Racing: Hawke ready to appreciate high life

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The Independent Online
THE GREAT truism about National Hunt race riding is that it can bring acute delight and grief in adjacent packages. One minute a jockey can be at the peak of his profession, the next he may plummet as if the lift cable has been severed. It is not a phenomenon you have to explain to Nigel Hawke.

It was in 1991 that the young rider used up all his credit. Seagram won the Ritz Club Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and then caught Garrison Savannah on the merciless Aintree run-in to prevent Jenny Pitman's horse completing a Gold Cup-Grand National double. The journeyman had reached the ultimate destination.

Two years later, however, Hawke almost reached the terminus that waits for us all. Back in the less celebrated forum of Newton Abbot, Hawke was brought down at the first flight of a worthless selling hurdle. His mount that day was called Beam Me Up Scotty and his rider was indeed almost transported to a different land.

The head injuries Hawke received immediately divorced him from the part of the sport he had known. It propelled him into the employment of training and, a week on Saturday, Hawke, at 33, will send Kendal Cavalier over the most demanding test horses in Britain are allowed to undertake.

If the fates allow Hawke another day in the sunshine they could at least ensure he enjoys their blessing a little more this time around. "It just all happened so quickly on Seagram that I couldn't really appreciate it," he says. "You never catch up with yourself. I wouldn't mind trying it again.

"I just happened to be on the the right horse on the right day, which doesn't happen all the time when you're a jockey. I found that out later.

"At Newton Abbot I got a blood clot on the inside of my brain and they wouldn't let me drive a car for four years. That was the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I spent a lot of time in hospital and it's frightening when you see the people in there around you. You realise how lucky you've been.

"It was different from Declan Murphy's problem, because he had his blood clot on the outside of the brain where you could operate on it. With me, they just didn't know what to do. Hopefully it's dispersed now, but there are no certainties. I get tired, but you get tired doing this job anyway."

Hawke does not, though, get tired when talking about Kendal Cavalier, his first winner of the season when he collected the Welsh National just 10 days after being a Christmas present when relocated from Rod Millman's yard.

The grey is not particularly well named as he is neither supercilious nor flashy. He is the Pheidippides of the horse kingdom who only starts running when the tread is starting to disappear. "He's not a straightforward horse," Hawke says. "He's got his way of doing things. You've got to keep him a little bit fresh.

"The first half mile in the National will tell us everything. If things don't go right for him early on in a race he goes nowhere. He loses interest. It just all depends on whether he takes to it." It is the thought of this horse that helps his confederates through the black mornings at Holemoor House Stables near Chard in Somerset. You do not get out on the window ledge when there is a Grand National horse in the yard. "He's kept everyone's morale up," Hawke says. "Having a horse like that makes us all forget about the hard work and keep going.

"We've been quiet since Christmas because we've had a problem. The horses have been throwing the odd cough. But they're coming right again. We had one or two run last week that went well and he seems very well and his blood is right again.

"He's the forgotten horse of the race. If the ground came right - and that means the softer the better - I seriously think he's the one to beat."

Kendal Cavalier will jump the Aintree-style fences on the Lambourn trial grounds this morning, an addition to the recent racecourse work he completed with a fellow Liverpool consideration, Coome Hill.

It was announced yesterday that the gelding trained on the Cornish Riviera will be ridden in the big one by Steve Wynne following the retirement of his usual partner, Jamie Osborne. It will be a first National ride for the 26-year-old.

A further solid appointment was made yesterday when Norman Williamson confirmed he would ride General Wolfe for the Teeton Mill connections of Venetia Williams and The Winning Line. The Irishman, who has just spent several days recharging at the Dubai World Cup meeting, had also been linked with Betty's Boy and Nahthen Lad.

Tony Dobbin, successful in the National two years ago on Lord Gyllene, put his mount this year, Avro Anson, through a schooling session yesterday and was pleased with the examination results. "He was having a bit of a look round being out there on his own, but he jumped the last three brilliantly. He's in good form and we're hoping for good ground."

The connection between Rough Quest, the 1996 National winner, and this year's contest grew increasingly slim following yesterday's bulletin which suggested the old man was more likely to run in the Foxhunters' Chase at the meeting. "I do feel the horse is in tremendous shape at the moment but with not being able to run on Saturday [because of Newbury's unsuitable firm ground] we've sort of run out of time," Terry Casey, the trainer, said. "At the moment we're not thinking about the National. He will probably be left in at the five-day stage but I would have to say that it's extremely unlikely that he'll run."


Nap: Elle Questro

(Folkestone 4.40)

NB: Gunner Sam

(Catterick 4.25)