A CHANCE conversation with riding legend Harvey Smith is paying off handsomely for jockey Ryan Mania as his racing comeback gathers pace – at the unlikely age of 23.
The naturally-gifted horseman has forged a successful alliance with Bingley-based Smith, and his wife Sue, since returning to National Hunt racing after taking a surprising sabbatical last autumn.
Mania shocked many when he left the sport last September after County Durham-based Howard Johnson, his then boss, lost his training licence on horse welfare grounds. The young Scot chose to spend several months working for the Fife Hunt in his native Scotland as a whipper-in, looking after the hounds, rather than seeking another stable.
Disillusionment had set in. The daily grind of travelling – and dieting – had begun to lose its appeal after five years on the road building up a career that had achieved moderate success, despite Mania’s qualities in the saddle.
“I probably needed to get away from horse racing to realise how much it meant to me,” the rider told the Yorkshire Post.
“There’s nothing like it, for all the driving and sweating to make the weight, you really miss your friends in the weighing room. I needed the time off to help decide to give it another go, although the hunt was a good way of life and something I’d go back to.
“I had nothing to come back to racing-wise at the end of last year, but just thought I’d give it a go, and then I saw Harvey Smith at Carlisle one day. He asked if I’d ride out at his yard – Henry Oliver was injured and there were rides going. I did and I haven’t looked back.
“I will never forget that he knows a lot more than I do. As long as I keep that attitude, I should be fine.”
Within a fortnight, Mania had ridden Douglas Julian to victory at Ayr and then rode a high-profile victory at Uttoxeter on Midlands National day in March when Lackamon outbattled the Tom Scudamore-ridden Brunswick Gold in a thrilling tussle which was shown live on terrestrial television, further highlighting the rider’s prowess.
“He’s a nice horse and should be running in some of the Nationals in years to come. The further he goes, the better he is. He just needs to brush up on his jumping.”
Ironically, it was a narrow defeat in last month’s Scottish National aboard the Smith-trained Auroras Encore that has provided Mania with the greatest pleasure – an unlikely admission when winning is paramount in horse racing.
He thought he had the prestigious four-mile chase sewn up until being collared on the line by the Timmy Murphy-ridden Merigo; Scotland’s most popular racehorse was reclaiming the race that he had won two years previously for Lockerbie trainer Andrew Parker.
“I was heartbroken, I really was, to get chinned on the line like that but there should be a big race in Auroras,” said Mania who has ridden 13 winners since resuming his career.
“Yet, if people had said six months ago that I’d be second in the Scottish National, a race that means so much to the Scots, then I would never have believed it – it’s really got me going again.
“Now I want to win races like that. The response from people has been amazing. You don’t know what you missed until you get away from it. There are people who still say to me ‘did you not give up?’. I had one conversation when I was told I was mad for giving up, then I think it was Jimmy McCarthy, another jockey, who said the riders were the mad ones for sticking with the sport.
“Yet, looking at it, what else can you do where you get paid £140, your riding fee, for four minutes work riding a race? You’re getting paid to do something you enjoy.”
So much so that Ryan Mania was leaving his home in the Scottish Borders last night so that he could ride out for Sue and Harvey Smith at daybreak before travelling on to Fakenham in Norfolk for a solitary ride.
He will then head back to Bingley to ride work tomorrow morning, putting the stable’s string through their paces on Baildon Moor, before driving home.
“Without walking away from the sport, I couldn’t be doing it – I feel I’m back and I’m just glad Mr Smith told me to get down to his yard.”
n John Quinn is eyeing the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot as a potential next port of call for Red Duke.
The Group Two-winning colt was beaten a little under 10 lengths into 11th in Saturday’s Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and his trainer feels the rain-softened ground did his charge no favours.
While he holds an entry in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh later this month, Malton-based Quinn is considering dropping his charge in class instead.