Racing: Maguire a victim of his former bravado

WE FIRST really noticed the brilliant young comet that was Adrian Maguire at the Cheltenham Festival of 1989. The teenage Irish amateur fired Omerta over the obstacles of the National Hunt Chase with a near- suicidal style not witnessed since Jonjo O'Neill got out of the saddle. Even then, the message Maguire conveyed to his mounts was that he was going over the other side of a fence and they could join him if they cared. They usually did.

A Cheltenham Gold Cup on Cool Ground soon came Maguire's way and talk of him as a future jockeys' championship winner was not considered a prediction as much as a certainty. However, as he steps down as retained rider at David Nicholson's Jackdaws Castle yard, Adrian Maguire's tale should be required consideration for all jockeys coming into the sport. Maguire will now never win a championship. His best days are gone at 27.

The Cossack, and as then unusual, style of the professionally infant Maguire is now the norm among the recent intake of bold, young jockeys. Maguire himself was first seriously derailed at Hereford in 1995 when Desert Fighter mangled him through the wing of a hurdle. He would probably have won the title that year.

Maguire started running into a sleet of misfortunes. Injuries and the tragedy of losing his mother, Phyllis, have meant he has missed three of the last four Cheltenham Festivals. When he did manage to make the Festival, last March, he took a numbing fall from Zabadi which ruled him out of the Grand National meeting.

For so long he had been able to put his head down and struggle through the hail, but recently the crashes told. Where once he would be plastered to a horse's neck, throwing it over whatever came into their path, the posture is now defensive. When you see the modern Maguire at an obstacle, he is much further back in the saddle, apparently in anticipation of a fall. As a result, the falls come more frequently.

Throughout all this, Maguire could count on the public backing of Nicholson, whose support for him was - until recently - unflinching. "We are sorry to hear about Adrian ending his retainer," the trainer said yesterday. "We have had some good times and he's still welcome at Jackdaws Castle."

But dissension started to swell elsewhere in the ranks and several owners at the yard began to request the services of another rider, Richard Johnson. Johnson is a member of the new Turks now favoured by many owners and trainers, men such as Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh who would attempt to jump the Grand Canyon if they saw a winning post on the landing side. Ironically, theirs is an attitude made common by Maguire himself.

The Irishman will still ride for Nicholson but the alliance is no longer what it was. There is talk that Maguire believes retirement is an option. For now, though, connections are satisfied to put a happy spin on events. "Nothing will change at Jackdaws Castle in real terms except that Adrian will have a little more flexibility than he has now," Colin Smith, the stable's owner, said yesterday. "I think he will come out of this better than he is now, and I believe he will ride a bigger percentage of the horses at the yard under the new terms.

"Now that Adrian is an independent free-agent, he could say to David Nicholson, `Here are 20 or 30 horses that I would be prepared to ride in all their races' and, for the rest of the time, he could partner what he wants to for other trainers.

"Richard Johnson fits in like he always has done. He will ride a number of horses in the yard as he is doing now. All it means is we have got two jockeys who are also free-agents, but there'll be no retained jockey here for the rest of the season and possibly next season. I also think our other jockeys, Robert Thornton, Ollie McPhail and Bob Massey, will also benefit greatly from this."

A shuffle then, it seems, with no losers, though cards and racing are not like that. Adrian Maguire is not now destined to be the ace of National Hunt racing, but there may be more good days ahead. He should enjoy them while he can.

MAGUIRE'S

ROLLERCOASTER

RIDING CAREER

Born: 29 April, 1971. One of nine children.

Rode over 200 winners in Irish pony races.

Rode in point-to-points for Michael Hourigan for three years, winning Irish championship.

First winner under rules: Gladtogetit at Sligo on 23 April, 1990.

First winner in Britain: Omerta, Cheltenham, 12 March, 1991

Apprenticeship: Three years with Michael Hourigan, Co Limerick, one year with Toby Balding

Best season: 194 winners in 1993/4 (runner-up in jockeys' championship).

Seasonal totals of winners: 1991/2: 71, 1992/3: 124, 1993/4: 194, 1994/5: 130, 1995/6: 60.

Grand National: Third on Moorcroft Boy in 1994.

Cheltenham Gold Cup: Won on Cool Ground in 1992.

Other big-race wins: Barton Bank (King George VI Chase 1993), Sibton Abbey (Hennessy Gold Cup 1992), Omerta (Irish Grand National 1991), Mysilv (Triumph Hurdle, 1994), Viking Flagship (Queen Mother Champion Chase 1994), Baronet (Scottish National 1998), Call It A Day (Whitbread Gold Cup 1998).

UPS

Rode six winners in a day at an Irish point-to-point meeting

Rode first five winners on a six-race card at Plumpton on 29 August, 1994 (He had to pull his mount up in the last)

Rode five winners, a second and a fourth on a seven-race card on Racing Post Chase day at Kempton on 22 February, 1997 for a 355-1 five-timer

DOWNS

n Rode a treble at Sandown in January, 1992 only for each winner to be disqualified later as he had claimed a 3lb allowance to which he was not entitled.

n Missed the Cheltenham Festival three years running from 1994 to 1996, due to the death of his mother on the first occasion and injury subsequently.

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