The jockeys who earn their living in jumps racing, where the risk of serious injury from falling from a speeding horse is a daily occupational hazard, could be demanding free treatment should Waley-Cohen steer second favourite Long Run to Cheltenham Gold Cup glory on Friday.
“When you’re in there and you see a lot of guys who have had their teeth knocked out and they take their dentures out to go and race...there is plenty of work to be done in the weighing room,” Waley-Cohen said.
The 28-year-old adrenaline seeker, who flys helicopters and whose High Society friends include Britain’s Prince Willam and his wife-to-be Kate Middleton, is no ordinary Corinthian amateur jockey.
He has ridden 19 winners from 101 rides in the last five seasons, came fifth in the 2007 Grand National and in January enjoyed his biggest success when Long Run, owned by his father Robert Waley-Cohen, dashed Kauto Star’s hopes of winning a fifth consecutive King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
Now he hopes to again put the likes of champion jockey Tony McCoy in the shade by winning the blue riband of steeplechasing at the Cheltenham Festival, the showpiece of the British jumps racing season.
Long Run will line up against twice Gold Cup winner Kauto Star again on Friday, as well as last year’s winner Imperial Commander and 2008 winner Denman. “Touch wood he’s very fit and very well. We couldn’t be happier really... Counting down the minutes, just hope the horse gets there safe and sound. I’ll see him on the battlefield,” said Waley-Cohen, who has a Masters degree in politics and never entertained the idea of riding as a career.
The last amateur jockey to win the Gold Cup was Jim Wilson on Little Owl in 1981 while you have to go back to 1963 for the last time a horse as young as six triumphed.
Waley-Cohen, though, does not pay heed to the statistics that suggest his chances are slim.
“They don’t make any difference to how the horse will run,” he quickly replied.
Statistics are often misleading but one very much on Waley-Cohen’s side is Long Run trainer Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham record.
Twice champion trainer Henderson needs three more Cheltenham Festival winners to match the all-time record of 40 achieved by Fulke Walwyn between 1946 and 1986.
Waley-Cohen is hopeful that Long Run’s King George victory will be just the first of many big-race wins of his chasing career.
“We’ve always believed in the horse and felt he had that sort of form within him,” he said. “When you ride in the top races you never quite know how it’s going to go and if you are good enough. This is hopefully the beginning of a long tale... the first chapter in his career, not the closing pages.”
Dad, and not son, will be the more nervous of the pair come race time. “He’ll say ‘have fun... that’s what it’s all about... go and do what we know we can do’.”
There will not be any conflict of instructions from father or trainer. “It’s a question of riding as I find it, obviously we talk through the broad tactics but in a race like that things change so fast,” said the jockey. “We know what we’re trying to achieve, he’s run enough and I’ve ridden him enough to know what he is capable of so it’s just a question of replicating that.”