Racing: Maguire's old power turned on by liberty

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The Independent Online
IT IS easy to spot the successful punters around a winners' enclosure. They are the ones banging their hands together as if seeking to draw blood as the victors return. They make noise because they have made money.

Racing also has its more altruistic moments when horse and jockey are applauded for the mere act of winning. In the game's great circle, the most powerful receptions are currently reserved for Adrian Maguire, the former "Golden Child" whose fortunes recently turned to a more base metal.

It was just before the New Year that Maguire severed his umbilical cord to David Nicholson's Jackdaws Castle. Since then the Irishman's fortunes have waxed, culminating in Saturday's 587-1 treble at Doncaster. The hosannas boomed over Town Moor like curtain calls.

Maguire will tell you that he is riding no differently to the time five seasons ago when he was considered the natural successor to Richard Dunwoody as champion jockey. But in his final contracted days with Nicholson things were different

There was poison in the Gloucestershire camp and as Maguire's role was discussed the jockey found himself denied several times before the jackdaw crowed. With some owners behind him resembling Brutus and the acolytes, Maguire decided to resign as stable jockey to one of the most powerful stables in the land. He had to throw it away to save himself.

"I'm my own boss now and I can go where I want and ride for whoever I want," Maguire said yesterday. "I'm happy with the way things are going and very happy when I get days like yesterday, which might make people have another look [at me] or prick their ears."

It is hard to imagine that Adrian Maguire will soon be 28. The enduring image of him is of the 20-year-old amateur scooting home on Omerta at the 1991 Cheltenham Festival. The little man with the look of the butcher's boy seemed to be made.

Yet a similar description was applied to him more damagingly three years later after a particularly rough ride on Ramstar at Warwick. From that moment, Maguire crossed the Rubicon into the real world. "The press built me up to be a superstar then the next day said I'm the bad boy of racing," he said at the time. "I'm a lot wiser now than I was then and if I wasn't I wouldn't still be around."

The Gold Cup, King George VI Chase and Queen Mother Champion Chase all came, but, in recent times, the fearless vigour which gave Maguire his edge seemed to be diluting. Dissension set alight at Jackdaw's Castle ate at the rider's qualities.

Now, however, Maguire appears to be back. He will not admit this, but it has taken the barbs to sting the best out of him. As we saw Major Bell and Mulligan being driven home at Doncaster it was to witness a compelling sight which had become distant in the memory.

While the jockey believes he has not changed from the rampaging athlete of his youth, the rules have altered. He was suspended for two days for use of the whip on Mulligan.

"I wasn't doing anything different," Maguire said yesterday. "Racing is full of opinions and people are entitled to them, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm riding as well as I ever have.

"The number of people who have rung us up and wished us well and backed us 100 per cent when I wanted to ride one of theirs has been fantastic."

Such is Adrian Maguire's renaissance that he is looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival as a return to a happy hunting ground. It is not a meeting he has completed for four years.

Last season he crashed out on Zabadi with the souvenirs of a broken collar- bone and concussion. He had missed the previous three Festivals through injury or bereavement. "Last year I had a bad fall at Cheltenham but otherwise the place has been good to me," he said. "Whenever I get there that is.

"I'd love to ride a winner at the Festival, even though I don't know where it's going to come from at the moment. When you ride a winner there those are the ones that are remembered. I've got a couple of nice rides and I'm working hard on filling my card."

We will see Maguire at Prestbury Park, indeed we will see him around for a while despite the predictions of some. "We were just having a laugh after the last yesterday and remembering what happened after I'd split from David Nicholson," the jockey said. "One reporter actually asked me if I was going to carry on race-riding and I had to hang up on that one."

The Toiseach's place at Cheltenham, in the Gold Cup, is less definite. The beaten favourite in Major Bell's race is undergoing tests following fears that his breathing problems may have recurred.

Cyfor Malta, the Pillar Property Chase winner at Cheltenham, is now third favourite for the blue riband and likely to go there without another run. His stablemate Unsinkable Boxer was described yesterday by Martin Pipe as "a bit stiff" after doing his name a disservice on the same card. The 10-year-old remains a consideration for the Gold Cup, though he is in several other races at the Festival, including the Stayers' Hurdle.