Putting things in perspective

WHEN I was asked this week to write about the highs and lows of 2011 my immediate reaction was to focus on the new whip rules brought in by the BHA across the water.

Initially, I felt that was the real low point of the year, but then began to reflect a little and soon decided, in the greater scheme of things, it wasn’t that important after all.

No, there was only one real low point in racing and that was the death of young Jack Tyner. Here was a highly promising amateur rider, rapidly on the up, who lost his life so tragically following a fall at a point-to-point at Dungarvan.

Jack was a massive loss to his father, Robert, his mother, Mary, and his siblings and the entire racing community mourned as one.

There were other lows, of course, but the death of Jack simply put everything else into perspective.

Back to the whip and those BHA rules. As far as I’m concerned this is the beginning of the end of the whip in Britain and I continue to fail to understand the notion of public perception.

People who want to do away with the use of the whip will never be appeased. You can argue that the furore has faded somewhat of late, but that’s only because there are no high-profile cases and bans are still being handed down.

As jockeys we are all suffering and results are being changed. For example, I rode a horse called Minella Stars to finish third at Newbury recently. He is big and idle and was crying out for strong handling. I’m not saying he should have won. He should, however, have been second, but I just couldn’t do what was required.

It is comforting to at least know the Turf Club are showing no inclination to follow the lead of the BHA.

A personal low for me was being injured at Killarney on the night of July 12. I was a bit stiff, following a fall off Friendly Society in a hurdle race, but thought I was alright.

My wife, Gillian, though, insisted I go to Cork University hospital for a scan and that revealed I’d damaged the C7 vertebra in my lower neck and the T1 high up in my back.

All I felt was disappointment. I think when you have kids and get a bit older one tends to be largely philosophical.

Then, of course, I missed the Galway festival and partnering Blazing Tempo to win the Plate. I knew full well the way the mare was working that she had a terrific chance.

Away from racing my biggest low was watching Ireland fail to Wales in the quarter-final of the rugby World Cup.

They were quite superb in beating Australia, but didn’t play anywhere near their potential against Wales and, for someone who loves his rugby, that was very frustrating.

My biggest high of 2011 came on April 24 with the birth of my second child, Elsa, a sister for Isabelle. That led the way by a mile.

On a professional level it was all about Cheltenham. I was only back riding from yet another serious injury a short while and was thrilled at the faith both Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls placed in me.

I knew there were plenty of people who felt I wasn’t up to the job, but that all changed in the very first race of the meeting, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

I’d say Al Ferof was a 25-1 shot at the top of the hill, but he flew home and silenced the doubters.

That was the start of a dream day and a dream week. I had never previously won the Champion Hurdle, but was full of confidence going out to ride Hurricane Fly. I knew he was exceptional.

I just felt he was in a different league to the rest and didn’t let me down, winning a cracking race.

Then I rounded off a superb afternoon by completing a treble on Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle.

On the Thursday I won the Stayers’ Hurdle on Big Buck’s, despite losing my whip. On Friday a bob of the head saw Final Approach win the County Hurdle, to prove my luck was certainly in.

Kauto Star scoring at Haydock, on his seasonal reappearance, was a massive high. I went there thinking we wouldn’t beat Long Run, but he delivered in spades. Kauto Star has been THE horse of my career.

Two other highs I have to mention are Joseph O’Brien and Frankel. Joseph was brilliant when taking the Breeders Cup on St Nicholas Abbey, especially in the first half mile, where he rode like an old pro.

I’m a serious fan of Frankel and regard him as an incredible racehorse.

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