FORMER Grand National-winning jockey Ryan Mania is to make a surprise comeback nearly five years after ‘retiring’ from the sport, The Yorkshire Post can exclusively reveal.
Mania, who partnered Auroras Encore to Aintree glory in 2013 for Yorkshire racing legends Sue and Harvey Smith, is set to return to competitive action at Ayr on Monday.
He passed fitness tests this week before undertaking a full medical. He received his licence from the British Horseracing Authority yesterday.
Now 30, Mania admits that his impetuosity and disillusionment got the better of him when he hung up his saddle in November 2014.
The way sports nutrition has changed since I retired is a major factor. I’ve had help from a top expert and eat three meals a day, Never hungry. Never thirsty.Ryan Mania
Away from racing, he became master of the Berwickshire Hunt and married his wife Annie whose stepfather, Sandy Thomson, is a successful National Hunt trainer in the Scottish Borders.
And it was when Mania became assistant trainer to the aforementioned Thomson, and his wife Quona, earlier this year that the racing dream became rekindled because of ‘unfinished business’.
“The main reason is that I retired for all the wrong reasons,” said the jockey who had struck up a great rapport with Seeyouatmidnight for the Thomson family before his retirement.
“My weight was really bad. I couldn’t see a way out and I just lost the plot. I’ve been thinking about it properly since I rode in a charity race for the Countryside Alliance at Aintree three years ago.
“I was then committed to a new job with the hunt, which I really enjoyed, and there was a lot going on – I had got engaged to Annie. I kind of regret not resuming riding back then but it was important to put family first.
“Even before Sandy offered me the job, I kept thinking that I would like to see if it was even possible to get my weight down for my own peace of mind.”
Born in Galashiels, Mania rode his first winners in the 2007-08 season and was a successful conditional with the late Peter Monteith before going on to ride for Howard Johnson in County Durham.
When Johnson lost his licence in 2011, Mania subsequently teamed up with the Smiths at their High Eldwick stables near Bingley.
The highlight of their successful partnership was 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore becoming the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the National since Merryman II in 1960.
Yet the victory euphoria was shortlived. Mania was airlifted to hospital the following day after a heavy fall at Hexham while the fame and thrill of winning the world’s greatest steeplechase began to lose its allure as he struggled to control his weight – his public persona masked what became a personal torture.
However, he genuinely believes that family stability – and a much better understanding of nutrition – means he can turn past experiences into a positive.
As well as riding for the Thomsons, he has recruited his former agent Bruce Jeffrey and will carefully manage his weight, as a result of a new-found appreciation for the sport that made him, so not to make any unhealthy sacrifices.
Largy Perk, Mania’s intended first ride, has 10st 12lb to carry in a novice hurdle at Ayr and the jockey’s first target is to get to 200 career winners. He is on 192 at present.
“The way sports nutrition has changed since I retired is a major factor. I’ve had help from a top expert and eat three meals a day, Never hungry. Never thirsty. All good. Before I was eating rubbish, and then going days not eating. No wonder I didn’t want to ride.”
Mania also cites the incredibly positive influence of his wife Annie, a talented photographer in her own right, and a desire to provide some memories for their one-year-old daughter Aurora to cherish.
And while he accepts it will take time to become established, he is confident in his own abilities after spending six months riding out for the Thomsons and supervising their 35-strong string each day.
“I feel I’m riding well enough at home and I haven’t forgotten. I have stayed awake at night thinking about race riding – I haven’t forgotten what it is like,” he added. “You don’t forget how to win a Grand National. One race at a time. But I hope, thanks to all the support at home, to be doing it in 10 years time if I ride well.”