With the Dewhurst, Champion Stakes and Racing Post Trophy still to come nobody really gives a fig yet about the National Hunt season. Within the winter game itself there is amnesia too about a jump jockey who has not flown over birch in anger for well over a year now.
It may well be though that Jonothan Lower is on the verge of earning an enduring ledge in racing history. The Jockey Club is expected to announce next week that the 30-year-old is to be allowed to return to the racecourse, uniquely on a restricted licence that will limit the number of rides each day. Lower will be the first diabetic to ride in Britain. "I don't think they've got reason to say I can't ride" Lower said yesterday. "This is history. At the beginning of this the Jockey Club were adamant they would never let a diabetic ride and now I'm hoping to show they were wrong."
Lower has been around so long that he was at Martin Pipe's Nicholashayne yard before the little trainer started limping. Like house foundations, Lower has been vital without being the most visible part of the operation.
When Peter Scudamore and Richard Dunwoody, both stable jockeys past at Pond House, have nightmares, the bete noire of their dreams inevitably has a familiar figure in the saddle. Lower has made a habit of winning big races on discards. His scroll of honour includes Sondrio (Supreme Novices' Hurdle), Kissair (Triumph Hurdle) and Sayparee (Scottish Champion Hurdle). He also boasts a hat-trick at the 1996 Aintree Festival which made him joint leading rider at the meeting.
Just a few months after Liverpool, however, a limb and his career were in tatters following an accident one work morning. "I broke an arm on the gallops and then two weeks later I was permanently feeling thirsty and losing weight," he said. "I didn't feel ill but I knew my body shouldn't have been like that and there was something wrong with me. They told me I had diabetes.
"It can be brought on by shock or stress, so one theory is that it could have been the shock of breaking my arm. It was a big blow when the doctor told me I was diabetic, but that was nowhere near as bad as being told that I couldn't ride because of it."
Lower resolved to fight back. Since January he has been on medical probation, establishing his capability to return to the saddle under the guidance of Stephanie Amiel, the professor of diabetic medicine at King's College School of Medicine. This week her report will bounce on the table of the Jockey Club's chief medical adviser, Dr Michael Turner. "The worry was that if my blood sugars dropped too low I could pass out, but I think I've proved over the last year that I am in control. The specialist agrees," Lower said. "I have to inject insulin and monitor my blood sugar levels. Normally it would be two injections a day, but because of the nature of what I'm doing it's four times a day."
The trusty lieutenant has been riding out seven lots a day, as well as schooling, this autumn, and each moment has been preparing to get back to the racecourse. "I've missed it tremendously," he said. "It's been my life and all I wanted to do since I was a boy. I've been going to races, saddling up, talking to owners and watching but it's not quite the same thing, especially as I've been doing all the work at home on some of the horses."
If, as expected, Lower is returned his licence, he will be initially accompanied to the track by Dr Turner. Later it will be the responsibilty of the course doctor to double-check the readings on the jockey's blood- sugar calculator. Whatever the result, Lower will start with just one ride a day, a restricted licence which will also place a bottom limit on his weight. "Each step that Jonothan has taken has not been done by anyone before," Dr Turner said yesterday. "The next stage is to get him into the racing arena and see how he copes."
The impression seems to be that this recovering jockey will manage most admirably. They say that National Hunt jockeys are tough men, made out of the same sort of material they employ for the hulls of icebreakers. Jonothan Lower does not let down the reputation.