Fighting spirit lets Bridgwater make his mark

Richard Edmondson profiles the shrewd young jockey whose career is starting to flourish
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The Independent Online
When he talks to journalists, David Bridgwater suggests that his words should not be misconstrued. "Otherwise I'll blow your kneecaps off," he told me. I think he was joking, but, nevertheless, the following has been read thoroughly and repeatedly by its author.

After all, it is for combativeness that the young jockey has made his name. When it comes to persuading recalcitrant racehorses that they really ought to try as hard as possible there are few who can achieve the same intensity as Bridgwater. He never gives up, and he is the sort of bloke you could put three bullets in and he would still manage to nut you on the way down.

Tony McCoy ought to remember this as the chorus grows assuring the Irishman that the engraver has already started chiselling his name on the jockeys' championship trophy.

Bridgwater is 22 wins behind McCoy at the summit and pretends ambivalence when asked about the title. After being told one afternoon that McCoy had gone further ahead, he said: "I couldn't give a monkey's [well, OK, he didn't actually say monkey's].

"If he's anything like me he'll be thinking, 'crikey [he did say that], aren't we lucky'. Norman [Williamson], Adrian [Maguire] and Richard [Dunwoody] have basically been taken out of the championship for one reason or another. We should be fourth and fifth really."

However, there is more than one side to the man who has been dubbed "Bridgy" by the great lateral thinkers of the weighing room.

"With him, the persona is not always the same as the reality," Peter Scudamore, who has ridden against the tyro and worked with him at Nigel Twiston-Davies's yard, said. "He is very committed to the game, but not over so. I suppose he gives the impression I used to - that he thinks about, and does, nothing else, but he is very good fun to be with."

Bridgwater manages his bonhomie without stimulant. He is unlikely to make the inner circle of the press room on retirement as he is virtually teetotal. "I don't drink very much alcohol at all," he said. "I don't really like it."

Some consider Bridgwater a dullard because of this, but certainly not this writer (see the introduction). He has plenty to say for himself and enjoys ribaldry with old friends such as Scudamore.

"If anybody was kind enough to say I look like any jockey I would hope it was Scu," Bridgwater said. "But obviously not facially, as I think I'm a lot better looking than him." In fact, he has the traditionally Irish looks of dark hair and piercing blue eyes, set above a well-established nose.

This naughtiness is reciprocal and Scudamore feigns apoplexy when Bridgwater's style is compared with his own. "But I will say that he's very determined in the saddle," Scudamore said. "If you were to compare him with anyone it would be Jonjo O'Neill."

One of the things they say about Bridgy is that he is not daft with money. Even his friends refer to his frugality as him being "shrewd". "We always pull his leg about being tight," Scudamore said. "He's definitely the sort of fella who'll get something out of racing."

Bridgwater may have learned this thriftiness when he was a budding Flat jockey in Newmarket, attached to a yard owned by a chap called Lester Piggott. "He didn't say a lot," the young man remembered. "You just had to watch what he did and try to learn from him. He's a very nice man. A real good bloke."

The Piggott days for Bridgwater were like the wedding days of others, the moment when he was at peak slimness. Increasing measurements meant that he was forced to the sanctuary of National Hunt racing and back into the realm of his father, the Solihull trainer Ken Bridgwater.

As a teenager, he celebrated Festival success on his father's Winnie The Witch, but the ascent stalled after a move to David Nicholson's yard. The Duke and the jockey were not as one on Bridgwater's place in the hierarchy, and the only solution was to pull down the suitcase.

"But since then I have had a few rides for him, so obviously either I've improved or he's mellowed," Bridgwater pointed out. He thinks he knows which it is.

The good times came when Bridgwater established himself with Twiston- Davies. Winners came both in frequency and importance, a record which attracted the attention of Martin Charles Pipe, a trainer then in the market for a stable jockey.

"I had a few rides for him, and after a few months he asked me if I wanted the job," Bridgwater said. "It's a big stable, he's a very successful trainer and it's important to get a good team. He didn't know me from Adam and I suppose he was trying to find out what sort of a person I was and whether I would fit in."

The new appointment has survived the baptism and will continue to flourish according to Scudamore. "Bridgy has never been afraid of hard work," he said. "With his job there will be ups and downs, but he has got the sense to shut up and keep going."

While the Pipe job remains the most coveted in racing, it does have its flaws. Bridgwater has to slavishly follow the Pond House caravan around Britain, ignoring the possibility of prospects elsewhere. McCoy has exploited both this factor and the injuries to Williamson and Maguire, mopping up many of their spare rides in an exhausting odyssey that has been broken only by sleep.It is not a lifestyle Bridgwater will ever embrace.

"That is not my thing, to be rushing around the country trying to get on anything with a chance," he said. "I won't be burned out because I want to be riding when I'm 35." The Fourth Estate, it appears, will have to mind their Ps and Qs for some time yet.

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