Carson still has striving force

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Willie Carson may still be on medication in a hospital intensive- care unit, but it would take a brave man to approach his bedside and discuss the notion of retirement.

Doctors at Basingstoke's North Hampshire Hospital yesterday continued to marvel at the fortitude of the 53-year-old man who was brought to them on Friday afternoon. Carson is now out of immediate danger after receiving a brutal kick from Meshhed in the Newbury parade ring, but may still have to have part of his liver sliced away. For most grandfathers this would mean the end of an active sporting career, but if any journalist dares try to retire the Scot to his face there may be another organ in need of surgery.

Carson is nothing if not stubborn and was hardly ever likely to let something as minor as a split liver get the better of him. "Mr Carson had a much better night and remains in remarkably good spirits," Myrddin Rees, his consultant, said yesterday. "Our indicators from yesterday and this morning are that the bleeding has stopped and that the damage to the liver has not extended, though we cannot exclude the possibility of surgery at a later date.

"Rather unusually, the injury he sustained was very localised because effectively it was one kick from a horse. Normally people come with liver damage from road traffic accidents with other injuries as well. Because it was so localised, I suspect as a result of his own physical fitness, his own muscles tamponaded the bleeding and kept it localised.

"If we had opened him up I suspect we would have ended up removing the right side of the liver and started quite a lot of bleeding in the process."

Carson's bedside is already a blend of jungle and stationery as the flowers and cards have been ferried in, but the most warming communication will have been a message of support from the Queen which arrived yesterday. Hospital staff may have to get their trollies out as the jockey could be moved to a general ward this morning.

The prognosis is that Carson will be in hospital for a further two weeks and that he will be fit to ride within three months. By then the newspaper racks will have been stuffed with predictions on the jockey's future. Even without the calamitous events of Friday there were many willing to speculate that this was to be wee Willie's final season.

This conjecture has been part of racecourse natter for some time, and while it amused Carson initially it has transmogrified into a topic of great annoyance. The most he said on the subject before Friday was that "retirement was just around the corner", though he did not specify whether he meant a small cul-de-sac or Watling Street.

The tap room sagacity has been that the little man's perseverance in the saddle is explained by the promise of future Classics; that last winter he was sustained by the subsequently disappointing Alhaarth and in these coming dark months he may get a similar glow from the unbeaten Bahhare (whose name, despite the strange noises you may have heard coming out of people's mouths, is pronounced Ba-har-ree).

Carson, of course, does not mind having the odd top-class animal to ride, but that does not wholly explain his longevity, particularly as his main patron, Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, will almost certainly provide a juvenile of note every year until the Chinese come.

What appears to fuel Carson is his contrariness. The Scot has spent much of his life trying to be something other the son of a Stirling banana packer. He wanted to achieve the social station of the wealthy figures he rode for, he wanted to be Lester Piggott. Carson, of course, could never achieve either and it has made him a somewhat bitter figure despite his laughing-policeman performance for the television cameras.

The unyielding quality that will hasten Carson's recovery is the same trait which decrees that he is less likely to retire the more it is mentioned to him. Carson has made some dreadful errors this year (particularly when caught napping on Kamari at Lingfield), but no more than his younger brethren in the weighing room. They have been met with "silly boy" derision while the former champion now attracts the "silly old codger" response.

Carson himself thinks he is as effective as ever and, like a seasoned snooker player confusing a tyro, any physical deterioration is more than compensated for by tactical awareness. The race he is probably playing through his mind at the moment is his ride on Bahri in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes less than 12 months ago, a display acknowledged as the ride of the season.

Richard Hills will now collect the majority of Carson's rides until the end of the season, but he should not fool himself with any ideas that next year he will be climbing into the old man's boots. He may get one of them where it hurts.