Racing Commentary: Dunwoody geared to a gruelling pursuit

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The Independent Online
IMMEDIATE triumph presented itself once again for Richard Dunwoody on Saturday as four winners gave him short adrenalin bursts at Cheltenham. But in future days, when dog-eared scrapbooks tell the story of his career, the second of those successes, on Flakey Dove, which marked his 1,000th winner in Britain, is the one which will carry with it lasting warmth.

Of the exclusive gentlemen's clubs that are still in existence, the jump jockeys who have reached four figures in winners is still select. Stan Mellor was the founder member and since him have come John Francome, Peter Scudamore and now Dunwoody.

These are men who have made a tidy living, raised themselves financially far above the people who follow their fortunes in betting shops, and amassed trophies to clear out a warehouse. Yet for all the congratulatory pictures in the winners' enclosures, the satisfaction of names on a permanent sporting scroll, the secret of this achievement is monotonous graft.

Dunwoody must be good to have accumulated his total, but he knows these grand numbers have been built on good fortune, and particularly his talent for bouncing from accidents like a knave's cheque.

'To get this far you need durability and luck,' he said yesterday. 'I've had that as far as falls are concerned and there would have been a few more jockeys apart from me who have reached 1,000 if they had remained in one piece.'

Dunwoody was an eight-year-old schoolboy in Ireland when Mellor was a pathfinder for this landmark, but the standards today apply to those from yesteryear. 'I think Richard's great and he's got to be admired because he's a tough man like all those who have ridden 1,000,' Mellor said yesterday. 'A lot of people see the winners he rides but there is a tough side behind that, standing the racket, standing the falls.'

This hardiness, of course, is a prerequisite for the club. While Scudamore and Dunwoody had it publicly, Francome's application was more shrouded, behind an image which suggested he would be more at home with a pile of roulette chips in his hand and a bow-tie dangling obliquely from his short-collar.

'John is a very quick-thinking person and a law unto himself,' said Mellor. 'He was great artist, but above all that he was fearless and brave. The connection between all those who have got to 1,000, considering what it takes, is that we must all be nuts.'

Mellor cracked the ice on this figure (even though he admits there are those who went before him who would have achieved it had it not been for the intervention of World War II) and enjoys the fact he cannot be supplanted. 'It was a bit like getting to the top of a mountain for the first time,' he said.

But haring around a circuit or planting a flagpole into the summit of Everest is all about a concentrated effort, while the 1,000-winner barrier, achieved just three times since Mellor established the bridgehead over 20 year ago, is a celebration of endurance. 'The figure is about overall horsemanship,' Scudamore said yesterday. 'A 1,000 total is a hell of a lot of rides and falls. It's a magical figure and it was my proudest achievement. People can argue about who was the best jockey, but they can't argue about the statistics.'

Dunwoody is from a different era than Scudamore (he and Francome were his boyhood heroes) but his tenets have the same foundations. 'With every winner you get there are a lot of falls along the way, a lot of wasting and a lot of miles travelled,' he said. 'With those winners you've got to have your ups and downs as I've shown only too well this season.'

This season, in fact, has only just developed an attractive hue for the champion jockey, whose four-timer paid 749-1 on Saturday, and who now trails Adrian Maguire by 20 in the jockeys' championship, compared to a peak of 42. William Hill make him 11-10 to keep his crown, while Maguire is 4-6.

But if he does not win the championship this year, Dunwoody will not be locking himself in the bathroom with his razor blades: 1,000 is enough. 'I think Scu summed it up yesterday when he said it was one of the best things he's done in his career,' the Irishman said. 'It means a lot to him and it means a lot to me too to join the club. It's some sort of reward for the endurance side of racing, the daily grind, the daily bother of it all.'

The bother for Dunwoody at his celebration party on Saturday night was straining liquid through a skull damaged when Whats In Orbit sent him into a parabola of his own at Wincanton the previous day. A fractured cheekbone has been diagnosed but the Irishman shrugs this off almost as mild dandruff as he chases Maguire this year and, possibly, Scudamore's career tally of 1,678 in the years to come.

Certainly, just a few days after his 30th birthday, he has not yet reached retirement in his dictionary. 'There are trends in riding,' he said. 'John (Francome) gave up at 32, but Eccy (Steve Smith Eccles) is still going at 38 and I think you can keep going longer these days. As long as I stay clear of injuries I think I've got a while yet.

'Retirement is a long way off and I've got other things to concentrate on such as this year's jockeys' championship. And if I get to 1,400 winners one day I might just start thinking about Scu's record.'

(Photograph omitted)