Richard Dunwoody will be officially confirmed as the leading National Hunt jockey for the third consecutive year later this week, but when he passed a statement to the Press Association yesterday afternoon it was not to acknowledge the acclaim. Instead, by confirming that his association with Martin Pipe is over, the champion was effectively giving 12 months' notice to quit.
Dunwoody, it seems, peered just a few weeks into his future and saw the start of another gruelling 10-month campaign, with not just Adrian Maguire, but Norman Williamson too now acquiring the horses and the maturity to challenge for the title. He saw it all too clearly, and decided to pass, preferring as he put it yesterday, "to ride as close to my peak as possible, which will mean riding less than in the past."
It will also, he expects, mean extending his horizons beyond the weekly grind around the minor tracks. "I hope that I may continue to help Martin Pipe and all his owners in their quest for winners," Dunwoody said, "but at the same time I am aiming to achieve other ambitions in my riding career. For example, I would like to ride at Saratoga in August, and more in Ireland where I have enjoyed a lot of success in the past."
Contrary to some reports, though, Dunwoody will not be contracted to ride for Dermot Weld, although agreements in writing are not really Dunwoody's style - the association with Pipe was only ever a "gentleman's agreement", according to Roberts Parsons, his agent. On the racecourse, however, it had been widely rumoured for several months that the relationship was breaking down, stories which were fuelled by the booking of Charlie Swan for several well-fancied Pipe runners. Nor was Dunwoody aboard Pipe's only winner at this year's Cheltenham Festival - Jonothan Lower was holding the reins when Kissair took the Triumph Hurdle.
Dunwoody moved to Pipe's Wellington yard following the retirement of Peter Scudamore in 1993. At first, the combination was not a wild success, and by Christmas 1993 Dunwoody was dozens of winners adrift of Maguire in the title race. His victory on Riverside Boy in the Welsh National proved to be a turning point. Four months later, Miinnehoma gave Dunwoody his second Grand National, and Pipe the most signficant success of his career, and after a desperate struggle which went to the final day of the season, Dunwoody overhauled Maguire and retained his title.
There were other major successes too, including Cache Fleur's Whitbread Gold Cup just a few weeks ago, but mainly there were simply scores of ordinary winners up and down the country as both trainer and jockey played the numbers game. It must be gruelling enough on the sidelines, but for the 31-year-old in the saddle it was ultimately unbearable.
Yet there will be plenty of riders in the next generation more than eager to take Dunwoody's place. The first name mentioned yesterday was David Bridgwater, sixth in this year's championship and currently attached to Nigel Twiston-Davies's stable. With such an important position available, however, expect to hear every jockey in the top 15 linked with Pipe in the coming weeks, no matter how secure their current contracts may seem.
Whoever fills Dunwoody's boots will automatically become a leading contender for the title, even if Maguire, as competitive as ever as he seeks his first championship, is the obvious favourite to profit now that Dunwoody has decided leave the pacemaking to younger men.
And even if the champion seems ready to relinquish his crown, his taste for big-race winners will surely be undimished. Maguire and Williamson may set off to duel for the title in August, but when it comes to Cheltenham and Aintree next spring, both will still expect to find Dunwoody, the supreme stylist, riding like a champion all the way to the line.
RICHARD DUNWOODY FACTFILE
Born: January 18, 1964.
Married: 16 July, 1988, to Carol Ann.
Honours: MBE in June 1993.
First winner: Game Trust, Cheltenham, 4 May, 1983.
1,000th winner: Flakey Dove, Cheltenham, 29 January, 1994.
First century: 1989/90 season.
Best season: 197 winners in 1993/94.
Champion jockey: 1992/93, 1993/94, 1994/95.
Retainer with Martin Pipe: 1993/94 - 1994/95.
Big winners for Pipe: Balasani (Rendlesham Hurdle, 1994), Bold Boss (Gerry Feilden Hurdle, 1993), Cache Fleur (Whitbread Gold Cup, 1995), Chatam (Tommy Whittle Chase, 1994), Cyborgo (Mersey Novices' Hurdle, 1994, Rendlesham Hurdle, 1995), Miinnehoma (Grand National, 1994), Riverside Boy (Welsh National, 1993), Sweet Glow (Ascot Long Distance Hurdle, 1994), Valfinet (Kingwell Hurdle, 1994).Reuse content