Turf Topics: Road to recovery has been a long one for Elsworth

A YEAR ago, Dominic Elsworth's best racing days were still ahead of him. He was in the form of his life. His consistency and strength in the saddle had, according to the highly-respected former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody, seen the Yorkshireman become "one of the most sought-after riders around".

That was until a sickening fall 12 months ago today at Ffos Las which saw the jockey land head first before being knocked so hard by a stray hoof that the impact shattered his riding helmet. Initially, it was thought Elsworth had enjoyed a miraculous escape – that was until his head injury was later diagnosed as post-concussion syndrome.

Days became weeks, and then months, as the rider underwent countless medical tests to examine the extent of the brain swelling and to determine whether Elsworth, a jockey with winning form over Aintree's fearsome Grand National fences and at the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, would ever resume his career.

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Yet finally, after 12 months of, at times, intense frustration, the 30-year-old, who hails from Guiseley on the outskirts of Leeds, has resumed riding out on the morning gallops for his trainers – Oliver Sherwood, Paul Webber and Jonjo O'Neill amongst others – and hopes to get the final all-clear to return to competitive action this autumn.

Elsworth has been missed by the racing fraternity. His penchant for instigating practical jokes has seen the weighing room become a much quieter place during his prolonged absence. Racegoers have also been denied the opportunity to see a horseman so accomplished over obstacles.

"There's still no actual time but I'm getting better every day and, hopefully, I will be back October or November time," Elsworth told the Yorkshire Post.

"It's good to be riding out three lots at Oliver's, at Paul Webber's and with Jonjo. It's a good feeling. It's been tough at times. I've never been a good healer and, with post-concussion syndrome, it's just taken a long time for the brain to heal. Just keeping one's balance to walk was difficult at times; watching TV and so on.

"Anxiety, depression, your mind is playing tricks on you. You are weak-minded. There were times when I wondered whether I would ever be able to ride a horse again, even though the doctors said I was doing fine.

"You wondered if there would be any light at the end of the tunnel. There was a time when I was very vulnerable, but my partner Louise – now my wife – has been an absolute rock.

"It's not like a leg or arm break and you are told you'll be out for so many weeks. You just don't know with head injuries. It's probably one part of you that you take for granted too much."

Elsworth, whose most famous triumph came in March 2008 when he won the Racing Post Plate at the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival aboard Bingley trainer Sue Smith's faithful Mister McGoldrick, says he is indebted to the close support of friends who helped to lift his flagging spirits.

The jockey has also been a beneficiary of Oaksey House, the complex set up by the Injured Jockeys' Fund to look after injured, and retired, riders. He is now making full use of its sports physiotherapists as he looks to lose weight, and also rebuild his strength, ahead of a comeback.

"I've got a bit of timber to lose," remarks Elsworth with that Yorkshire turn of phrase that he has not lost since he moved to Berkshire to further his career, and enhance his reputation.

"It is going to be hard work having been out of the game for a year.

"The game is very competitive and I will have a bit to prove.

"I just want to get out there and do my job; it's a job I love and I wouldn't want to do anything else."

Elsworth, like all jockeys, is fearless when it comes to racing – and the risks involved. It has been his life since he was a stalwart on the pony racing circuit in Yorkshire during his teenage years before he formed his successful association with Smith that established himself as such an accomplished jockey.

With almost 200 winners in the preceding five seasons, and 1.2m in prize money, Elsworth already had nine successes to his name in the 2009-10 campaign when he parted company with Keepitsecret. Shortly afterwards, he said he would be sidelined "for days", but then he had little recollection of such conversations.

The jockey admits to having struggled to watch any racing on television during his absence, but says he will be "chomping at the bit" to renew his association with Mister McGoldrick and, perhaps, win one final race on the 13-year-old veteran who continues, despite his advancing years and the handicapper, to race with so much enthusiasm.

Yet his lay-off has also seen Elsworth gain wider perspective about life, society and hardship. It is why he considers himself to be fortunate, despite the past year's many frustrations as he waited for the all-clear before he could resume running, then drive his car and now riding on the gallops.

"Riding is something that I have done all my life," added Elsworth, whose previous triumphs include winning Aintree's Becher Chase aboard Ardent Scout in 2002.

"I have had a lot of time to think and I am very lucky that I can return to my job. When I was a kid, it was all I wanted to do.

"The Haiti earthquake, the Pakistan flood, the boys coming back from Afghanistan, it makes you realise how bloody lucky you are to be living in a world where there are so many people to support you.

"Those killed in Afghanistan. Their families. Those who have lost limbs. They don't get another chance, but I can carry on doing the job that I always dreamt of doing. I'm the lucky one."