Racing: Friendly flies for Duffield: York Ebor meeting / Senior jockeys go bump in the flight as a rider picks himself out of Piggott's lap to land the day's big race

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The Independent Online
Lester Piggott and three of his fellow jockeys came within feet of a mid-air collision on the way to the Knavesmire yesterday.

Piggott, along with George Duffield, Michael Hills and Philip Robinson, was on board a twin- engined Cessna that was sent spinning in the wake of a Tornado fighter jet 30 minutes into a flight from Newmarket.

'It was very frightening, it nearly blew us away,' said the 56- year-old jockey. 'We all ended up in the roof of the plane.' Robinson, who was in the co-pilot's seat, reported that the Tornado had passed so close to the nose of the light aircraft at 4,500ft that he could see the whites of the RAF pilot's eyes.

Duffield opened his after being interrupted from sleep to find Piggott in his lap and words of little comfort coming from the pilot, David Smith. 'He shouted 'mayday, mayday',' said Duffield. 'He panicked and so we panicked. I'd heard a big bang and I thought one of the engines had blown up. I thought that was it, that it was goodnight.

'But we soon realised that if the plane had hit us we would have been in bits, and we knew then that we had just been caught in the jetstream.'

Following the plane's arrival at York, Duffield had to endure another erratic journey. His problems began even before the stalls opened for the Yorkshire Oaks, or at least before they opened for the race proper.

On board Clive Brittain's User Friendly, Duffield was one of several jockeys released from the gates after a fault developed in the wiring mechanism. 'She came out fast first time, but getting back in the stalls seemed to confuse her and when they opened the second time she just stood there and watched them going away,' he said.

Duffield was unable to elicit any co-operation from his filly for the first mile of the race, at which point, trapped on the rails and struggling, thoughts of victory had all but perished. 'I'd used up a lot of luck already and I thought I'd no chance,' the jockey said. 'She was hating the ground and just swimming along and getting on the wrong leg all the time.'

User Friendly's consent to urgings from the saddle then coincided with the appearance of a gap, however, and by the finish the Oaks winner was two and a half lengths in front. 'When daylight came she just flew,' Duffield reported. This late flourish persuaded User Friendly's owner, Bill Gredley, that the St Leger is the ideal next stopping point, and his filly is to be supplemented for the Classic at a cost of pounds 25,000.

There was almost a suggestion that the stalls wiring was still defective for the next race, the Ebor, when Dean McKeown and Quick Ransom appeared to get a flying start from their berth. The partnership did not waste the advantage and gave Mark Johnston, the Middleham trainer, the most valuable win of his career.

Johnston, who had planned for this race for 12 months, may now keep Quick Ransom for just another 12 weeks as he intends to send the gelding to the sales as a prospective jumper.

Pat Eddery made some headway on Michael Roberts in the jockeys' championship when he rode a double on Sabre Rattler and Western Approach, but may have done terminal damage to his title prospects in the Gimcrack Stakes.

Eddery's barging path between Splendent and Green's Bid, who provided a one-two for Paul Cole in the race, earned him a five-day ban for careless riding.

The champion jockey, who will appeal, thought he was more sinned against than sinning though. 'If they'd kept in a straight line we'd have been all right and I'd have won,' he said.

If Eddery felt he was unlucky, it was not an emotion felt by four of his weighing-room colleagues.

(Photograph omitted)