RACING record-breaker AP McCoy has praised the work of a pioneering charity after retired riders from Yorkshire swept the board at the 20th anniversary celebrations of Jets – the Jockeys’ Employment and Training Scheme.
The awards, which honour the memory and legacy of Richard Davis, who had inspired the charity before being killed in a fall in 1996, saw television presenter and jockeys’ agent Niall Hannity win the achievement award, and £3,000 top prize, while IT product manager Michael Naughton and physiotherapist Annabelle Armitage each received £500 as joint runners-up.
The progress award – and a cheque for £2,000 – went to former Scottish National- winning jockey Keith Mercer, who is currently in the third year of an accountancy and finance degree course at Teesside University.
Even though McCoy joked at the presentation at Cheltenham Racecourse about “retiring from retiring” after he made the momentous decision to quit jump racing following a 20th successive championship in April, he stressed the importance of Jets in helping riders of all abilities forge new careers.
“You need to look forward and realise retirement happens to everyone,” said McCoy, who was a close friend of Davis. “You can’t keep going on forever in professional sport.
“Over the years jockeys have come to appreciate how lucky they are to have a service like Jets.
“With the guidance, advice and financial support they offer for training, it means jockeys can plan ahead and have every opportunity to make a smooth transition into a new career once they stop riding.”
An offshoot of the Injured Jockeys Fund, Jets has provided careers advice to more than 900 current and former riders.
It hands out training grants and scholarships worth £80,000 a year and has just appointed Phil Kinsella, who previously rode for Malcolm Jefferson and Keith Reveley among others, to co-ordinate and promote its work in the north.
Both Hannity and Mercer rode for former West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy.
Hannity, who rode around 100 winners over nine years, was determined to stay involved with racing. He is now a respected broadcaster with satellite channel Racing UK while also acting as an agent to several top Flat riders, including Joe Fanning.
He also sits on an industry panel that is looking to promote jump racing in the north.
“To win this prestigious award means an awful lot,” he said. “I think as time goes on since retiring from the saddle, you appreciate just how important Jets is for jockeys, as it can be quite a scary and lonely time when you stop riding.
“I’m so lucky to have found employment in my hobby and this is down in no small part to Jets.”
His views were shared by Mercer whose 195 career wins were headlined by his 2005 Scottish National success on Joes Edge, and a Grade One win at the Punchestown festival on Carlys Quest, before a catalogue of injuries claimed his career in 2012 – the scars on his right hand are testament to racing’s toll.
“I thought I would be able to walk straight into something else, and I was wrong,” he said.
“I looked at various options before deciding that I wanted to become an accountant.
“Without Jets, it would not have been possible to pursue a second career.”
Paul Nicholls expects Silviniaco Conti to be primed for action as he shoots for a third success in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.
The nine-year-old landed the race in 2012 and 2014 and is a short-priced favourite to complete the treble.
He claimed a second successive King George VI Chase win following last year’s Haydock verdict, but again disappointed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup before bouncing back to form with a Grade One win at Aintree.
Returned to hurdles for his comeback this term, the Dom Alco gelding finished second to Brother Tedd at Kempton earlier this month and Nicholls believes that was the perfect springboard for the Grade One on Merseyside.
“He was not far forwards enough to run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby last month, but he has improved enormously for the run and that is that best thing we ever, did running him at Kempton,” said Nicholls.