Brave riders test the finest line between glory and agony

QUESTION their navigation but never their courage. Question their commitment and hurl abuse when you feel hard-earned money has been lost due to the wrong option being taken. The jockeys are there to be shot down. They are also there to fall down, for it is a game of millimetres.

Thoroughbreds weighing 500 kilograms-plus, racing at speeds of 60kmh, with people weighing 50kg doing the steering are ingredients for mayhem. We saw it last week. Jockeys beating up on each other in pursuit of winners to reward the faithful. The faithful being owners, trainers and punters.

You talk about the fine line and how it is walked. In this case it is ridden and it’s scary. But a jockey will tell when you lose your nerve, it is time to give the game away. Jockeys are probably best off not having any nerves.

For what happened last Wednesday at Rosehill is a reminder that jockeys are a rare breed. One-time champion apprentice Kathy O’Hara was the first to go. Sandwiched between horses, which racing’s police – the stewards – deemed to have moved in and out. The result? O’Hara’s mount struck the heels of a horse which squeezed shut a clear run.

Jockeys tell you that clipping heels is the easiest way to plough into the turf from atop a horse. Emerging apprentice Tom Berry’s navigation into clear running – his shot at victory – near the 300m was deemed by stewards to be 60 per cent blameworthy for O’Hara’s fall. Senior jockey Nash Rawiller’s inward movement made up the rest.

Back in May, Rawiller came a cropper at Canterbury. It, too, was a nasty fall but like with O’Hara, luckily nothing was broken. On that occasion Rawiller was looking for a winning run that wasn’t there.

It is that fine line. The one Hugh Bowman was deemed to have crossed some 40 minutes after O’Hara hit the deck. Bowman bumped the mount of rival Rod Quinn which in turn ended up hitting Jeff Lloyd’s horse. Lloyd’s galloper knuckled over and the jockey flew over the top. Blake Shinn was following and couldn’t avoid the carnage. Nor could Peter Robl, who was following Shinn. Three horses down and as many riders. A tangled mess.

To think it all happened in the time it takes to snap your fingers. Bowman maintained his manoeuvre outwards was executed with the utmost care. Bowman argued it was a move made thousands of times before and one that will continue to be made. For it is all about winning and losing. Had Bowman remained holed up behind horses his mount would not have won.

Robl ended up with a fractured vertebrae, Shinn a fractured wrist, while Lloyd had a black eye, sore hand and severe concussion. The trio are out of action for between two and eight weeks. For Robl it may be longer. He is wearing a neck brace.

And the jockeys view it all so differently from those policing the game. A battered Lloyd told stewards on Friday evening the riders found themselves in "a bit of a freaky situation". Robl harbours no ill will towards anyone, for he stated from a Westmead Hospital bed it was all part of the career choice.

It mattered not for Bowman. Stewards slapped him with a seven-week ban. He intends to appeal the severity. For Rawiller it got worse. At Rosehill on Saturday, he repeated Bowman’s move out from behind horses and caused trouble behind. Horses had to check but none hit the deck. It is the fine line again.

Rawiller told stewards when pleading guilty to careless riding: "I’ve got to completely change my riding style."

A fine line indeed.

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