Racing: Maguire's return finishes in farce and fine: National Hunt's leading rider resumes as he left off, under the stewards' gaze. Greg Wood reports from Fontwell

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WITH ONLY three rides, not one of them a favourite, Adrian Maguire's return to race-riding, after a six-day ban for a whip offence, did not promise to be glorious. Yet even after a dispiriting week, the jump season's leading jockey could not have expected his afternoon here yesterday to be both embarrassing and expensive.

Maguire, on Access Sun in the last, was fined pounds 400 for riding a finish a circuit too soon. 'I misjudged it, I've got no-one to blame but myself,' he said. 'I'd like to apologise to Jeff King (the trainer), the owners and everyone who's had a punt on the horse.'

The stewards took punters into account, too. 'The fine is pounds 60 above the minimum as Maguire is an experienced rider, who should know the course, and the horse was a 10-1 shot and not 100-1,' the stewards' secretary said.

But even when the rest of the field was not trying, Maguire 'finished' only second. Having already asked Access Sun for everything, he had no alternative but to pull up the horse as the others completed the second circuit.

It has been that sort of year for the young Irishman, who started January more than 40 winners clear of Richard Dunwoody, and a 1-5 favourite to take his first jockeys' championship. Five weeks later, suspensions for whip misuse and careless riding have kept Maguire idle for 10 of the last 12 days, and he is just six wins ahead. Now it is Dunwoody who is odds- on for the title, at 4-9, with Maguire out to 13-8.

At a Jockey Club seminar on use of the whip last year, film of Maguire provided the example for just about every 'don't'. Since then, his forceful style seems to have received particular scrutiny from Jockey Club officials.

Take his most recent ban, for a ride in which Maguire struck his mount more than 20 times (it takes just six hits to trigger an inquiry, and possible suspension). When the local stewards took no action, the Jockey Club's disciplinarians intervened and imposed a ban anyway.

Depending on your point of view, the Club is either trying to adapt the sport to a more enlightened age, or is denying riders their livelihoods by pandering to public opinion. Caught in the middle are jockeys like Maguire, whose ferocious will to win ensures success and trouble arrive handcuffed together.

The consolation for punters is the closeness of this year's title race. Yesterday it added much-needed interest to a nondescript card, although Dunwoody, like Maguire, drew a blank from three rides. Yet the quality of the racing did not bother those at the centre of Fontwell's figure-of- eight chase course, where racegoers get a first-hand view of two fences at once.

For the first race yesterday Maguire was there, too, watching five colleagues steer their mounts around the loops until they must have felt dizzy. He seemed a picture of relaxation, signing autographs and chatting, but still you sensed frustration, an itch to get out and ride, whatever the risk.

Maguire deflects questions about the title race - 'if it come, it comes, but there'll be 10 more years, I hope' - and wisely declines to comment on the ever more stringent whip rules. It is the Jockey Club, after all, which issues him with his licence to ride.

But one comment summed up his attitude to the future. 'I'll be trying to keep it down,' Maguire said. He was referring to his whip, but could just as easily have meant his head.

Racing, page 33

(Photograph and graph omitted)