Kington still harbours National hope after coming-of-age victory

TO most people in racing, a mundane midweek selling hurdle at Worcester this week was just another race.

Jockey John Kington.

To John Kington, it meant the world and was the vindication of 15 years of sacrifice as a jump jockey.

Why? Victory on Julia Brooke’s gutsy Ruaraidh Hugh was the 75th in his career – and means he has ridden out his ‘claim’.

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A belated ‘coming of age’ landmark, the hard-working 31-year-old – attached to Brooke’s Middleham stable – is no longer eligible for a weight allowance due to his inexperience.

Jockeys John Kington and Henry Brooke riding out in Middleham.

And, yet while the rider’s career has been one of steady progress since first competing in the 2003-04 season, he bristles at the term ‘journeyman jockey’.

It’s his life, he says. It’s what he loves to do. And his commitment, in many respects, epitomises the devotion – and courage – required.

For, while he might not have enjoyed the high-profile success of big-name jockeys, many lesser lights don’t even get this far and the word ‘journeyman’ does a disservice to the hard work required just to make the start.

“I’m over the moon. I couldn’t be happier. He went and did it nicely,” the likable Kington told The Yorkshire Post. “When I weighed out, the clerk of the scales told me that I only needed one to lose my claim.

“People do tell you these things, you think about it, you try too hard and it doesn’t come. You just don’t think about it. If it’s a winner, it’s a winner. If not, you try again the next day.”

Born in Hereford, Kington grew up riding ponies, and showjumping, before becoming a jockey when he turned 16.

He’s a distant relative of the legendary Peter Scudamore and began his riding career at the stables of the former champion jockey’s son Michael.

From there, he spent several seasons with Grand National-winning jockey Donald McCain before moving to Yorkshire in pursuit of further opportunities.

He’s now attached to the stable of the aforementioned Brooke whose eldest son, Henry, is one of the North’s top jockeys.

And though he has twice reached double figures, riding 10 winners in 2006-07 and a lucky 13 in a prolific 2011-12, there have been years – like the 2013-14 season – when 115 rides yielded just one success.

Yet it does not deter, or deflate, a sportsman who knows no different – and who wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s no other job which has the same buzz,” says Kington, who rides out for North Yorkshire trainers Simon West and Lawrence Mullaney each morning before returning to the Brooke yard to school horses and help in the stable.

“People say ‘what are you going to do when you retire?’ I haven’t a clue. I don’t like to think about it. I still love the game.

“When you still love it, you might as well well keep going until you’ve had enough.”

Kington has been unfortunate in two regards. He’s not had a headline-making horse to take his career to a new level and, in doing so, attract wider recognition. And he’s been blighted by injury – the most recent came when he fractured his back in a fall at Sedgefield at the end of April last year. “I was winded more than anything else,” he recalled.

“My back was sore. I went to stand up and couldn’t stand up. I fell back to the ground. That was one of the injuries. Three or four days in hospital, five weeks in a body brace. That was a long five weeks. And then I took the rest of the summer off to heal properly.”

Epitomising the spirit of National Hunt riders, it’s not the inherent injury risks, or the wasting, that most perturb Kington.

It’s the travelling – and the state of the roads. At least, he says, the Northern racetracks are fairly accessible.

Yet, while losing his three pound conditional rider’s allowance means the jockey, who stands 5ft 11ins tall, won’t have to lose even more weight before races, he’s not expecting to be inundated with offers.

He will carry on – just like he’s always done – trying to please connections. The ultimate, he says, would be a ride in the Grand National. “Even if it’s just once before I retire,” he begs.

Though not the biggest name in racing, his elation after winning aboard Ruaraidh Hugh spoke volumes. He travelled on the horse box to Worcester and his small share of the £3,000 prize money will barely cover his week’s living costs and riding expenses.

“We’re delighted he did it on one of our horses. He’s a big help to us – and his other trainers,” said Brooke. “He’s a big part of Brough Farm. He’s so dedicated and so happy to have ridden out his claim. He’s so under-used.”

As for John Kington, the future is very simple after his first winner of the 2018-19 campaign. “If you don’t love it, stop. If you love it, carry on,” he adds.

Just like he’s always done.