2 MAY 1998, Page 47

The turf

Cool courage

Robin Oakley

Ihad backed the 16-1 shot Fine Thyne for the Whitbread Gold Cup, on the basis that it is a race often won by fresh horses rather than those who have slogged through the Gold Cup or the Aintree or Scottish Nationals. Between the last two he looked to have his race won. But when the winner Call It A Day came to take him I found myself cheering as loudly as anyone, simply because the jockey in Call It A Day's saddle was Adrian Maguire. Though he insists he has never remotely thought of giving up, the chunky little Irish- man must several times have felt like emu- lating his horse's name. His catalogue of injuries over the last few seasons has been horrific. He has broken his arm three times, his wrist once and his collarbone twice. He cracked an ankle when a horse slipped up on the flat at Ascot. He missed three Cheltenham Festivals in a row, twice through injury and once because of the death of his mother. When he returned there this year David Nicholson's horses ran below expectations and Maguire was injured again, being knocked unconscious when Zabadi buried him in a shocking fall. So bad was it that he could have been choked to death by his helmet strap had it not been for swift action by fellow faller Mick Fitzgerald and they erected around Maguire the green screens that normally go up when a stricken horse is to be put down. With yet another broken collarbone it meant that he was sidelined for Aintree and the Grand National.

But Maguire came back from that, as he has done from every one of his injuries, with a smile on his face and his racing courage unimpaired. The previous Satur- day he had been cheered for winning the Scottish National with a thrilling and accomplished ride on David Nicholson's Baronet. This time he boldly took his mount past Gold Cup winner Cool Dawn five fences out and set sail for home, daring the others to catch him. Between the last two his Cheltenham saviour Fitzgerald on Fine Thyne looked as though he would do so. He nosed ahead, but Maguire had kept something in the tank and came back again to go clear after the last. Apparently the few words Fitzgerald said to him as they passed the post were not repeatable.

The emotional scenes at Sandown on the jumping season's last big day included the hug which his boss David Nicholson gave Maguire, whom he has always supported with an almost fatherly devotion. And it was a special day for the Duke too. Call It A Day's success put him in the pantheon alongside Stan Mellor and Josh Gifford as the only three people to have both ridden and trained a winner of the Whitbread.

Nicholson's victory 31 years ago was equally emotional because it was on the great Mill House, the big front-running horse who was so strong he even gained a length at the awkward downhill fence despite blundering straight through it. To be sure he had something left for the final hill, Nicholson took a pull at the last on the far side and had several horses queuing up behind him ready to pounce. When John Buckingham, now the leading racecourse valet, pulled out on San Angelo to chal- lenge the canny Nicholson, fearing that after the drubbings his mount had been given by Arkle that he would cede the con- test at that stage, shouted, 'Steady, Buck, you've trotted up.' And when his rival then took a pull Nicholson kicked for home as if his life depended on it and was never head- ed. I wonder what 'Buck' said to him after- wards.

The generous Sandown crowd knew what they had seen and they loved it. There was a very special cheer when Adrian collected his prize from the Queen Mother that had nothing to do with people's pockets. He is the best rider never to have been champion jockey. With Tony McCoy riding as he is it will probably need his rival to suffer some of his own past misfortune for Maguire to lift a title now. But he is only 27, the multi- horsepower Nicholson yard is a prolific source of winners. And if he gets an injury- free season and takes some of the winners which this year have gone to Robert Thornton and Richard Johnson, his deputies at Jackdaws Castle, he could still do it.

Another cheer was due on Saturday for the adaptability of the BHB's race-planning department and the Sandown authorities who did everything possible to save the rain-threatened fixture, including drawing up three separate programmes and trans- ferring races from the abandoned Warwick fixture. What was at one stage a nine-race card eventually had to sacrifice the two sprints. But one of the great racing days of the year was saved with four jump races and three on the flat.

I hope, incidentally, that readers noted my recommendation on 18 April of apprentice Neil Pollard after his win on Ivor's Flutter at Kempton. The paid repeated it on 23 April, at 4-1. Into the notebook from Sandown went Paul Cole's Generous colt Courteous. The bookies have him at 40-1 for the Derby after his victory in the Thresher Classic Trial. I think that is generous indeed. Cole's gal- lops have been waterlogged and his run at Sandown was purely speculative. But what we have here is a horse who won a Classic trial by six lengths on a restricted prepara- tion. His trainer reckons that the further he goes, the better he'll go.

Robin Oakley is political editor of the BBC.