50 Years ago to the day!

1968 Imperial Cup, Sandown!

In the grand scheme of things it hardly registers an asterisk in the racing, let alone the sporting story, but winning the 1968 Imperial Cup on Persian Empire was for me ‘My Finest Hour’.

It was made particularly sweet because I was only three rides back from injury in my first season as a professional which had been decimated by Foot and Mouth disease. What’s more Persian Empire won in the way you would always love to ride a big race, drop out last and then knife through the field to lead on the run-in.  Life was good that day – where did it all go wrong?!

Mind you it hadn’t felt too good when they wheeled me down the covered walkway to the Nissan Hut style ward at Doncaster hospital on the evening of February 20th with the snow settling on my stretcher.  Inside the other poor bastards were mostly miners whose tales began with “there was rumble in’t pit” and “the guy next to me expired during the night and when I came round in the morning there was a priest at the end of my bed.”

Things patched up pretty well but in today’s terms my right arm would never have passed a test. With a hard plastic splint moulded round it, I got away with things at Sandown and indeed was third in the Champion Hurdle at the Festival four days later, but in the very last race of the meeting that Friday I got found out. I was riding a magnificent big horse called Sporting Petrel but he launched himself at the first fence far too soon and belly flopped through it firing me out to the side.

I so clearly remember grabbing at his mane with my right arm only to realise that it didn’t work leaving me bouncing on the turf. Walking back past disgruntled punters after being unseated at the first fence on a fancied horse in the last race of the Cheltenham Festival is not for the delicate.

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