National ambition put into focus by tragedy

Aidan Coleman, yellow cap, leads Quartz De Thaix to victory in the handicap hurdle at the Becher Chase Day at ''Aintree last year. The jockey is now looking ahead,  to tackling the Grand National fences at Liverpool. Picture: John Giles/PA.
Aidan Coleman, yellow cap, leads Quartz De Thaix to victory in the handicap hurdle at the Becher Chase Day at ''Aintree last year. The jockey is now looking ahead, to tackling the Grand National fences at Liverpool. Picture: John Giles/PA.
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THE Grand National, such an unforgivng race, owes Aidan Coleman. He was a heavy faller when Mon Mome, the horse he could have ridden, was a 100-1 shock winner two years ago.

When he did ride the Venetia Williams-trained Aintree hero 12 months ago, he fell at the fourth last fence to compound a miserable weekend – he required hospital checks after a hideous fall in a hurdle race two days before the world’s greatest steeplechase.

Now, with Mon Mome out for the season, Coleman’s worry is whether Mobaasher – his big hope this year – will qualify for the April 9 showpiece.

It will be touch and go judging by this week’s handicap, irrespective of the horse’s performance in today’s Totesport.com Grand National Trial at Haydock where Malcolm Jefferson’s weather-hit King Fontaine is a leading hope for Yorkshire.

However, the articulate 22-year-old can see the bigger picture. At least he can still ride. Jack Tyner, a point-to-point rider who he grew up with in Ireland, died following a fall earlier this month.

“My older brother Kevin used to ride for Jack’s grandfather on the flapping circuit and I used to watch, and hang out with Jack on a Saturday,” explained Coleman, an ambassador for the Racing UK satellite channel.

“I really got on with him and enjoyed his company. It was a real shock when I found out. He is a massive loss to his community back home.

“People ask how tragedies like that affect jockeys. Speaking for myself, I can’t let horrible things like that prey on my mind. I know it’s a dangerous game but it’s a game I love.

“As blinkered as it sounds, you can’t think about whether you might have a fall or get injured. When you start thinking like that, your confidence starts to go, and then your ‘bottle’ with it.

“What I will say is that a tragedy like that makes you realise you never have any reason to moan or grumble. You should enjoy life to the maximum and realise how lucky you are to have the opportunity to do just that.”

Coleman, now a regular top-10 jockey, expects a big run from Mobaasher today, even though the eight-year-old has his quirks and is sometimes reluctant, infuriatingly so from a rider’s perspective, to put his head in front.

The form is certainly solid. Though fourth to the brilliant Grands Crus, now second favourite for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, at Cheltenham last month, the second that day, Knockara Beau, has subsequently won and the third, Restless Harry, is a top horse.

At least Mobaasher, a Warwick winner last month, has been able to keep running during the big freeze. The last four intended runnings of King Fontaine, who is trained at Malton, have all been scuppered by the elements.

“If he can transfer his form to fences, he should do very well,” said the jockey.

“He’s 63rd in the National weights and only the top 40 get in. It will be touch and ago. If he does, he’ll either run a big race – or he’ll hate it. There will be no middle ground,” said Coleman, who believes Mobaasher’s Scottish National experience as a novice is a plus.

“Today is important – it will tell us whether he is a National horse this year or whether he’ll be better suited for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham over hurdles.”

Coleman, who won Newbury’s opener yesterday on the NH Festival-bound Stow, before guiding home Pere Blanc at Sandown, also has high hopes at Haydock for Houblon Des Obeaux, who can earn a Triumph Hurdle entry with a good run in the Victor Ludorum.

Though Coleman has formed an effective partnership with progressive horses like Quartz De Thaix, one of the ‘next generation’ of contenders at the yard of Venetia Williams, he can not wait to add to his winning tally at Cheltenham and Aintree, the two meetings that matter more than others.

His big race success is consigned to Kayf Aramis winning the aforementioned Pertemps Final two years ago.

However, this should not detract from Coleman’s acumen and balance in the saddle, his professsionalism in walking the course before every meeting and his ability to communicate with owners effectively.

Though he has been described as a potential successor to AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh, the teetotal has none of it. He barely acknowledges the flattery. “It will be difficult for anyone to be that good,” he says of his weighing room colleagues and heroes.

When the former champion conditional is asked what he needs to improve on in the years ahead, his response is short and to the point: “Everything.”

Yet, while Coleman is his own biggest critic, he is one of racing’s emerging forces. From across the Irish Sea, they include Paul Townend, the No 2 to Walsh at the yard of Willie Mullins, and Brian Hughes, who is now a stalwart of Yorkshire races.

From England, the rising stars are Malton-born Andrew Tinkler and Sam Thomas – the 2008 Gold Cup winner on Denman.

This rivalry, over the coming years, has the potential to be as compelling as the determination of McCoy and Walsh.

All that they need is a Grand National on a CV – and, in Coleman’s case, a change of luck.