MAGUIRE’S JUMP INTO THE UNKNOWN

3 November 2002

Jockey who knew no fear is using caution before deciding on his first moves after retirement

He never asked for sympathy but yesterday only a stone-heart would have denied it. Adrian Maguire stood at Ascot’s final hurdle and all his early life galloped past him. It was the first time he had been to a track since his compulsory retirement was announced on Monday. The first time it really hit him that the riding dream was truly over.

He’s only 31 and from the outside is as trim and fit as ever. But close up, you notice the old man’s rigidity in a neck which for two months last spring was held together with a piece of surgical scaffolding called a `halo brace’ after his last fall at Warwick. And close up, you notice the tiredness. There are lines under the eyes, the odd scar shows on the cheek. Maguire is a young man with age suddenly upon him.

It seems almost ancient history, but is actually only 11 years, since he came from Ireland to win the National Hunt Chase on a horse inappropriately named Omerta. For the young man from County Meath was never a secret.In that 1991 season he was setting the point-to-point  world on fire back home and one afternoon in May he was to win on all six rides at Dromohane, Co Cork.

The racing had begun long before that – in the pony field. “I would only be 10 years of age when I started,” he said, his face coming alive at the memory. “My brothers would take me. We went the length and breadth of Ireland, north and south. Posts would be put up in the corners of a field, tapes would be attached and we would race around them. They had some right falls and, one day, I broke my foot being squeezed against a post. But by the end I had ridden some 250 winners and when I first applied for an amateur licence under proper rules they tried to turn me down on the grounds that I already had too much experience.”

Humour and humanity have always shone out of Maguire, in good times and in bad. On this first big Saturday of the jumping season with Tony McCoy riding another treble at Ascot, and Marlborough getting the best of Hussard Collonges in an eventful Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, Adrian needed those qualities in spades. “Races like the Charlie Hall [which he won on Barton Bank in 1993 and 1995] bring it home to me,” he said. “The phone has been going all week but it’s only at the track that you truly realise that it is over. And it’s being down that makes you feel tired. I feel absolutely knackered.”

The 12 seasons he rode here grossed 1,024 winners, including two King George VI Chases, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It also brought this week’s tribute from McCoy that Maguire was among the best three jockeys (Richard Dunwoody and Charlie Swan being the others) against whom he has ever ridden.

But it’s still impossible to think of Adrian without some sad might-have-beens. To recall the three Cheltenham Festivals he missed through injury, and most of all to rerun that astonishing 11-month prize fight of a season in 199¾ when he took Dunwoody right to the wire with 193 winners, the highest total not to land a championship.

He grimaces at the recollection and we walk back to where he is to start a fluent and perceptive commentary stint at the BBC with Richard Pitman and Peter Scudamore. “I rode against Scu,” he says more chirpily, “beat him here one day. Now I am not sure what I am going to do. There are some things in the wind but I don’t want to rush into anything I might regret.” Caution on the ground from this happily married father of two, there never was much caution in the saddle.

Indeed of all the images of Maguire, the first ones last longest. Sure there was the man in maturity driving Viking Flagship up the hill at Cheltenham, attacking the Kempton fences on Barton Bank, or even the last big winner, the never-say-die compulsion that forced Streamstown through the mud at Uttoxeter in February, but it was that opening salvo that seared something into the retina.

I remember going to watch him at Worcester. He was on an awful `old dog’, who had every intention of continuing a long losing sequence. Adrian got hold of him with a belief and a daring that fair took the breath away. The `old dog’ was suddenly in positions he hadn’t taken up since his two-year-old days. The losing sequence was broken. I walked down from the stand knowing that Adrian was going to make some jockeys feel old before their time.

But there was already a slight sense of dread in the thought. The young Maguire had a joyous, nerveless confidence that had to be too good to last. “Yes,” said Scudamore, no total white-flag merchant himself, “he was the first of the really fearless jockeys. It’s amazing what he could do.” Amazing but maybe some of the crashing falls were a touch inevitable. The later Maguire showed a notable gaining of wisdom and the rise of Ferdy Murphy’s stable into one of the north’s big battalions has owed as much to Adrian’s equine understanding as to his continued prowess and enthusiasm in the saddle.

Jockeys owe him, too. McCoy may have won the Modern City Living Chase on You’re Agoodun yesterday but the highlight of the race was the brilliant front-running ride given to Infrasonique by Timmy Murphy, who only returned to the saddle on Friday after serving three months in the not-exactly-equine surroundings of Worwood Scrubs.

“I felt fit as a flea,” said Murphy, “but most of all I feel overwhelmed at how good people have been. Adrian came to visit me in prison and has been wonderful. My problems were my own fault, I am just sorry he has had troubles he did not deserve. Coming from Michael Hourigan’s, in Limerick, like Adrian did, he was always an inspiration. He always will be.”

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