Beasley beats the odds to get back in saddle

Jockey Connor Beasley returns to scene of life-threatening fall.
Jockey Connor Beasley returns to scene of life-threatening fall.
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IT is probably fortunate that Connor Beasley cannot remember the last time that he raced at Wolverhampton.

A truly sickening fall left the young jockey, who had built strong links with North Yorkshire trainers, unconscious and fighting for his life.

His catalogue of injuries were not for the faint-hearted as racing held its collective breath and prayed for this young rider’s survival – a fractured skull pieced back together with six metal plates which are now a permanent fixture, bleeding on the brain and serious fractures to his spine and neck that left him in a body brace for three months.

Then there are the scars of battle that this extraordinary 21-year-old will carry for the rest of his life – Beasley also lost part of his ear and smashed his teeth.

How ironic, therefore, that fate decrees that this gifted rider’s near-miraculous return to competitive action takes place tomorrow at Wolverhampton, the all-weather track which nearly claimed so much more than Beasley’s career when his luckless mount Cumbrianna, trained at Hambleton by Bryan Smart, clipped heels with another horse in a six-furlong sprint last July and fell to the ground with fatal injuries.

His rider had no chance as the pursuing cavalry trampled over Beasley’s prone body before the medics could get to the battered rider and rush him to a neurological unit in Stoke where he fought, and won, the most important race of his life.

Yet Beasley, who recorded the biggest win of his career when landing York’s Coral Sprint Trophy on Spinatrix in October, 2014, for his main trainer, Michael Dods, has no qualms about returning to Wolverhampton where he is due to partner Spirit Of Wedza and City Of Night for Malton trainer Julie Camacho in the penultimate races.

Moderate, low-key affairs they may be but just seeing his name on the racecard will mean the world to Beasley. “To be fair, I can’t remember anything of the fall,” he said. “It’s a bit of a blur. It could have happened anywhere. I’m just eager to get back.

“From the moment I left hospital, I haven’t taken a single painkiller. I just set my goal of being back for the Turf season and was made up when I got the all-clear on Cheltenham Gold Cup day. It was like winning the Gold Cup.”

Beasley, who hails from County Durham and whose grandfather Bobby was assistant to the legendary National Hunt trainer Arthur Stephenson, will have no shortage of support. He has been riding out at yards across North Yorkshire and the aforementioned Dods offered this glowing testimonial: “Connor was apprenticed here and we go back a long way.

“It’s important to me, the staff and the owners that we give him as much of a helping hand as we can to get back going because he’d done so well for us. From what I’ve seen of him at home, he’s riding every bit as well as he was before his accident, I’ve got complete faith that he’ll succeed.”

This view is shared by Beasley’s weighing room colleague Jason Hart – the former champion conditional, who suffered his own injury travails in 2015, and was one of many jockeys to maintain a hospital vigil during their friend’s darkest hour.

“He was in a right mess. It wasn’t nice seeing one of your friends in that state,” said Hart. “He was always going to get back, but I didn’t think he would get back that quickly. To be fair, he’s put a lot of work into it.”

That work has included four sessions a week at Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehabilitation centre in Malton which opened last summer. It is already saving careers. “The fitness and strength work has been brilliant,” said Beasley, whose recovery was given added impetus by his marriage to Carla last December. “If it wasn’t for so many people supporting me – trainers, jockeys, family and Jack Berry House – I wouldn’t have got this far. To be fair, I don’t think I have ever been this fit in my life.”

Beasley, who had recorded 61 winners in his breakthrough year of 2014, knows it will be tough to re-establish himself as one of the North’s top young riders. He has teamed up with Middleham-based agent Niall Hannitty in the hope of getting sufficient rides.

If he gets the rides, says Beasley, the winners will follow – and so will his thanks to all those who never lost faith in his riding, and his powers of recovery as he embarks upon one of the most uplifting racing stories of the year.