Racing: High status for Tizzard the tall guy

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ANYONE WHO who saw Joe Tizzard standing outside the Aintree weighing room shortly after the 1997 Grand National might have thought that his 15 minutes of fame had already expired. In the week before the race, Tizzard was the first name on everyone's interview list, an amateur stepping up from point-to-pointing and at 17, the youngest jockey to ride in the National for almost 50 years.

But the story ended at the 14th fence, where Straight Talk was destroyed after breaking a leg, and his rider was so numbed by shock and distress that he could barely speak.

Yet little though he knew it, Tizzard's luck was about to perform a hand- brake turn, and it has been heading in the opposite direction with its foot on the floor ever since. Though still a few weeks short of his 19th birthday, Tizzard is the new stable jockey at Paul Nicholls's Somerset yard, which is now a match for any stable in Britain. Even Tony McCoy had to wait until he was in his 20s before taking over the reins for Martin Pipe.

There has never been an arrival quite like it, and Tizzard is suddenly the rider that everyone looks out for.

He is not difficult to spot, since he is rather longer in the saddle than he is in the tooth. At almost six feet, Tizzard is as tall as any jockey gets, but if he notices the sudden attention, he does not let it show.

``Obviously there's a lot of responsibility,'' he says. ``A lot of time and effort goes into getting the horses to the track and once they're there it's down to me. But I've been riding since I was old enough to be thrown over a pony, and I rode a lot for Mr Barber [Nicholls's principal owner] in point-to-points. I'm just chuffed to bits that they've got the confidence to put me up on them all.

``There's pressure, and people are going to knock you as quickly as they can, but I can cope with that. The pressure sharpens you up if anything, you know that you've just got to go out and do the job.''

For Nicholls, there was no doubt that Tizzard was the right man at the right time, irrespective of his age.

``I always maintain that you can judge a jockey on how he is on the schooling ground,'' the trainer says, ``and he's very good at schooling. He's just a good all-round horseman, they all jump well for him and he knows how I think and vice versa. Some jockeys you only ever see on the track, but he's a part of the team and we can talk things over and work away together.''

Nor is there any need for Nicholls, himself a leading rider in his time, to issue instructions before a race. ``On Calling Wild at the weekend, he was left to do whatever he wanted. He had the confidence to pop him out in front, made sure it was a good gallop and made all. He knows what he's doing and it's all fallen into place.''

The only possible hurdle to a long and successful partnership could be Tizzard's physique. ``It could be a problem in a couple of years' time,'' he admits, ``but it isn't at the moment. I might have to have a bit of a sweat to do 10 stone, but nothing major.'' Whether his body will be as accommodating in its mid-20s as it is in its teens remains to be seen.

For the moment, though, he just wants to make the most of his mixture of talent and good fortune. The first big weekend meeting of the season at Cheltenham, which begins this afternoon, will be relatively low-key for the Manor Farm Stables team, with Tizzard partnering just two runners this afternoon and Nicholls without a representative in tomorrow's Murphy's Gold Cup. It will be fascinating, though, to see whether the trainer and jockey can do anything to improve the attitude of the famous faintheart, Green Green Desert, who has his first run for the stable this afternoon. Forestal (2.25) might be a safer choice, while Lucky Town (3.35) should win the Sporting Index Chase over the cross-country course.

Next Wednesday, though, will mark the return to action of See More Business, Nicholls's 1997 King George VI Chase winner, at Huntingdon. For Joe Tizzard, life just keeps getting better.

RICHARD EDMONDSON

Nap: Bobby Grant

(Newcastle 1.30)

NB: Super Fellow

(Cheltenham 1.50)

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