Some jockeys bang their heads when they fall and can remember little about the accident. Norman Williamson wishes it had been like that for him when Joe White dived into the earth like a pig after a truffle at Sedgefield on 9 October.
As it is, the Irishman has had four months to relive that bone-separating moment, an agony that will be exorcised only today, when he resumes competitive riding if Clonmel survives a 7am inspection. Williamson, who celebrated his 27th birthday last month, will hope Bill Harney's Lucky Bust is a safer conveyance than his last one.
As he approached the penultimate obstacle of the Kier North East Handicap Chase in Cleveland, Williamson could have looked on himself as the weighing room's man of the moment. Earlier in the year he had secured the hallowed double of the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, and many, including the rider himself, expected a progression to a first jockeys' championship. Seconds later though, his season, and right femur, were in pieces.
"With heavy falls like that one you know you've done something but you hope nothing has broken," Williamson said yesterday. "But the moment I went to roll over and get up I knew it had gone. The leg didn't follow me. There was nothing but pain. Real pain."
Williamson's thighbone may have been connected to the kneebone and the hipbone, but it was not connected to itself in the middle. The largest bone in his body had snapped. "The first night they put me in traction was the worst thing I've ever felt," the jockey added. "They had to pull the leg from the heel downwards to get the bone to join. I watched the doctor starting to pull it and then passed out completely. The next thing I knew it was morning.
"They put in a pin which goes from the hip through the bone down to the knee with two screws at the bottom and two at the top."
When it comes to thumbing noses at serious setbacks, National Hunt jockeys are from the same squadron as Douglas Bader, but Williamson became unusually morose. "I've been lucky with injuries and that made it harder to take, watching everything happening while I was hobbling around on crutches. Some mornings I'd feel like staying in bed because I thought what was the point of getting up.
"But everyone that knows me has helped, pushing me along when I've been down and the big thing that kept me going was getting back for the Festival."
By the middle of December, Williamson had thrown a leg over a pony in his native Co Cork, and was cycling, swimming and working out in the gym. And there was the spur that whenever he looked in the newspaper there was no suggestion he was missing anything.
"The weather helped me because there was no racing for a lot of the time and my stable [Kim Bailey's in Upper Lambourn] hasn't been absolutely firing," he said. "I've missed very little as far as I can see and it could be that when I get going the horses will as well."
During his interlude, the jockey was based largely in Ireland, conducting television work for RTE and then riding work for local trainers. This arrangement led to rumours that all was not well in his relationship with Bailey, the man who had supplied him with the victorious Alderbrook and Master Oats in the Festival's main races. Williamson swiftly buries any notion of a rift at Old Manor Stables.
"I met the boss two days after those stories and he said there was no problem. He knew I was doing television in Ireland and I had to be there, so as long as I was riding out somewhere that was fine."
If Bailey has been convinced of Williamson's loyalty, he must now consider his stable jockey's fitness as the hours tick away to Master Oats's run in Leopardstown's rescheduled Hennessy Gold Cup on Sunday.
If Williamson does allay the fears of the trainer he will have to worry only about making the weight. Since he last rode the jockey now carries around the scaffolding of three screws and a pole in his right thigh.Reuse content