Bravery in racing takes many forms. You see it on a daily basis with men and women manoeuvring half-tonne animals around bends and over fences at the speed you would drive your car, all the while knowing they have an ambulance in hot pursuit.
You need courage and conviction to sit on top of a horse and fly over an obstacle but you also need courage and conviction to do what Luca Morgan did last Thursday, when posting on social media that the ride, for him, was now over.
Just after midday, Morgan — last season’s Champion Conditional Jockey — uploaded a message on Twitter that simply said ‘loved every minute’. In an accompanying photo, he explained that ‘my dream since I was very small is coming to an end’.
Some background: Morgan, at 22, lifted the title in April that men such as Sir Anthony McCoy, Richard Johnson, Paddy Brennan, Robert Thornton and Aidan Coleman had lifted in their embryonic years as jockeys. With 46 wins, he had more than upheld the tradition. His future was exceptionally bright.
A measure of Morgan’s talent could be gauged in the fact Nicky Henderson entrusted him to ride No Ordinary Joe in the final race of this year’s Cheltenham Festival in March, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle.
Luca Morgan announced he was retiring at the age of 22 in a post on social media last week
Morgan wrote he had a ‘war with the scales’ and retiring was the best thing to do for his body
The jockey should courage and conviction to end his career despite having a bright future
Morgan gave No Ordinary Joe, owned by JP McManus, a super ride and was only collared close to home by the talented Iroko, another wearing those famous McManus green and gold silks and tipped for a big future. He wasn’t fazed by the occasion or daunted by connections and Henderson was impressed. He would book him three more times through April and May.
Morgan is 5ft 11in and there was a recognition within the yard of Ben Pauling, the trainer for whom he worked, that at some point nature would eventually prove impossible to stop and the scales would win this battle. He had, after all, worked ferociously to reach a lowest weight of 10st 9lb in the last year.
But circumstances change. Morgan went on holiday at the end of April to Tenerife and while he did not binge, on his return he realised that he had two days to shift the small matter of 17lb to make the weight on the rides for which he had been booked. The guidance jockeys receive these days on how to manage their weight is incomparable to other eras: they have support every step of the way, information at hand on what work they should be doing in the gym and the best forms of nutrition.
Critically, there is also support at every turn when it comes to helping with mental health issues. Only those who have been in the position of needing to shred every last ounce, starving themselves and driving to the races in sweat suits with the heaters on, will have understood Morgan’s angst and predicament.
He tried to make it work. The support for him within the industry, too, was unfailing, particularly from Pauling. But after four rides this autumn — the last of which was at soggy Plumpton on November 4 — he decided it was all too much.
‘I just couldn’t see myself being able to do it any longer,’ he told The Racing Post. ‘It’s not healthy. I’m not a healthy person at the moment and my body is crying out for help. I haven’t accepted it (is over) quite yet but I put a few things on social media so I couldn’t change my mind.’
Those final words are the crux of it all. In a macho world, Morgan might have soldiered on for longer, hating his situation and making himself unwell but trying not to lose face.
He knows better than anyone that big things are expected of the Champion Conditional and champions aren’t seen as quitters. In time he will realise that changing his mind shouldn’t even be a consideration. Morgan is a young man who knows the industry and is certain to get opportunities in the future.
Most importantly, however, he is a young man who should be proud of all that he has achieved and what he has done.
Speaking out and explaining the challenges that he was facing could not have been easy but he has, without question, been brave. And for that he deserves our admiration.
Morgan, last season’s Champion Conditional Jockey, said he ‘loved every minute’ of his career
Aintree win that meant everything to local lad
Aintree stages many historic races but the BoyleSports Supports Safer Gambling Week EBF Novices’ Hurdle will never be regarded as such.
Try telling that to Jamie Neild, though, who rode Josh The Boss to victory in the contest that opened last Saturday’s card and celebrated as if he had crossed the line first in the Grand National — hooting, hollering and twirling his whip.
The reasons soon became obvious.
Neild, 28, was born in Liverpool and has been going to Aintree for as long as he can remember — his grandparents’ house was not far from the course.
That could have been enough for him but Josh The Boss, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, is owned by his father, John.
Saturday, then, was a huge day for the family and no stone was left unturned.
Aintree officials were pleasantly taken aback last Thursday morning to find Josh and John walking the famous course and ensuring nothing would be left to chance.
So when Josh The Boss scampered away from the final hurdle to justify favouritism, you can imagine the elation around the winner’s enclosure — connections of the horse that wins the 2024 National would be hard pressed to be any happier.
Neild, a handy footballer as a youngster, likened the moment to scoring a goal at Goodison Park for Everton — he is a ‘long-suffering Blue’ by his own admission — but, somehow, it felt even more special.
‘It was always my dream to do this,’ he beamed. ‘Nobody will ever take this away from me.’
Auguste Rodin to race on
Thrilling news from Coolmore that Auguste Rodin will race on next season rather than retire to the breeding sheds.
It is a bold decision, certainly, to keep a horse with his pedigree and c.v. in training when many would have called it a day after his stunning performance at Santa Anita.
Auguste Rodin has won three of the greatest races in the world this year — the Epsom Derby, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Turf — and many will wonder what else there is for him to achieve as a four-year-old.
The thing with Auguste Rodin, however, is that he doesn’t win races by big margins, so there is almost certainly improvement to come. If that happens, he’ll be almost unbeatable over middle distances in 2024. What an occasion it would be if he ended up facing younger stablemate City Of Troy.
Auguste Rodin will ride on next season after three of the greatest races in the world this year