Racing: Veteran who has defied the years

The jockey who was yesterday charged with conspiring to cheat has won some of racing's greatest prizes. By Richard Edmondson
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The Independent Online
WHEN A National Hunt jockey reaches the age of 35 a large claw usually descends to take him to the place of rest for winter riders. Not so Graham John Bradley, who will be 39 this year and still shows no signs of withering apart from the spreading grey stains at his temples.

They call him Brad in the weighing-room, but it could just as well be Dad. The Yorkshireman is hugely popular with his colleagues, even those who are just about young enough to be his offspring.

Bradley was born in Wetherby and still pledges allegiance to his local football team of note, Leeds United. You could not tell this from his wood-splitting accent, but the jockey has now been down south for some time, ploughing his furrow from one of Britain's richest racing vales. He lives in Sparsholt, near Wantage, but takes most of his liquid refreshment in the Queen's Arms at East Garston.

He is also a smoker and last week, when an arm injury sustained in the Irish Grand National looked like preventing him from riding in the Aintree original, he described the limb as being so painful that he could barely lift a fag to his mouth.

Brad is recognised by friend and foe as one of the great riding stylists. When this technically proficient horseman is in the saddle he casts virtually the same silhouette as Richard Dunwoody.

He causes envy in other directions. Bradley is the best golfer in the weighing room, with a single-figure handicap. That is not the the only figure in which the jockey is interested. In the highly-sexed atmosphere of his sport the lads talk about the old fox being a great "puller".

Bradley is the son of Norman, a trainer who plied his trade from near Wetherby at Sicklinghall. The young lad's talents were soon apparent and even as a fledgling rider he was inducted into the finest racing academy in the land, the Harewood base of the all-conquering Dickinson family.

There were more experienced jockeys in this great finishing school and stronger ones too. None, however, were as neat as the freshman.

The man who rode his first winner on Talon at Sedgefield in 1980 gave us the chance for comparison with his workmates when he led home Dickinson's Famous Five in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Bregawn. He was just 22.

Bradley's has not been a career of great numbers, rather of victories in just about all the major races. His best season was the 1986/87 campaign, when he recorded 53 winners.

The Cheltenham Festival's other great race, the Champion Hurdle, fell to him quite fortuitously on Collier Bay in 1996. Not lucky because of any fluke in the running of the race, but because Bradley was not due to be on Collier Bay at all. He had been scheduled to partner the big- race favourite, Alderbrook, but was removed from that posting when his alarm clock failed to wake him in time for the gelding's final piece of work.

And when Morley Street was kidded home in the Aintree Hurdle at the beginning of the decade Bradley's was acknowledged as the ride of that particular season.

Two years ago we almost lost his talent when the rides dried up and took the enthusiasm with them. Bradley was rescued by the Upper Lambourn trainer Charlie Brooks, who was himself questioned in connection with the race- fixing allegations before being released without charge at Charing Cross police station yesterday.

Between them this unlikely partnership of a jockey older than his trainer won prestigious races, but none was more notable than a runner-up placing a year ago, when Bradley and Suny Bay slogged through a Grand National quagmire to beat all bar Earth Summit.

The partnership completed the Liverpool course once again on Saturday, further cementing Suny Bay's place as one of the favourite conveyances of Graham Bradley.

Another great friend, and he will be amused at the irony of it considering his present position, is the name of his King George VI winner, a horse called Wayward Lad.

BRADLEY'S GLORY DAYS

Born: 8 September, 1960.

First winner: Talon at Sedgefield on 11 March, 1980.

Best season: 1986-87 when he rode 53 winners.

Grand National: Runner-up on Suny Bay (1998).

BIG RACE WINNERS

Cheltenham Gold Cup: Bregawn (1983).

Champion Hurdle winner: Collier Bay (1996).

Hennessy Gold Cup: Bregawn (1982) & Suny Bay (1997).

King George VI Chase: Wayward Lad (1985).

Irish Grand National: Rhyme 'N' Reason (1985).

Welsh National: Righthand Man (1984) & Stearsby (1986).

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