HOW times change. A year ago, Amy Ryan’s racing career hung in the balance after a heart-stopping fall at York which would have broken many jockeys.
Now the North Yorkshire rider is preparing to partner Blaine, one of the horses that helped launch the career of Ryan, to an emotional win in today’s 28-runner Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood – one of the most competitive sprints of the year.
Both horse and rider have experienced every twist and turn of racing’s roller-coaster since Blaine made all to win his maiden race at York in July, 2012 – one of the successes that saw Ryan become the first female jockey in history to become champion apprentice in her own right after Hayley Turner shared the title with Saleem Golan in 2005.
Yet the timeless adage that racing is a great leveller proved, once again, to be correct. Like many three-year-olds, Blaine struggled to hold his own against battle-hardened older horses and was unplaced in four starts, including the 2013 Stewards’ Cup.
By then, this was of secondary importance to Ryan, who was coming to terms with the back and shoulder soft tissue injuries which she sustained when the saddle slipped from Bogart as the horse, galloping at upwards of 30mph, led the 20-runner Sky Bet Dash field down the Knavesmire.
As Ryan fell to the turf near the two-furlong pole, the gasps of horror from the packed grandstands were visibly audible as her prone body was trampled over by flying hooves before she miraculously rose to her feet.
The timing could not have been worse because Ryan’s then boyfriend, Brian Toomey, was fighting for his life in a Dundee hospital after suffering serious head injuries in a hurdle race at Perth.
In many respects, Ryan was lucky – her physical injuries could have been far worse – but the mental scars have taken time to heal. She admitted to The Yorkshire Post that she considered quitting race-riding before coming to the conclusion that time was the greatest healer of all
It has paid off. Blaine provided the 24-year-old with a confidence-building success at Hamilton last month and Ryan even partnered the aforementioned Bogart in last Saturday’s renewal of the Sky Bet Dash.
She also realises she is more fortunate than most because she rides for her father Kevin and is not under pressure to rush back to the saddle in order to pay the weekly bills.
Twenty-nine rides have yielded just two winners this year, a modest return, but Ryan senior would not be using his daughter if she could not do justice to Blaine – family favouritism is not a factor.
“I’m looking forward to it. Blaine and I’m hoping for a good run,” said Ryan. “Don’t be put off that the race was his first win since he won a big race at the 2012 Ebor festival when Phil Makin rode him. It is hard for three-year-olds when they come against older horses who are stronger and more developed.”
Blaine is owned by Matt and Lauren Morgan, who have been incredibly supportive of the jockey. She regards them as friends rather than owners.
It also helps that the Ryan stable, based at Hambleton, is enjoying an annus mirabilis thanks to horses like The Grey Gatsby, who won York’s Betfred Dante Stakes before landing the Prix du Jockey Club – the French Derby – under an ice-cool Ryan Moore ride.
However, Ryan is slightly irritated when people suggest that her father has only become a top trainer in the past 12 months. She points to his previous Grade One successes, but that it takes time – and luck – to acquire a Classic winner. “It has given everyone a lift,” she adds.
Like Blaine, Ryan regularly rides out The Grey Gatsby and reports the colt to be in “good order” ahead of his likely reappearance in York’s Juddmonte International on August 20 and a moth-watering confrontation with Aidan O’Brien’s English and Irish Derby winner Australia.
As for today’s race, Blaine is joined by stablemate York Glory, who is looking to return to winning ways after his victory in the 2013 Wokingham Stakes at Royal Ascot.
He will be ridden by man of the moment James Doyle, who showed nerves of steel to win Wednesday’s feature Qipco Sussex Stakes aboard Kingman. The split-second timing of his winning run had to be impeccable or Toronado would have landed the spoils.
The weights are handed by Skipton-born trainer William Haggas’s Rex Imperator, who is seeking a second successive triumph in the race, a feat last achieved by Sky Diver in 1968. The more probable winner from the Haggas yard is the lightly-raced Muthmir, who was mercurial last weekend when winning the Sky Bet Dash at York.
Meanwhile, Malton trainer Richard Fahey has a strong hand with Alben Star – young apprentice George Chaloner takes the ride – Flyman and Ballesteros, who is named in honour of the Spanish golfing genius.
However, Wetherby trainer Robin Bastiman will be hoping for rain before saddling gallant veteran Borderlescott. Now 12, the horse won this race in 2006 and continues to be remarkably consistent at the highest level.
Victory for Borderlescott, a horse that was briefly retired a couple of years ago, would represent one of the great pieces of training in the history of Glorious Goodwood. Equally, there will not be a dry eye on the Sussex Downs if Amy Ryan is first past the post after the most challenging year of her career.