jason Maguire continues his valiant pursuit of AP McCoy, the 17-time champion jockey, at Wetherby today after a dramatic week that highlighted the great perils of National Hunt racing – and the bravery of its combatants.
The odds of the likable 32-year-old, a nephew of the injury-prone riding legend Adrian Maguire, even riding at the West Yorkshire track were on the generous side after steeplechaser Nodform Richard failed to take-off at a fence at Doncaster three days ago, catapulting the helpless jockey into the turf.
It was several minutes before Maguire, now second in the jockeys’ standings because McCoy’s perennial runner-up Richard Johnson is currently sidelined through suspension, hobbled into a waiting ambulance to seek medical attention.
Yet 30 minutes later, and to the surprise of all those present on Town Moor including Maguire’s trainer Donald McCain, he rode top novice chaser Overturn to a classy 25-length victory which confirmed the Arkle Trophy credentials of racing’s most versatile horse.
It is why Maguire, further buoyed by Counsel’s victory at Sedgefield yesterday, heads to Wetherby brimming with confidence – despite the discomfort from a fall that shocked seasoned racing observers including Sir Peter O’Sullevan, the legendary BBC commentator, who was watching on television.
He rides the seven-year-old Dunowen Point in the card’s most valuable race, the Yorkshire Post Ladies’ Evening Handicap Chase. Like Overturn and Counsel, he is owned by the increasingly prolific Tim Leslie.
“Dunowen’s a nice sort. He’s seven and I’ve won four times on him in the last year or so,” said Maguire. “He won well last time out on Boxing Day when young Henry Brooke from Middleham rode him at Sedgefield, it was his first time back after a nice break.
“It’s a nice race – good prize money – and it will be a bit of a battle with Lease Lend from Tim Easterby’s yard who is a bit of a course specialist. It may come down to which horse jumps better – and which handles the soft ground, though it was pretty testing at Sedgefield last time out.”
Just like the seemingly indestructible McCoy who is 33-winners clear in the jockeys’ race and who declined anaesthetic for dental treatment after being kicked in the face by a horse’s errant hoof at Wetherby before Christmas, Maguire seemed oblivious to those concerned about his welfare when he lay on Doncaster’s turf on Wednesday.
He says he was just trying to compose himself after a potentially season-ending fall as Nodform Richard approached the fence at considerable pace – about 25mph.
“I’m grand now,” he told the Yorkshire Post yesterday with the extra emphasis on the last of those three short words.
“It was just a cut inside the mouth, nothing much. I wasn’t going to give up the ride on Overturn easily, believe me. A big winner on the Flat, and second in the Champion Hurdle, he could be even better over fences.
“He jumped great and the extra distance – two miles three furlongs – didn’t appear to be a problem. I didn’t have to do much.
“We’ll come back to Doncaster at the end of the month, ground permitting, and get another good round of jumping in before the Arkle.
“For those championship races, you really need a horse who can stay the trip.
“And I am certainly more hopeful of beating Nicky Henderson’s Simonsig now than I was before the Doncaster race.
“Overturn is a front-runner who goes a good gallop and jumps grand. I really will have to be badly beaten up not to ride him at Cheltenham.”
As for the rest of this season, Maguire has no ambitions – apart from a victory at the showpiece Cheltenham Festival and a second Grand National triumph to follow his victory on Ballabriggs in 2011 which was overshadowed by his overuse of the whip on the run-in.
“I’ll just try to keep as close as possible to AP and see what happens,” added Maguire, who realises that the biggest obstacle to McCoy will be a serious injury that leaves the champion on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
Yet McCoy’s motivation remains as strong as ever.
He’s closing in on an astonishing 4,000 career winners. He has repeatedly said such landmarks do not matter to him, but he did make this observation at Doncaster on Wednesday: “Just 183 to go.”
His tally could be further boosted by the probable acquisition of the highly-rated Jezki by JP McManus, McCoy’s retained owner.
Currently 4-1 favourite for the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, McManus was last night linked with the Jessica Harrington-trained five-year-old.
One of Irish racing’s top prospects, Jezki won two bumpers last season for his breeder Gerard McGrath and his four wins over hurdles this season include Grade One successes last month at Fairyhouse, where he beat Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever, and at Leopardstown.
The prospect of riding such horses will only motivate McCoy further – and make it even harder for Jason Maguire who would be a deserved champion in any other era.