RYAN HATCH has no regrets that he won’t be riding Calett Mad in today’s Totepool Towton Novices Chase at Wetherby.
The jockey – victorious 12 months ago on subsequent Cheltenham Festival hero Blaklion – is simply relieved to be back on his feet after a horror fall left him fearing paralysis.
He had to spend seven weeks lying flat on his back while hospital staff stabilised the neck, back and spinal cord injuries he suffered at Cheltenham in December. Those who helped to feed him, and keep the rider’s spirits up, included Sir AP McCoy, the 20-times champion jockey.
Yet, on Thursday last week, the 23-year-old was able to stand up for the first time – albeit with the support of a back brace.
Hatch likened the sensation to “Bambi on ice” while his house-mate and fellow rider Tom Bellamy, victorious in last Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Ziga Boy, tweeted a photo with the message: “Well this made my day today. He’s up.”
There was another heartwarming image on social media when Hatch made it to the stables of trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies this Thursday to be reunited with the horse that carried him to Grade One glory in Cheltenham’s RSA Chase in the wake of the Towton triumph. “Got to have a catch up with my mate Blaklion,” the fragile rider posted on Instagram.
Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post, Hatch does not know when he will return to the saddle as he prepares to continue his recovery at Oaksey House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehab centre in Lambourn.
He accepts he will miss the forthcoming Cheltenham and Aintree festivals where the brilliant Blaklion – one of Britain’s best staying chasers – holds eyecatching entries in the Gold Cup and Grand National respectively. This horse and jockey are made for each other because of their instinctive rapport.
As the jockey, who rode out his conditional rider’s claim shortly before his fall from Cogrey, begins the next phase of his recovery, he draws inspiration from the stirring example of Henry Brooke – the Middleham rider is back amongst the winners after a fall at Hexham last October left him in a coma.
“Credit to Henry, you wouldn’t know he had such a serious injury,” said Hatch as he thanks the racing fraternity, and medical staff, for their support. “Hopefully I can achieve something similar. All I’m doing is looking forward. I’m very, very lucky – we all know what happened to Freddy Tylicki, JT McNamara and other riders who had life-changing injuries.”
Yet only now is Hatch’s good fortune becoming clear. He had been given the news that he would ride Champion Hurdle contender The New One for the first time when Cogry’s fall turned his life upside down in a three and a quarter mile chase on December 9. “He took off too soon. He was coming down at the fence as it was coming up. As he was landing on the fence, he flipped over,” said Hatch.
That was not the worst of it. “I was hurt but didn’t realise the extent until I lost feeling in the lower half of my body on the way to hospital. That was pretty scary,” he revealed. “I can’t explain the relief when I got the feeling back in my toes that night. I had fractured three of my vertebrae, one of which was pretty smashed up. There was also a haematoma on my spinal cord.
“I was pretty lucky for it only to be a haematoma – there are not many injuries your spinal cord takes so you can carry on walking. I’m very lucky. The surgeons at Southmead Hospital in Bristol wouldn’t operate because any more strain on my spine would make it even worse.”
As such, Hatch just had to accept his fate and let his injuries heal. “It wasn’t a choice and I wasn’t in a position to argue,” he said philosophically.
Understandably, the moment he was able to stand on his own two feet was the biggest win of his career. “I was shot to pieces. Like Bambi on ice, it was quite a challenge but it’s better and better. Jamie Bargary (fellow jockey) picked me up and I went back to the stables to see all the horses and all the staff. It was good to be back in that environment.”
Bargary gets the ride on Calett Madd today and Hatch said: “They have a great chance looking at the form. He’s a lovely big horse and I think he will enjoy the conditions. He’s an improving type and he’s got a nice chance. I’ll be cheering him on...it could be a lot worse.”