He has ended up in hospital after riding over Aintree’s fearsome fences in the past. More recently, a gallops fall in the summer of 2019 left him in intensive care at Leeds General Infirmary with a lacerated liver and other injuries.
But the inherent risks, says the 37-year-old who is enjoying a career-best season, are more than outweighed by the career-defining days that the journeyman Quinlan has enjoyed on the Nicky Richards-trained Takingrisks.
A chance spare ride at Carlisle in March, 2019, Quinlan won on Takingrisks and then enjoyed the biggest win of his career when partnering Frank Bird’s horse to victory in the following month’s Scottish Grand National at Ayr.
Subsequent wins in the 2019 Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle, and then Doncaster’s prestigious Sky Bet Chase earlier this year, prompted connections to give the 12-year-old chaser a National entry. They are likely to be joined by just two other Northern-trained horses – Brian Ellison’s Definitly Red and Lake View Lad for Nick Alexander – in the world’s greatest steeplechase and Quinlan’s growing sense of anticipation is discernible.
His only previous National ride came nearly a decade ago when he was the last of the 15 finishers in 2012 when the great grey Neptune Collonges beat the luckless Sunnyhill Boy by a nose.
At least he got round before his rides – and opportunities – began to disappear and any Aintree dreams became too fanciful to believe. Like 2013 National-winning rider Ryan Mania and others, Quinlan owes his revival, and resurgence, to the support of Yorkshire racing legends Sue and Harvey Smith when he needed support.
That initial support has, in turn, led to other opportunities that have already seen him accrue 61 winners this season – a new personal best – thanks to Fete Champetre’s win at Wetherby on Thursday for the Rose Dobbin team.
Now the second most prolific National Hunt rider in the North behind reigning champion jockey Brian Hughes, Quinlan tells The Yorkshire Post: “You’re only as good as the horses you’re riding. The more winners you have, the more confidence you get.
“Takingrisks seems in good form. We took him to Carlise for a racecourse gallop and schooled him over a couple of fences. He seems in good form.
“I’m going to school him on Saturday at Nicky’s yard over some National fences that he’s built. He’s put some green spruce on his schooling fences – it’s what his dad (Gordon W Richards) did before Lucius and Hallo Dandy won the National.”
It is a tradition the younger Richards is keen to maintain at his Cumbria stables. “Hopefully, the fences are nice and inviting,” he ventures. “I don’t know if horses are colour blind but it is just trying to do everything right for the old boy. We’re very happy. Fingers crossed. If he was a nine-year-old he wouldn’t be the price he is at the moment, would he?”
Quinlan concurs. “The ground doesn’t bother Takingrisks. He’s won on heavy ground and he won a Scottish National on good to firm – and I thought that was the best feeling he’s given me,” says the rider.
“Everyone says he’s 12, but Nicky hasn’t been hard on him this year. He jumps, he gallops, he stays very well. He’s very tough and very genuine – he’s the best ride I’m ever going to get in the National because they’re so hard to get. He beat Cloth Cap (National favourite) in the Scottish National, and while Cloth Cap has improved a fair bit since then, Aintree is totally different.”
Quinlan speaks from first-hand experience after a nightmare day in December, 2015 when he battled through floods to get to Merseyside.
He endured a heavy fall from No Planning at the Chair fence in the Becher Chase before coming to grief off Mwaleshi in the concluding Grand Sefton Chase over the National course.
That latter fall left him in hospital – while his partner Lizzy Butterworth was being evacuated from the couple’s Cumbrian home as it became deluged by floodwater. “That’s it. It took me six hours to get to Aintree that day because of floods. I think God was telling me not to go,” reflects Quinlan.
Today, the jockey and Butterworth, a key member of the Hambleton Racing team that saw their colours carried to Champions Day glory on the Flat by Hollie Doyle and Glen Shiel, are the proud parents to baby Sophia.
They are due to get married later this year, 12 months later than planned due to lockdown, and National glory would cap Quinlan’s career off and reward his persistence and perseverance. “Clear round, run a nice race and I’ll be happy,” he adds. “If he wins, it will be a very big bonus.”
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