Racing: Bradley proves that the party's not over

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The Independent Online
Graham Bradley was on the verge of hanging up his whip earlier this year, and retirement then would have meant he left a Hennessy Gold Cup behind.

Richard Edmondson reports on the jockey's victory in a jumping Classic on Saturday.

Suny Bay almost knocked Graham Bradley out of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury's fourth fence. Nine months earlier he had almost removed the jockey from race riding altogether.

As Bradley locked his arm around the grey's neck in the winners' enclosure on Saturday it was difficult to recollect that this was the horse who nearly brought the jockey's career to a close last season.

The campaign 1996-97 saw the dark forces conspiring against the Yorshireman. He hit all the patches of black ice, put his foot in all the lassos and was then flogged while he was down when he chose Couldnt Be Better in preference to Suny Bay in the Grand National Trial at Haydock. The grey won and his owners decided to stick with his jockey of the day, Jamie Osborne, for Aintree itself.

"I was very disappointed about losing the ride on Suny Bay in the Grand National because I thought he'd win the race and that's every jockey's dream," Bradley said yesterday. "By then I thought I'd had enough.

"I didn't have a very good season last year and a lot of bad luck. I wasn't at my best, I was disillusioned, and I thought about packing up. Charlie [Brooks, Suny Bay's trainer] told me to make my own mind up at the time, but he told me yesterday that he thought I should have retired.

"Wherever I went to ride a horse last year it would run bad and the ones I would get off someone would go and win on them. What with different ground and illnesses, I kept picking the wrong horse. Nothing went right.

"This year it's the opposite. Everything I choose to ride is winning and everything I'm getting off gets beat. Everything is fitting into place. Andrew Cohen [Suny Bay's owner] has invested a lot of money in the yard at Uplands and Charlie has bought a lot of lovely horses, but it's just taken a couple of years for them to come through and everything to settle down. I hope to stay around to take advantage." There is much to be accomplished yet for the 37-year-old.

The sea change in Bradley's fortunes was exemplified in a single moment on Saturday. Suny Bay smacked the fourth fence broadsides and his head went down as if in search of truffles. Brad knew he was done for until the reins, looping forwards, somehow managed to snag on one of his mount's ears. From there he was soon back in control and Suny Bay stepped up the pressure until all his rivals dropped off the back of the pack one by one, like pioneers travelling through a wooded Indian territory.

Charlie did not see any of the denouement as he was in the middle of the course still recovering from the shock of the fourth. The trainer said he occupied the infield to avoid attention, which would have been more believable had he not been sporting a vivid yellow gaberdine visible to the holding patterns above Heathrow.

Brooks managed to get back in time to welcome his victor, whose dappled skin is spread over larger muscles and an increased acreage this season. This bulkier form will next be seen in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, when Saturday's runner-up, Barton Bank, will again be among the opponents.

Graham Bradley could have been forgiven for forgetting this fine detail as he celebrated at the Queen's Arms at East Garston on Saturday night. His father, two sisters, brother, brother-in-law and six nieces travelled down from his native Wetherby post-race and they all stayed in the hostelry until 10 o'clock. For those thinking the old jockey may be losing his partying touch just understand that the entourage did not leave at 10pm. "It was a proper job," the jockey reported.

Bradley can look forward to another job, at Kempton on Boxing Day, when another grey, One Man, will be blending in with the Yuletide frost.

"I was very keen after I won on Suny Bay at Haydock [in the Edward Hanmer Chase] and people didn't believe me that it was a Gold Cup performance so I was pleased to be proved right yesterday," he said. "My opinion is even stronger now. To win with 11st8lb on that dead, tiring old ground, to pull away like he did on that run-in, was awesome.

"He'll be all right in the King George. It might be the sharpest three miles in the country, but he showed plenty of toe at Haydock on good ground. And I'll be all right too. You can't beat experience, but you also need confidence and bottle and, most of all, to enjoy it. I still adore the whole thing, going into school and winning any race never mind the Hennessy." And then Brad had to go to bed.