more frenemies off it… think Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, perhaps.
Their rivalry was one for the ages – and you can hear about it all from the men themselves exclusively on talkSPORT.
Airing at 8pm on August 12, listeners can get the inside track on the pair’s epic battles… straight from the horses’ mouths.
Johnson was runner-up to McCoy 16 times in total, and in a witty back-and-forth discussion, he recalls the first time he ever set eyes on his nemesis.
The Englishman, who is still racing, says: “You started to hear about this young lad riding winners, and slowly you’d hear AP’s name.
“I remember right at the end of the 94/95 season at Stratford seeing AP, and that’s one of the first times I met him.
“From there he was a bit of a phenomenon, he never stopped riding winners. And from that day onwards I chased him, in vain most of the time.
“I started off every season wanting to be champion, that was always my main aim. You’d never give up hope of it happening. It was one of those things…”
He quips: “He definitely didn’t feel sorry for me, I know that”, to which McCoy quickly replies, “No, I definitely didn’t.”
AP then adds: “When he broke his leg I felt sorry for him for about an hour or two. I hoped he was alright.
“But then once you know it was just a broken leg, I thought I’d get a bit of peace for a few months.”
The intense battles between two men at the very top of their sport drove McCoy and Johnson to become great pals as well as bitter rivals.
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And Johnson admits to a tinge of sadness when AP called time on his glittering career in 2015.
But not enough to stop him savouring BEATING McCoy in his final ever race at Sandown.
He says: “That was quite sweet! Looking back on it, it was his day… it just didn’t go to script.
“But it was quite ironic really after 20 years I managed to beat him on his last race!”
With McCoy enjoying his retirement, Johnson finally won the jockey’s title in 2016… and every year since.
And AP confesses he was “selfishly” glad when Johnson finally won the title, saying: “Imagine me beating someone for 16-odd years and he wasn’t really any good!”
Johnson retorts: “I’d have had to retire if I didn’t.”
McCoy quit with a staggering 4,357 race victories to his name. Johnson is the only other jockey to rack up over 3,000.
But, with Johnson still going strong, the pair joke that they are most interesting in another, unwanted record.
McCoy reveals: “When I retired, some of the lads said I was actually the losing-most jockey of all time as I’d had something like 14,000 losers.
“But I reckon Richard must be close to beating that, if not already. We need to check that out.”
It’s hardly the bitter rivalry of Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira in terms of utter, cellular hatred.
But on the racecourse, it was was one for the ages – and you can listen to the full sit-down exclusively on talkSPORT.
It’s the first in the “Re:United” series, with rivalries set to be re-lived – including David Seaman vs Andy Cole, the Brownlee brothers and Steve Cram vs Lord Sebastian Coe.
Other chats include Paul Gascoigne vs Vinnie Jones, Ally McCoist vs Gordon Strachan and Jason Gillespie vs Steve Harmison – with no sporting rivalry left unspoken.
Listen to Re:United – AP McCoy vs Richard Johnson on talkSPORT from 8pm on Sunday August 12.