RYAN Mania is the first to admit that his life has been turned “upside down” since he last rode Auroras Encore, Yorkshire’s Grand National-winning horse.
“I’m desperate to get back to racing because of its normality...it’s good to be doing the day job again,” the 23-year-old told the Yorkshire Post.
“A quiet life. That’ll do me.”
There is a certain irony to Mania’s words. For, if the Sue and Harvey Smith-trained Auroras Encore wins today’s Coral Scottish Grand National, the 11-year-old will become the first horse to land the Aintree and Ayr double in the same season since the incomparable Red Rum in 1974. If they do prevail, the victory celebrations will be anything but quiet.
That said, the odds are heavily stacked against Mania and his previously unheralded horse who came to prominence 12 months ago in this race when narrowly beaten by the now retired Merigo in a head-bobbing finish.
Just two weeks have passed since Auroras Encore and Mania won the John Smith’s Grand National at their very first attempt.
Unlike Aintree when they enjoyed the luxury of a very advantageous handicap mark against more fancied contenders, they will be burdened by top weight today – and vulnerable to improving horses like David Pipe’s Big Occasion – on ground that will be slightly softer than ideal.
Yet this does not diminish the enthusiasm of the charming Scots-born jockey after his life-changing Aintree win was followed, within 24 hours, by a sickening fall that prompted many – including the rider himself – to fear for his racing future.
His first ride since the National, Mania’s mount Stagecoach Jasper, stumbled three strides after a flight of hurdles at Hexham and threw his helpless jockey into the ground where he was kicked between the shoulder blades by a backmarker.
He admits to feeling “sick in the pit of his stomach” before slowly checking that each of his limbs was still operable before being flown by air ambulance to hospital, an event that became front-page news and attracted even bigger headlines than the 66-1 National win itself.
“It wasn’t the worst fall I ever had, but it was the kick from the horse behind me that made it potentially serious,” Mania explained.
“Horses aren’t thick – they do try and miss you – but this one. Well, he had no respect, certainly not for a National-winning rider.”
Two nights in hospital followed before a scan diagnosed a hairline fracture in a vertebra – an injury that has caused little inconvenience – and soft tissue damage that required considerable physiotherapy before Mania returned to the saddle yesterday at Ayr where he was a creditable second to Brian Ellison’s Bocciani on Auroras Encore’s stablemate Mr Moonshine.
While he admits to some discomfort “doing the chores” or “getting in and out of the car”, he says he feels “absolutely fine” in the saddle, a place that offers him some respite from the media interest that has pursued the rider and his pregnant girlfriend Edwina in the past fortnight.
Take Thursday. An early morning assignation on the Breakfast sofa at the BBC’s Salford studios was followed by a dash across the M62 to ride out at the Smith stable for the first time since the National, another newspaper interview and then a date with the dentist’s chair for running repairs.
Yet Mania is the first to acknowledge the upside of his new-found fame. Without his injury, he doubts that he would have found time to attend so many celebratory events – including a victory parade attended by 2,000 wellwishers in his home town of Galashiels.
“I’m still getting my head round the fact that people are showing the interest,” said Mania, who was the first Scottish jockey to win the National since David Campbell won at Aintree in 1896 on The Soarer before going on to become a General in the British Army and Governor of Malta.
“It can only be a good thing if it helps to promote racing in the North. I didn’t realise how much the win has meant to so many people.”
Mania is also sufficiently level-headed to realise that National success brings no guarantees – Liam Treadwell, victorious in 2009 on 100-1 outsider Mon Mome, had to then battle riding and financial oblivion before getting his own career back on track.
As such, he is the first to acknowledge that his riding must not – and will not – become distracted by the nine minutes that changed his life.
“I’ve got very good people around me – there is no danger of me getting ahead of myself,” said Mania. “I’ve always been like that. If I ever meet anyone who is full of himself, I walk away and think ‘what an idiot’ – or words to that effect. I don’t want to be like that, or for people to think that of me.”
As for today’s race, Mania is the first to admit that his first wish is for Auroras Encore “to return home safely”.
Yet he also concedes that he and Auroras Encore have “unfinished business” with the Scottish National in which stablemate Fill The Power, owned by the McGoldrick Partnership in Leeds, could be a big threat off a relatively light weight.
“I’d love to go one better,” said Mania, after yesterday’s three comeback rides passed without mishap. “Last year, it did make me realise that I could compete on the big stage after a few months off – but I did think that was my chance of a National win gone. Little did I know that I’d go and win an even bigger National.”
There’s a brief pause and then he repeats the word – “unbelievable” – which has come to define Auroras Encore and Ryan Mania.
After all, it is only now sinking in that they won the Grand National less than two months after a crashing fall at Doncaster. “That’s racing,” added the jockey. “The ups and downs...”