Racing: Aspell's return ends in first-ride fracture

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The crowd response was muted when the first of the three jockeys arrested by police investigating doping and race-fixing returned to the track at Towcester yesterday. However, as Richard Edmondson reports, there was an unpleasant surprise to come.

Last week, Leighton Aspell had his collar felt. Yesterday, here in Northamptonshire, he had it broken.

The young Irishman's return to the racecourse had a dirty conclusion with a fall at Towcester's fifth hurdle. Last night Aspell and his broken collar-bone were near his Sussex home in Worthing General Hospital. Josh Gifford's conditional jockey now at least has the consolation that a removal from racing will be by his own doing.

It was last Tuesday that Aspell was one of three jockeys arrested by police investigating doping and race-fixing on the Turf. It was an apprehension difficult to believe for those who know the jockey with the face of a chorister or newspaper boy. It became even more difficult to believe when no evidence was presented against the 21-year-old. The Jockey Club, nevertheless, saw fit to confiscate his licence, a decision that was rescinded on Wednesday.

Aspell was the first of the "weighing room three" to present himself back on the racecourse, but he was reluctant to share his delight with the gathered press posse. He arrived with a speed more reminiscent of the adjacent Silverstone, his preferred entry the first-aid room at the rear of the weighing-room.

It was something of a surprise when Aspell emerged without a blanket over his head. This was a great test for the Jockey Club's suggestion that the arrested jockeys' return to the track could possibly be greeted by a maelstrom of public discontent.

It must be said that the Towcester weighing room was not the Bastille of the turf yesterday, though Aspell was tackled by a woman spectator as he marched to the paddock. She asked him, unsuccessfully, for his autograph.

While punters wrestled with the form for the Michael McManus Novices' Hurdle, Aspell was united with his mount, New Rising. Keen students will have noted that the gelding's first run at Kempton was behind a horse called Isitoff.

"He was a bit nervous, but he has handled everything very well considering how young he is," Bill Naylor, New Rising's owner, said. "We have used him from the moment he arrived at Josh's yard and we will continue to do so. What's happened this week was rubbish."

New Rising is a big, bay beast and he jumped well until he reached the fourth last, at which point he didn't jump at all. Aspell tumbled into the jockeys' roll before ending on his feet and walking to the ambulance. "The horse just stepped at it," he said. "It was just greenness. He decided to take a long one but it was a bit too long. I'm all right. It's just wonderful to be back on a racecourse."

Gifford took this all rather well and could have been assisted in his demeanour by the fact that his other runner in the race, Soloman, won. But when the topic of Aspell's suspension was raised the old purple face tightened up. "It's been absolutely laughable," he said. "It's unbelievable.

"The owners in the yard have been fantastic. Every one of them has been supportive and I think they'll stick by him even more now. The whole investigation has been a fairy story unless they come up with something we don't know about at the moment.

"When they were knocking down doors and wrapping them in chains I thought `Jesus Christ, they must at least have murdered somebody'."

Josh was so cheery that he even revealed what the pre-race instructions had been to Aspell. "I told him to jump off half-way down the back," he said.

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