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Sir Tony McCoy thought knighthood was practical joke

McCoy had 31 winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: PA

Sir Tony McCoy thought he was the victim of a practical joke when he first received news of his knighthood in the New Year Honours list.

The 41-year-old former jockey officially retired at the end of April when he brought the curtain down on a spectacular 23-year National Hunt career.

He is only the second jockey in history to have been awarded a knighthood, with Sir Gordon Richards the first in 1953. He heads a list of high-profile sporting names to be honoured which also includes five-time world snooker champion Ronnie O'Sullivan, two-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome and two members of the England women's World Cup squad - captain Steph Houghton and team-mate Fara Williams.

McCoy, though, admitted a sense of incredulity when he gained notification of the honour for services to horse racing.

Sir Tony. Credit: PA

He told the Times: "It was a couple of weeks ago I got the news.

"I was just about to go into a charity event, in London, and quickly browsing through my emails - and there was this message from the Home Office.

"I read it again. And then I read it again. Even then, I was wondering whether it might be some kind of hoax.

"They had asked me to call this number, and I was wondering which practical joker would be on the line. To be considered worthy of the same recognition as Sir Gordon is something that is going to take a long time to sink in."

McCoy counted 31 Cheltenham Festival winners, as well as two Gold Cups and one famous Grand National success, among his big-race haul.

He was also crowned champion jockey for 20 consecutive seasons, with the trophy decommissioned and awarded to him permanently at the end of the last campaign

Snooker star O'Sullivan has been awarded an OBE. Credit: PA

Snooker star O'Sullivan had said in 2014 he was not interested in this kind of award, telling Eurosport: "I don't feel like I've achieved anything to warrant an MBE."

However, he has been awarded an OBE for services to snooker and has had a change of heart.

The 40-year-old said: "I am extremely grateful for this recognition which is a great honour and has made both myself and my family very proud.

"It came as a great surprise to receive my OBE and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my family, friends and fans who have supported me throughout my career and made this achievement possible."