Survivor Carson's toughest choice

Sue Montgomery asks whether injury will have the final say in a brilliant career
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A HOT-TEMPERED filly brought Willie Carson's season to an abrupt end when she lashed out and kicked him in the stomach at Newbury on Friday. Only time will tell whether Meshhed's role in history will be as the horse who finished the career of one of Britain's most resilient jockeys.

Carson, who will celebrate his 54th birthday in November, is in a Basingstoke hospital, his liver split by the force of Meshhed's hooves, and will know this morning whether or not he will require surgery to remove a substantial portion of the damaged organ. Although the surgeon treating him has said he will be able to resume riding next year, and has issued encouraging bulletins about the little Scot's trademark perkiness, the jockey is nonetheless gravely hurt and in a deal of pain.

It has been a bad year for accidents involving jockeys. The worst incident was the death in action of Richard Davies, but Walter Swinburn was lucky to survive a horrific fall in Hong Kong and Carson himself was hurt at Newmarket. And the risks are not confined to the track; Frankie Dettori missed several weeks after breaking his arm in another paddock accident, also at Newbury.

Carson, who can thank his body protector - mandatory for modern jockeys - for saving him from more serious injury, has spent longer at the top of his trade than any jockey still in action, having ridden his first winner in 1962 at the age of 19. Last season he reached a century of winners for the 23rd time in 25 years. Five times champion jockey, he is behind only Sir Gordon Richards and Lester Piggott on the all-time list for the most winners, and his record is notable for its quality as well as quantity, with four Derby victories - on Troy, Henbit, Nashwan and Erhaab - among his 14 British Classic successes.

His unquenchable public enthusiasm and cheeriness has kept him a firm favourite with the public, and made him one of the few jockeys instantly recognisable outside his own sport. The avalanche of cards and phone calls to the hospital has testified to that. But for all his jolly persona there is another, moodier side to Carson - one of the last of the jockeys to work his way to the top from the depths of the stable yard - and this season has been a particularly topsy-turvy one for one of his Jekyll- and-Hyde character to cope with.

On the plus side have been two Classic wins, in the French and Irish Guineas on Ta Rib and Matiya, and emergence of Bahhare, winner of the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster nine days ago, as a live candidate for next year's 2,000 Guineas. But there has also been the disappointment of Alhaarth, last season's champion two-year-old, who has failed to progress as a three- year-old; a black day in May when he was roundly censured by public and professionals alike for two desperate riding errors; and a buffeting from that fall at Newmarket. His total of winners, 52, is well short of his usual tally.

Retirement, however, seems to be the hardest word. It has been increasingly under debate in the past few seasons, but Carson has given short shrift to those who have broached the subject lately, his not unreasonable view being that he, and he alone, will make the decision. It will be more than a little ironic if his latest injuries make it for him, leaving Bahhare, the horse who might have kept him going for another year, as the last winner of an outstanding career.

Yesterday's racing, page 26