Optimistic Toomey closing on startling comeback

Jockey Brian Toomey.
Jockey Brian Toomey.
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Brian Toomey has cleared another hurdle in his quest to resume race-riding – more than 18 months after a horrific fall left him for dead.

Two top neurosurgeons have told the 25-year-old North Yorkshire jump jockey that there is no reason why he cannot reapply for his riding licence following a recovery that continues to defy medical odds.

However, Toomey, who has been riding out regularly for a string of top trainers, still needs the approval of the British Horseracing Authority.

He posted his application to the BHA yesterday but it could still be many months before a final decision is taken – the sport’s governing body will want to undertake their own medical assessment and will want reassurances that Toomey will not be endangering his health if he suffers a heavy fall on the racetrack.

Yet the fact that the County Limerick-born rider is even in a position to contemplate the most unlikely of sporting comebacks is testament to his never-say-die resilience after coming to grief from Solway Dandy at Perth in July 2013 and being pitched head-first into the turf.

Doctors had to cut away part of Toomey’s skull to relieve the pressure on his brain – they did not expect the rider to survive his injuries – before doctors began extensive reconstruction surgery.

It was predominantly undertaken at Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital by Professor Philip Kane – one of the two surgeons to back the jockey.

Toomey also passed a series of stringent checks that were conducted by Coventry-based consultant surgeon Ronan Dardis. He has also retaken, and passed, his driving test.

“They have said that they cannot stand in the way,” the elated rider told The Yorkshire Post. “As a result of this, and the reassurance that it has provided, I have submitted an application to the BHA to renew my licence and posted it off – first class. I never thought I would be in this position.”

For the past six months, Toomey has been riding out for a variety of trainers in Britain and Ireland, including Jonjo O’Neill, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Willie Mullins and Enda Bolger.

He also reports that he has emerged unscathed from a number of falls – an occupational hazard for any jockey when schooling horses – and two spills that he suffered while out hunting in his native Ireland.

“Because I don’t remember the fall and the injury, it hasn’t affected my confidence. I am lucky in this regard,” said Toomey, who accepts that BHA approval is unlikely to be a formality at this stage because of the seriousness of the injuries that he suffered at Perth.

Toomey is currently living in Saltburn with close friend James Reveley, one of the jockeys who maintained a hospital vigil in Scotland.

He has been riding out for Reveley’s father Keith and is also drawing comfort from how Bob Champion, born in nearby Guisborough, conquered cancer before winning the 1981 Grand National – the most emotional horse race in history – aboard Aldaniti.

If Toomey was to make a comeback – and even win one race – the achievement would be comparable to Champion’s own heroics which continue to inspire cancer patients thanks to his charitable fundraising trust.

“What Brian has gone through, it is absolutely tremendous,” said Champion.

“It will be up to the BHA and its medical team, but the amazing fact is that he is position. He’s done well to live, let’s be honest, and get in this position. I wish him all the best.”

A BHA spokesman said: “Every application has to be treated on its own merits. An application will not be considered unless stringent medical checks have been passed.”

It is a desire to inspire others, the epitome of Champion’s comeback, that is providing a spur to Toomey who is the first to credit the support that he has received from his family, friends and the racing fraternity, not least the Injured Jockey Fund’s almoner Helen Wilson.

He has spent part of his rehabilitation studying the comebacks of other sportsmen who had the misfortune to suffer potentially career-ending injuries.

He has also hosted racegoers in corporate boxes at Sedgefield while following the progress of his cousin JT McNamara who was left paralysed by a fall at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

“I want to come back, but I know I am going to have to prove myself more than I have ever done,” said Toomey, who had ridden just over 50 winners as a professional rider before his career came to such an abrupt halt.

“But I do love to prove people wrong. If I put my mind to something, I don’t give up. I think that’s one reason why I am even in this position. People go through tough times in all walks of life, it’s the same with horse racing.

“Eighteen months ago, you would have said it would take a miracle to get this far – one of the intensive care nurses in Dundee said she had seen two miracles in 22 years and I was one of them.

“It’s frustrating riding and schooling horses that I cannot ride in races.

“I feel I am ready. I hope I can inspire anyone with a brain injury not to give up, and to give people a small bit of hope. I texted my agent Dave Roberts to see if trainers would support me and he sent back one word. Loads.”