Dunwoody ends his career of falls and horses

After an astonishing 1,699 victories the former champion is forced by injuries to hang up his riding boots
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It takes nerves of steel to hit the front half-way up the run-in in the Grand National and then take a pull. There would not be many jockeys who would commit themselves to such a gamble in such a goldfish bowl, but the abiding memory of Richard Dunwoody in the saddle must be his consummate coolness under pressure on Miinnehoma at Aintree in 1994.

It takes nerves of steel to hit the front half-way up the run-in in the Grand National and then take a pull. There would not be many jockeys who would commit themselves to such a gamble in such a goldfish bowl, but the abiding memory of Richard Dunwoody in the saddle must be his consummate coolness under pressure on Miinnehoma at Aintree in 1994.

Dunwoody's mount was one of those rather idiosyncratic horses who tend to lose interest in their job unless there is a rival in front or alongside to gee them up. On the run-in after the last fence Miinnehoma was preceded by Moorcroft Boy and a loose horse and going terribly easily but when the pair in front began to run out of steam Dunwoody simply did not dare ask the enigmatic horse the ultimate question too soon. He sat and waited, and waited, and then the spur came, in the shape of Just So. Finally, in the last 10 strides, he gave Miinnehoma a smack and urged him on to win by just over a length.

That race is the one Dunwoody himself mentions first when asked for his best memory of the long career he has finally, and so reluctantly, given up. "All the way to the last my fellow was cantering and he felt as if he'd trot up, but it was vital that he didn't hit the front too soon as I was sure he'd stop. So I had to sit and suffer. I saw Adrian Maguire on Moorcroft Boy start to nudge, which was not a sight I wanted just yet. He jumped the last in front, but I felt I had his measure, then on landing he quickened away and suddenly I was off the bridle. I gave Miinnehoma one smack, and he started to surge forward, just as the other one came to the end of his tether. Things were getting tricky; but I couldn't put the horse under pressure as I knew he'd stop in front, so the only thing I could do was to take a pull. The loose one, Young Hustler, was giving me a lead, but he veered off at the Elbow.

"I started nudging Miinnehoma, just trying to keep him up to his work without putting a gun to his head. He spooked slightly at some cones and hesitated when the tunnel of noise from the stands hit him. Then Just So appeared and mine ran on. I had to fill in a report for Martin Pipe after each race and about Miinnehoma I wrote that the horse had idled slightly in front and perhaps I should leave it a little later next time . . . "

Dunwoody was the boy wonder the first time he won the National, on West Tip eight years previously, but he was a man on Miinnehoma. Now 16 years of delight, admiration and even awe - as that moment at Aintree - for the racegoer are over. Those who were at Perth on 21 August should in retrospect treasure the moment, for an era ended that day. Dunwoody rode three winners but an innocuous fall in a hurdle proved the final undoing.

It aggravated problems he had had with mobility and strength in his right arm, which in turn had been cause by neck damage in a fall more than a year earlier. His time in the saddle since had been frustratingly stop-start, but he had returned after a break seemingly as good as ever. However, advice from specialists all over the world was that, due to a lesion on his spine, he was in effect playing Russian Roulette.

But it was not until the last expert it was possible to see, Dublin neurosurgeon Jack Phillips, confirmed on Friday what all others had said that Dunwoody finally acknowledged it was time to draw stumps. His career, though, has been remarkably injury-free; the worst previous damage in some 700 falls was the cracked sternum that failed to keep him out of the 1996 Cheltenham Festival.

It was fitting that, as it turned out, his career ended with a victory, on Twin Falls, and perhaps as appropriate that the final bow was not at one of the sport's great theatres, but at one of the gaffs.

"Yes, Miinnehoma was good, and it has been great to ride great horses like Desert Orchid, and I've had some good times in Ireland," he said yesterday, "but you can get the same pleasure as winning a big race easily on a good horse as winning by a short-head at Plumpton, if that its the horse's level and you've ridden it well. It's all about job satisfaction."

Belfast-born Dunwoody, 35, son of Co Antrim trainer George, achieved that satisfaction more than any other jump jockey in British racing history, 1,699 times to be precise. And from the moment he rode the first it was apparent that quality was also going to be part of the equation.

Dunwoody, who started in the amateur ranks and went on to be three times champion, is acknowledged as one of the best stylists ever to throw a leg over a horse and, despite the odd brush with authority (a ban for putting Maguire through the wings cost him a Champion Hurdle win on Flakey Dove), a wonderful ambassador and role model for his sport. His early feats included a four-timer while still a claimer with the late Tim Forster; and when he turned professional the following year his exploits on Michael Oliver-trained West Tip put him on the map and he eventually joined forces with David Nicholson, then master trainer Pipe.

He and his great rival Peter Scudamore perhaps paved the way for the modern generation with their complete dedication, professionalism and abstinence, almost tunnel vision. Their job was their all; for Dunwoody, brought up with the Ulster work ethic, it was natural that it should be and makes cutting ties all the harder.


Born: 18 January, 1964 in Belfast

First winner: Game Trust at Cheltenham, 4 May, 1983

1,000th British winner: Flakey Dove, Cheltenham, 29 January, 1994.

1,500th British winner: Ashwell Boy, Newton Abbot, 13 October, 1997.

1,679th British winner: Yorkshire Edition, Wincanton, 5 April, 1999.

First century in a season: 1989-90(He has ridden at least 100 winners in Britain every season since)

Best season: 197 winners in 1993-94.

Champion jockey: 1992-93, 1993-94, 1994-95.

Grand National winners: West Tip (1986), Miinnehoma (1994).

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner: Charter Party (1988).

Champion Hurdle winner: Kribensis (1990).

Other big-race wins: Desert Orchid (Irish Grand National, King George VI Chase twice), One Man (King George VI Chase, twice), Another Coral (Mackeson Gold Cup), Very Promising (Mackeson Gold Cup), Riverside Boy (Welsh National), Ventana Canyon (Arkle Chase), Waterloo Boy (Arkle Chase, Castleford Chase), Florida Pearl (Royal & SunAlliance Novice Chase, Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup), Paddy's Return (Triumph Hurdle), Morley Street (Aintree Hurdle), Cache Fleur (Whitbread Gold Cup), Topsham Bay (Whitbread Gold Cup).

Rode a 1,682-1 four-timer as a 7lb-claiming amateur at Hereford on 3 March, 1984.

Awarded MBE in June 1993.