By Justin Palmer
CHELTENHAM, England (Reuters) - There was no fairytale third Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph or even a final Festival winner for the champion jockey on Friday but that did not stop nearly 70,000 racegoers hailing Tony McCoy one last time.
Just as in the previous three days at jump racing's showpiece the Northern Irishman, who will retire from the saddle next month after dominating the sport for 20 years, was saluted before and after every race.
On a chilly damp afternoon, the man who has ridden over 4,300 winners could manage only a best of third from his five rides on Friday, finishing unplaced on his Gold Cup hope Carlingford Lough.
For a few fleeting moments he looked like he could conjure one last hurrah in the closing race renamed in his honor -- the AP McCoy Grand Annual Handicap Steeplechase. But in the distinctive green and gold colors of owner JP McManus that have brought him numerous big-race successes he had to settle for fourth place on Ned Buntline.
Clapped and cheered all the way back to the paddock as the fog closed in and the light faded, McCoy was presented with a gold trophy.
"I very much appreciate it and obviously I'm going to miss being a jockey," he said.
"I was very honored and flattered to have the last race named after me this year... the people in racing are fantastic and I'll always be grateful for the appreciation shown.
"It's probably just now that it's hit me that I won't be riding at the Festival ever again. That's quite tough."
McCoy will bow out with 31 Cheltenham Festival winners to his name, the first coming in 1996 and his final one on Thursday with a fine front-running ride on Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase.
The 40-year-old said it was the "adrenaline rush" from wins like that he would miss the most.
"It was brilliant for Uxizandre to give me the thrill I got. It's a proper adrenaline rush riding a horse who attacks his fences like he did. I'm really going to miss that."
Looking back on his Cheltenham memories, McCoy picked out his second Gold Cup win, Synchronised in 2012 -- 15 years after his first on Mr Mulligan -- as the best.
"Winning the Gold Cup with Synchronised was one of my best days in racing."
(Reporting by Justin Palmer, editing by Pritha Sarkar)