Racing: Swan rises on fortune's wing: Richard Edmondson on the Irish jockey who has reached record heights on a stream of lavish talent and modest manner

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The Independent Online
CHARLIE SWAN has won the National Hunt jockeys' title in Ireland for the last three years and is on his way to a fourth championship. Last month he broke Martin Molony's 1950 record of 92 jumps winners in a calendar year, and on Saturday he completed Ireland's first calendar century. But Swan does not consider himself the Republic's outstanding jumps rider.

Pressed for the names of men he considers to be his equal, Swan sounds like a schoolteacher taking the register. 'Brendan Sheridan, Mickey Flynn, Kevin O'Brien, Tom Taaffe, Conor O'Dwyer, and a lot of other jockeys over here ride the very same as I do,' he says. 'I'm no better than them.

'All the time I've been riding I've had lots of good owners and trainers behind me and a lot of my success is down to luck. Everything just has to go right for you, and it has for me.'

Self-deprecation is a large part of Swan, 24, and is one of the reasons he is so popular and widely utilised within Irish racing. There are, undoubtedly, points of good fortune that illuminate his upward path, and it is therefore ironic that it was an apparent bad turn that propelled him on his way.

A product of pony club competition, Swan had determined he was going to be a jockey by the age of 10, and, five years later, without any serious qualification to his name, he virtually ran away from school to join the racing circuit with Kevin Prendergast's yard.

A career as a professional on the Flat beckoned until Swan broke his leg while challenging for the apprentices' title in 1986. By the time the plaster was removed, there was more of Swan than he would have liked and creeping weight forced him into the winter game.

Swan's weight these days of 9st 7lb is ideal for National Hunt racing, enabling him to take mounts his rivals cannot. When he does have to battle the scales, the jockey endures bathing time to match Marat, lying in salted water, wearing a shower cap, for an hour, a regime that can account for 4lb.

'My weight helps and my Flat experience is a big help,' he says. 'I know how to balance a horse and I learned how to push them.'

To push them to the limit. Not the least of Swan's talents is his ability to galvanise a horse on the run to the line, a forcefulness which is a match for any rider.

The jockey's first brush with serendipity came shortly after he left Prendergast for Dessie Hughes's yard. 'I'd been there only a few months and Tom (Morgan) got an offer to go to England, so I ended up getting the job as first jockey,' he says. 'I got going because I was there at the right time.'

Two years later, Swan turned down an offer to join Nick Henderson's stable in Lambourn and linked instead with another Irish trainer, 'Mouse' Morris. Again, good fate followed him as he tuned into a powerful stable just when the jockeys' room was stripped of some of its more successful inhabitants.

'Charlie's timing was good,' Ted Walsh, 11 times champion amateur rider in Ireland, says. 'Tommy Carmody and Frank Berry had both just retired, some of the lads who had been riding just behind them had maybe lost their youth, and Charlie was hungry and grabbing to get there.'

'He's a very likeable fellow, which helps, and he's got a lot of natural horsemanship about him. When you get there and you get established, like he's done, you should stay unless you do something very drastically wrong or the hand of fate goes against you.'

Fate, though, rarely turns against Charlie Swan. He cultivates good luck. Like Gary Lineker, his is an image of sporting correctness that a mother would struggle to design, and he shelters himself as much as he can from the possibility of injury.

Swan considers his health more important than the riding fee of IR pounds 67 and refuses mounts he considers dangerous; in addition, he is never loath to pull up a struggling chaser that could harm both sides of the partnership with a fall.

Even his decision to terminate ties with Morris this year has been proved correct as Cahervillahow and Trapper John, the leading inmates at Everardsgrange, appear to be diminished talents. Now Swan's hopes at Cheltenham, where Trapper John provided him with his only Festival victory two years ago, rest principally with Tiananmen Square and Destriero.

The former, unbeaten in two races since going over timber, is among the leading early candidates for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, while there are hopes that the winner of that race two years ago, Destriero, can regain his poise for the Champion Hurdle.

Victory at Prestbury Park in March would give vent to racing's toothiest smile. 'I'm hoping that Destriero will show he's back at Leopardstown at Christmas,' Swan says. 'All he needs is a bit of luck.' In which case, he is being ridden by the right man.

(Photograph omitted)

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