Maguire free to ride at Cheltenham

JASON Maguire spoke of his relief last night after being cleared to ride the unbeaten Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.

It follows a partially successful appeal into a seven-day ban handed down by the Doncaster stewards last week for excessive use of the whip.

That suspension was reduced last night to six days, paving the way for Maguire to attempt to land the biggest win of his career on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.

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“I’m absolutely delighted. It’s brilliant to get back in the Champion Hurdle,” said the jockey.

“It’s all systems go now. It’s been hanging over me in the last few days but I’ve had a lot of support from fellow jockeys and from people at the races.

“It’s the right result for the Champion Hurdle.”

The Doncaster stewards took issue with Maguire after Cool Mission was beaten by Beshabar in a three-mile beginners’ chase last Wednesday following a protracted struggle along the length of the home straight in which he hit his mount 18 times – two more than the prescribed limit.

They initially banned Maguire for five days for marking the horse, with a further two days awarded for using his whip with excessive frequency.

The suspension – from March 9-15 inclusive – meant Maguire would have missed the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.

However, while the BHA upheld the initial five-day suspension, they reduced the latter ban to just one day.

This case divided racing with jockeys calling for the ‘marking’ rule to be revised, while others openly questioned the use of the whip and whether such forceful riding can continue to be justified.

Those who supported Maguire yesterday included Donald McCain, the trainer of both Cool Mission and Peddlers Cross. He had accused the stewards of double standards by enforcing both the whip rule – and then penalising jockeys under the ‘non-triers’ rule for being too lenient.

“I don’t stop horses, we don’t abuse horses – they are always at the tough end of racing – and all we do is our best,” said McCain. “The horse was marked but the horse is notoriously lazy at the best of times.”

However Graeme McPherson, one of Maguire’s legal team, told the hearing that six of Maguire’s ‘hits’ were in the backhand position and therefore “less forceful”.

He added that Maguire was “not a whip-happy jockey” and that his mount “continued to respond” for being struck, but that the rider stopped hitting the horse “when he knew he was beaten.”

In other Cheltenham news, Totesport Trophy winner Recession Proof is set to swerve Sandown’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup on Saturday week and head straight to Cheltenham.

Connections of the Malton-trained horse had been considering a tilt at the Sandown race before the Festival, with a £75,000 bonus up for grabs from the sponsors if the winner should go on to success at any race at Cheltenham.

Trainer John Quinn said: “I think we’ll bypass the Imperial Cup and run in the Supreme and if he ran well without winning, he’d probably run in the County Hurdle as well.”

The Rock Of Gibraltar gelding is a 9-1 chance for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and 11-1 favourite for the County Hurdle.

The news was not so encouraging about Hell’s Bay.

Colin Tizzard’s ante-post favourite for the Jewson Novices’ Chase misses the Festival with a leg injury.

Meanwhile Ruby Walsh returns to the saddle today, four months after breaking his leg.

He has one ride at Newbury – one of 25 racecourses that will offer free admission to punters next month.

The Racing For Change initiative, supported by five Yorkshire tracks, follows a successful scheme last April that was supported by 40,000 people.