Rider dies after fall at Southwell

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The Independent Online
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SUE MONTGOMERY

Richard Davis, the 27-year-old National Hunt rider, died last night after a horrific fall earlier in the day at Southwell when his mount, Mr Sox, crashed at the first fence in the novices' handicap chase and appeared to roll on top of him.

The jockey, who was still in the early stages of his career and had ridden 16 winners in his best season, was knocked out for several minutes but had regained consciousness before being taken to the Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham. There he underwent surgery for internal bleeding, but doctors were unable to save him.

"He was knocked out for a few minutes but came round before he went to hospital. He was moving all his limbs," the racecourse medical attendant, Dr David Layfield, said.

One of Davis' main employers, the trainer Peter Pritchard, paid tribute to a "good and underrated jockey."

"He rode nearly all mine and was the nicest young man you could wish to meet," Pritchard said. "I'm very shocked."

"He started riding for me when he was still a conditional with Toby Balding, but it was probably the worst season Toby ever had. If he had had as good a season as he had the following year it would have put Richard on the map.

Balding confirmed Pritchard's high opinion of Davis's potential. "Richard had a natural outgoing personality and was a joy to work with," he said. "I picked him out to replace Adrian Maguire and he preceded Tony McCoy [now champion jockey] in the stable. If he had got lucky he would have been leading conditional, as it was he was still among the top five.

"This drives home the precariousness of life as a jockey. Mr Sox had dubious form but Richard had schooled it and he had reported to his agent, Dave Roberts, that he wanted to ride it. He had satisfied himself that the horse was all right."

Michael Caulfield, secretary of the Jockeys' Association, said: "The sport always has its risks, that is why you should never take jockeys' bravery for granted. This poor young man has paid the ultimate price for something he wanted to do well."

Davis is the first jockey to lose his life on a British racecourse since Steve Wood died in a Flat race at Lingfield in May 1994. Previous fatalities in Britain were Philip Barnard (December 1991), Vivian Kennedy (August 1988), Jayne Thompson (November 1986), Michael Blackmore (May 1986) and Joe Blanks (July 1981).

Declan Murphy came close to death after a fall in 1994 and was not able to resume his career, while Walter Swinburn, who suffered severe injuries in Hong Kong in February, has not yet resumed riding. Last week two jockeys, Heidi McNeich, 24, and David Wilkes, 32, died in separate falls in Australia.

In recent years the removal of concrete posts supporting the running- rails around tracks, stronger helmets and back protectors have helped to restrict the number of serious injuries among riders. The Jockey Club has also sought to improve the level of fitness among riders and tighter rules governing the running of races has attempted to make contests less rough.

One rider who has fallen foul of those rules, Michael Hills, has decided to appeal against the ban which, if upheld, will deprive him of the mount on Pentire in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot a week today. On Wednesday the appeal will be heard by the Jockey Club disciplinary committee; Michael Roberts has been put on standby for the ride. Hills was suspended by the Doncaster stewards for careless riding in a minor contest on Wednesday.

Adrian Maguire returns to action at Stratford tomorrow after four months out after breaking a collar-bone. "It's been a long haul but everything's fine now," Maguire said. "I've been working in the gym, and ridden work. As far as I'm concerned I've never left the top and I'm going to show it again."

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