Fortune turns as Elsworth gets big race chance

IT will signify a remarkable turnaround in the career fortunes of concussion victim Dominic Elsworth if he wins the John Smith’s Grand National with a chance ride.

Having missed so many victories after being sidelined with a head injury for 14 months, the Guiseley-born rider only takes the ride on the lightly-weighted Skippers Brig because the horse’s regular jockey, Brian Harding, is stricken with a broken arm.

It was the veteran Harding who was in the saddle when the Nicky Richards-trained horse beat leading National fancy Ballabriggs at Kelso last month before suffering the injury in a subsequent contest.

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Racing’s fickleness – an occupational hazard in such an unforgiving sport – was not lost on Elsworth, who is still re-establishing his career following such a lengthy lay-off.

This season has, thus far, yielded 16 winners from 155 rides, considerably less than Elsworth was achieving before his career was no nearly ended prematurely in the summer of 2009.

“He’s a fine big horse who I sat on earlier in the week and schooled over some Aintree-type fences,” said the jockey, who is having his seventh National ride and is looking to improve upon Southern Star’s 14th-place finish in 2003.

“Mr Richards is a shrewd trainer who wouldn’t run the horse if he didn’t have a good chance. He beat Ballabriggs last time which is also encouraging.

“After my year, it is immensely pleasing – but this is ultimately Brian Harding’s ride and I’ve only got the chance because he is injured. Unfortunately, that’s racing for you.”

Skippers Brig, along with Royal Rosa and Golden Kite, only entered the National reckoning yesterday after Northern Alliance, Roll Along and Our Monty were pulled out.

Always Waining, last year’s Topham winner from the stable of Peter Bowen, heads the four reserves, who can be added to the field if any of the 40-confirmed runners are injured prior to the final cut-off at 9.30am today.

Elsworth will prepare for the big race by riding Edbriar over the National fences in today’s Topham Chase.

This is the special horse who provided him with an emotional comeback win at Cheltenham last October on his first ride back from concussion.

“He’s schooled beautifully over our Grand National fences earlier in the week and we are hopeful he can give a good account,” said trainer Paul Webber.

“He likes to be up there and that is usually an advantage in the Topham.”