Racing: Hoard of wins at Jackdaws Castle: David Nicholson's new stable jockey is dictating the pace in this season's title race. Paula Minchin rode out with Adrian Maguire

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The Independent Online
DAWN over the Cotswolds and Adrian Maguire is the last rider in David Nicholson's string. It is an unfamiliar position for the Irishman who has been at the front of the field more than any jockey so far this season.

With 79 winners already, all eyes are on 22-year-old Maguire to win the jump jockeys' championship. And nobody is looking harder than the defending champion, Richard Dunwoody, who has a lot of catching up to do. Despite two winners so far this week, Dunwoody still trails by 27.

'It's going to be hard to peg him back. But the title means a lot to me, and it will mean just as much to win it again,' Dunwoody said.

But Maguire dreamed of the title championship as a child and is not likely to give up his quest easily. 'I want it,' he says, 'With the start I've had, it gives me a great chance. But staying injury-free will have a lot to do with it.'

Maguire joined Nicholson at Jackdaws Castle, Temple Guiting, Gloucestershire, at the start of the season. The post of stable-jockey at Nicholson's showpiece establishment is the result of just two years' in Britain that have seen him progress from promising conditional rider to title contender.

Known as 'The Golden Child' in the weighing room, Maguire's story is one of burning ambition fulfilled. As one of a family of nine children growing up in the Co Meath village of Kilmessan, all he wanted to do was ride horses. At the age of nine, his older brother, Michael, taught him to ride and bought him his first pony, Cresta. His goal of being a National Hunt jockey meant a decision to devote his life to horses. 'I wasn't in school very much,' he admits, 'I was always skiving off to ride.'

Soon, the son of a golf- course green keeper had notched up over 200 winners in pony races. The knack continued when he started point- to-pointing and during a three- year spell in the sport, Maguire won the Irish championship and became the first rider to win all six races on a card at Dromahane, County Cork.

In 1991, Martin Pipe sought out his services for a Cheltenham Festival contender. Omerta's win there and in the Irish Grand National brought the teetotal, non-smoking jockey to the attention of the British racing public and prompted a move across the Irish Sea to work for Toby Balding in Dorset.

The pair won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Cool Ground the following year, a feat Maguire is keen to repeat. 'It was great to win it then but I didn't appreciate it because I was too young, I didn't realise what it meant.'

The Maguire and Nicholson partnership is just three months old, but they have formed a relationship of mutual respect. The 'Duke' had been watching Maguire long before Peter Scudamore's retirement caused Dunwoody's switch from Jackdaws Castle to the Somerset yard of Martin Pipe. 'When Richard went, I thought I'd better do something about Adrian before somebody else snapped him up,' he said.

Nicholson talks with pride about his new jockey's achievements. 'He has total natural talent, to do what he's done in the short time he's been riding is phenomenal.'

Maguire himself is at a loss to explain what he does that is so special. Shyly dismissing comparisons with Jonjo O'Neill and John Francome, Maguire says he never tried to emulate how they rode. 'I just ride 'em,' he says. 'I get them jumping, and once you get a horse jumping it's easier to ride them.' He pauses and considers, 'I've been very lucky and got the breaks that a lot of lads have never got.'

He is a compact 5ft 5in and 9st 9lb. The envy of the other jockeys with no need to sweat, starve or contort his body to make the minimum weight.

When Maguire walked into British weighing rooms, there were mixed reactions about the latest import from Ireland. Seasoned jockey Steve Smith Eccles says: 'I used to think he was a bit too big for his boots, he's mellowed out now and he's a nice chap. On reflection, he was probably a bit shy.'

Two seasons of the British game have changed Maguire. 'He's a natural lightweight who's on the crest of a wave,' Smith Eccles said. 'If you've got a good agent like he has and you're riding winners then everybody wants you.' But in the championship race, Smith Eccles is cautious about predicting the result. 'He could break his leg tomorrow and the title is out the window.'

Maguire enjoys the British way of racing and says he benefited from advice given by the former champion jockey, Peter Scudamore. 'Scu was very good in the weighing room. If something happened out on the course, or if there were any problems at all he was very helpful. He'd always see any fella right, a real gentleman.

'I wish I could have ridden against him a lot longer, he was great for the game. The weighing room needs another Peter Scudamore, because he ran things, looked after everyone, made sure we were all OK.'

Maguire though is very different from Scudamore, not yet such a renowned figurehead for the sport. But he is really making his mark, and evidence of his ability seems certain to be inscribed one day on the roll of champions. As Richard Dunwoody fears, that day may be close at hand.

(Photograph omitted)