National hero Mania opts to quit

GRAND National-winnning jockey Ryan Mania has announced his immediate retirement from the saddle – just 18 months after winning the world’s greatest steeplechase.

Ryan Mania, Grand National winner Auroras Encore back home at the stables, Craiglands Farm, high Eldwick the home of Sue and Harvey Smith. (Picture: Gerard Binks)

The 25-year-old has cited his constant battle with weight as the primary reason for his decision to give up the sport which gave him “the best day of his life” when he rode Sue and Harvey Smith’s Auroras Encore to Aintree glory in April 2013.

Though the timing of Mania’s decision, midway through the current National Hunt season, took those close to the Galashiels-born rider by surprise, he told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview that he had been giving the matter much thought for many months.

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“I’ve been thinking about this since the summer and I always thought that it was going to be my last season,” he said.

“Of course I am sad that I am stopping, but it has been at the back of my mind for some time.

“I thought I’d be able to carry on until Christmas, but my mind is made up.

“People don’t always see the sacrifices that jockeys have to make if they’re to make the weight, and also the travelling and the time away from your family.”

This is not the first time that Mania has walked away from horse racing – he took a six-month sabbatical in the early part of 2011 when riding opportunities dried up after the death of his friend, mentor and trainer Peter Monteith.

However, he resumed riding later in the year and it was Smith, the showjumping legend, who saw the jockey in action at Carlisle and persuaded him to become stable jockey at his High Eldwick stables neat Bingley.

Mania soon established himself as one of the North’s top riders and his finest hour came aboard the now retired Auroras Encore when the horse, a 66-1 outsider, became the first Yorkshire-trained winner of the National since Merryman II in 1960.

The success was the catalyst to a career-best campaign in 2013-14 which yielded 53 winners.

Though Mania has only recorded 14 winners this year, he was still seen to particularly good effect at Haydock on Saturday – his last day of competitive riding – when partnering the Smith-trained De Boitron to second in a handicap hurdle after walking the course to identify the most advantageous ground.

Mania, however, does admit to becoming frustrated at the structure of racing in the North and how it is a poor relation in comparison to the South when it comes to issues like the fixture list and prize money.

This, in turn, has not helped him to keep his weight in check.

At nearly 5ft 10ins, there have been times when he has found this to be particularly challenging. “I have had a great time with Sue and Harvey – they gave me the best day if my life with the National,” he added. “I will always seem them as friends rather than as a boss.

“I’m not being fair to myself if I carry on being miserable; this is different to last time when I always knew I would come back riding at some point. I rode four winners the other week and I just didn’t get that kick out of winning.

“I want to be at a level when I am riding winners regularly at Cheltenham, and the other big races, and I just can’t see that happening on a regular enough basis to make it worthwhile.

“I was at an evening with Sir Alex Ferguson recently and he said ‘you should never retire unless you are young enough to do something else’. I have nothing planned, but I would definitely like to spend some time with hunting or working in the media.”

Mania’s agent, and close friend, Bruce Jeffrey confirmed that he was informed of the rider’s decision yesterday morning.

“I totally respect Ryan – this has not been easy for him – but we all have to move on. I’ve still got 12 jockeys on my books and hope to maintain my links with Sue and Harvey and their team at Craiglands Farm,” he said.

A philosophical Sue Smith said: “We are disappointed that Ryan has called it a day. We have had some great days with him, not least the Grand National and Auroras Encore.

“If he is struggling to do the weight every day, and his heart isn’t in it, there’s no point carrying on for the sake of it.”