Racing: Portland claims arrive in court: Four years after the St Leger meeting was abandoned, the High Court must apportion blame for the fall which ended two jockeys' careers

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The Independent Online
ALMOST four years after the pile-up in the Portland Handicap which ended the careers of two jockeys and one horse, the claim for damages against Doncaster racecourse reached the High Court yesterday.

Paul Cook and Ray Cochrane, who were injured when three horses fell in the sprint handicap, are claiming for loss of earnings against the track's owner, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council. Cook, who like Johnson has not race-ridden since the fall, is claiming pounds 280,000; Cochrane, who broke a collar-bone, is seeking pounds 41,000 for his spell on the sidelines which lasted only 19 days, but which included potentially lucrative rides in some valuable races.

Doncaster's disastrous week, in September 1989, began when the Cook-ridden Madraco fell when in front in the Portland. Two other horses were brought down, Cochrane's mount Tolo and Pendor Dancer, with Ian Johnson on board. Two days later, when another horse came down, the rest of the meeting had to be abandoned and the St Leger re-routed to Ayr eight days later.

Johnson and Cook suffered extensive injuries, while Madraco, who broke a leg, was eventually saved for stud duties.

The figures being claimed by Cook and Cochrane may appear high but the former, who broke a thumb, ribs, collar-bone and foot, had won over 1,500 races including the 1,000 Guineas and St Leger. He was only 43 at the time of the fall and, as Lester Piggott has proved, Flat jockeys can go on riding until well into their fifties.

Cochrane missed out on some plum winners, including Lucky Song who took the Group Two Park Hill Stakes and Legal Case, victorious in the Group Three Select Stakes at Goodwood.

The hearing, which is scheduled to last three days, is to decide whether Madraco suffered his injury spontaneously or as a result of weaknesses in the track caused by drainage work.

A detailed Jockey Club inquiry later found that the laying of a longitudinal drain in the months prior to the St Leger meeting had left voids in the ground under the surface, and it is being claimed that one of these caused Madraco to fall.

But the Jockey Club failed to reach a conclusion as to the cause of Madraco's fracture. Cook's counsel, Tim Charlton QC, argued yesterday that the fall was as a result of the ground imperfections.

Mr Charlton said: 'The central issue is what caused Madraco to fall. We say that the fall occurred when Madraco lost his footing on false ground.

'We say so because the (then) clerk of the course, Mr Pat Firth, had carried out draining works in July and August of the same year and a result of doing that was the formation of various voids covering the drains and a false nature of the turf on either side.

'This would be potentially dangerous to a galloping thoroughbred or, for that matter, a galloping carthorse.'

Cochrane was called as the first witness yesterday and then the court adjourned to study video recordings of the race in question at the Jockey Club's Portman Square headquarters.

Cochrane told the court: 'Horses will take every precaution to keep themselves from falling if they break a leg. The only time I have seen a horse go down was in America when one broke both front legs.'

Madraco's owner, Bernard Hampson, is also represented by Mr Charlton while Johnson will make a claim if liability against the council is proved. The hearing continues today.