ANDREW Tinkler is living proof of the importance of Jack Berry House, the £3m treatment and rehabilitation centre for injured jockeys that is now being built in the horseman’s home town of Malton.
As racing dignitaries gather today to see construction work finally begin on the facility that is the brainchild of the tireless Berry, the Leeds-born trainer and Injured Jockeys Fund’s champion fundraiser and vice-president, Tinkler spoke with passion about how the one-to-one treatment will potentially transform the careers of riders across the North.
He should have been on the sidelines for at least six months after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery to repair a badly injured cruciate ligament.
Yet the 28-year-old was back in the saddle after just three months thanks to the unrivalled one-to-one care that he received at the Injured Jockeys Fund’s Oaksey House facility in the racing heartland of Lambourn close to the stables of his boss Nicky Henderson, the champion trainer.
“If I had been out for six months, I would have returned last month and missed at least half of the main season,” Tinkler told the Yorkshire Post. “It would have been like starting again because you lose so many rides when you’re on the sidelines – if someone else takes your place and does nothing wrong, there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Tinkler’s experience of Oaksey House, and its state-of-the-art facilities, is testimony to the resilience of riders – and how the care of injured riders has become far more professional thanks to the IJF and medical advances.
The 28-year-old was riding on a high after winning the season-ending bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown – the race still known as the ‘Whitbread’ – on the gallant grey Quentin Collonges to record one of the most significant successes of a career in which the hard graft put in since the ever-optimistic Tinkler celebrated his 16th birthday by riding a 100-1 winner has not always been rewarded fully.
Two heavy falls later in this most unforgiving of sports and Tinkler was undergoing extensive physiotherapy on his right knee until it totally gave way at Aintree towards the end of a race.
He knew instantly that surgery was the only option – part of his patellar tendon was grafted onto the ligament in his right knee and then Tinkler began his race for fitness.
His surgeon maintained that the Yorkshire-born rider would be sidelined for six months. However, he had not fully appreciated the specialist care provided at Oaksey House – and which will be on hand at Jack Berry House when the centre opens at the end of this year.
He was able to use a special machine that allowed him to walk without putting the injured knee under any strain. It kept the muscle wastage to a minimum. There was extensive physiotherapy as well as a programme of running, cycling and swimming as his leg became stronger again.
Yet the crucial difference, said Tinkler, was that he was being monitored every step of the way and the medical team even detected a weakness in his body posture, a discovery which has enabled him to become even more effective as a rider.
In short, he – and other jockeys on the sidelines or trying to manage injuries – can now receive care on a daily basis that has the potential to extend their careers.
“I went back to see my surgeon three months to the day after the operation. He thought I was coming back for a check-up; I was going back to get the go-ahead to resume race-riding,” explained Tinkler. “That I convinced him, after undergoing several tests, is down to the team of physios and doctors we now have at Oaksey House – all the riders are 100 per cent behind them and the work they do. I don’t think the work they do, and the work that will happen at Jack Berry House, gets the publicity that it deserves.
“They are changing our sport – and for the better. We’re getting the type of care that Premier League footballers receive.
“They need to get back onto the pitch quickly because they’re commercial assets. Riders are self-employed – we need to get back to earn a living.
“It’s easy to get down if you’re on the sidelines. There are people who worry about the rides they’re losing. If you know your recovery is going to be speeded up by half, it gives you a hell of a lot of confidence. The professionalism is second-to-none. If they say they will get you back within five weeks, they will get you back within five weeks.
“I was born in Malton, my family are from there, and I know how much this centre is needed.
“It needs all the support possible to raise the money still needed. It shows how the sport is changing, everything now is far more professional, but it wouldn’t be possible without Mr Berry. Hats off to Jack, he saw the need for it, he stuck at it and is now being rewarded by a facility that will do justice to all his hard work for us.”
Fifteen winners from 143 rides this season may appear a modest return for a jockey competing for rides at Henderson’s yard against stable jockey Barry Geraghty and AP McCoy.
But Tinkler makes the point that his task would be an even more formidable one without the support of Oaksey House. They have saved his season.