Racing: A turn for the better - Graham Bradley - 'I was at one of the lowest ebbs of my life'

Milestones of '97: From the big server with a big future to the uneasy rider who nearly fell to earth

Christmas 1996. Graham Bradley's seasonal total of winners stood at 22 from 126 rides and he occupied 15th place in the jockeys' table. At the same point last week it was 22 from 129, making him 16th in the table. Nothing much had changed there, then? Well, not exactly.

At 37, Bradley is one of the circuit's senior jump jockeys, and although he has had one of those careers that is often described as chequered, there is no doubting his skill as a horseman. He rode his first winner 17 years ago and has won most of the big races in the calendar since, including the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1983.

But for him the start of 1997 was almost the beginning of the end. "I'd ridden only seven winners for my guv'nor Charlie Brooks," he reflected. "Everywhere I went to ride them they ran badly. Every time I didn't ride one it won. I was just having no luck whatsoever."

A pivotal moment on the downward slope came in the important Grand National Trial at Haydock back in February. Two ran from Brooks' Lambourn stable: Suny Bay and the in-form Hennessy Gold Cup winner Couldn't be Better. Bradley remembered: "I chose Couldn't Be Better, who finished fourth of five. And miles ahead, Suny Bay won, with Jamie Osborne on board.

"I was pretty down then, but I was looking forward to riding Suny Bay in the Grand National. And then his owner decided to keep Jamie on him, to keep the partnership. It was a desperate disappointment and I was at one of the lowest ebbs of my life.

"I was completely fed up with everything, with the early mornings riding and schooling, with the travelling, with the dieting, with the trailing off to the Folkestones on a Monday. Even going into the yard, where some of my best friends are, meant very little. And I think if Suny Bay had won the National [he was second], that would have been it. I'd have packed it in there and then.

"I was seriously considering it, and had made a few tentative enquiries about alternative employment, but more than one person said that I shouldn't as I was still riding too well, though it didn't feel like that to me. It was Richard Guest who told me not to make a hasty decision, to go away on holiday and think about it. And in the meantime, I met Dave Roberts."

Roberts is arguably the country's best jockeys' agent, with such as Tony McCoy and Adrian Maguire on his books. Bradley said: "I talked to him at the Lesters awards dinner, he persuaded me not to give up and took me on. And I do feel that if he hadn't had that conversation with me that night, I wouldn't still be riding."

The roundabouts are now swinging in his favour again. An injury to Osborne has meant he regained the ride on Suny Bay, on whom he promptly won the Hennessy, and picked up his partnership with Senor El Betrutti, another of the season's flying greys. The revitalised Yorkshireman reckons he is set fair for at least another three seasons, saying: "My weight is good, my bottle is still good, and I'm really enjoying it all again. It is extraordinary how it has turned around, but I could not be happier."

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