Friday, 14 December 2018
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An afternoon with retired steeplechase jockey Jimmy Duggan

Jimmy Duggan is a retired English jockey who did pretty well over the jumps in his riding days, crossing the wire first 311 times in his career. He was born in 1964, in Hillingdon, Middlesex, England, had his first race in 1979 and rode his first winner in 1980.

Jimmy started riding for trainer Roger Fisher and later settled into the barn of the champion trainer and former champion jockey, Fred Winter. Jimmy had a good reputation and started getting on some nice horses. In 1983, at the age of 19, he scored his first big winner in The Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham aboard Amarach.

Jimmy’s most memorable ride came at Aintree in 1986 in the Sandemans Hurdle while aboard a pretty decent horse named Aonoch. Jimmy and Aonoch were taking on three-time reigning champion hurdler, See You Then. The pair battled head and head down the stretch and put on quite a show where Aonoch prevailed by a neck over the champion.

But one of his most disappointing rides also occurred on the same horse. In the 1986 Champion Hurdle, Aonoch was one of the favorites and was expected to put in a good effort. But during the race, Jimmy sensed the horse just didn’t feel right and Aonoch put in a dismal showing.

Later on, it was determined that the horse had taken a shot to the head when another horse fell at the fourth jump in the race. After coming off the track, Aonoch was bleeding from both nostrils and was a bit foggy. It was also determined the horse suffered from bruised hoofs. Aonoch recovered nicely from all his injuries and Jimmy wound up winning on the horse 14 times.

A rough racket

Jump races are tough, period. Up to 40 horses and riders can endure races of few miles in distance that can require a whole lot of jumps over hurdles, water, ditches, birds and other surprises. These jockeys, trainers, and owners seem to have a special and spiritual connection with their horses and treat them like family. But the connections are also as serious as a heart attack about competing and winning.

A lot of horses don’t clear the fences, go down and don’t finish the race. It’s estimated that one out of 10 horses falls during a hurdle race and the rider drops to earth from a height of about 5 feet going roughly 30 mph. And, if your own horse doesn’t crush you like a bug while going down, it seems the other horses trailing behind you don’t mind kicking you down the stretch like a soccer ball.

More ‘Eighth Pole’: Bizarre tales from across the racing world

Like just about every steeplechase jockey, Jimmy has taken his lumps. He’s tasted the grass carpet about 500 times while riding in about 3,500 races and has broken almost every bone in his body, including his sternum, ribs, hands, feet, cheekbones and eye socket. He’s broken his nose at least 14 times and in the prime of his career, Jimmy estimates he found himself in the back of an ambulance once a week.

Not as bad as it looks

Steeplechase racing hasn’t really caught on in the U.S. and some say it’s because of the frequent spills. But over the years I’ve noticed that jump horses and their riders don’t seem to sustain the severe injuries that our “flat” horses and riders do. I asked Jimmy why this might occur.

“It’s all about the surface and speed. All these jump races are run on the grass and there’s usually a fair amount of moisture in the surface and it makes for a bit of a cushion compared to hitting a hard dirt surface. And in comparison to a flat race, where horses can be traveling at over 40 mph, jump horses might slow down to 25 mph at times and the fall is a little easier to endure at the slower speed.”

The roughest ride

Jimmy has endured several rough rides but surprisingly, the roughest one came while holding on for dear life on the back of a subway car, trying to save his dog. Jimmy had been Christmas shopping with his brother and had brought his beloved Highland terrier, Alfie. Both the brother’s arms were full of packages as they tried to exit the train at their stop.

But Alfie got spooked in the chaos, slipped his collar and decided to remain on the train as the doors closed. Jimmy ran alongside the train as he helplessly watched Alfie through the window. As the last car was leaving the station, Jimmy made the irrational decision to leap aboard the back of the moving train. He held onto a thin handrail while maintaining a small toehold on the ledge of the speeding car.

Jimmy held on at speeds of 55 mph and shed off showers of sparks and deafening noise for several miles until he reached the next station and was reunited with Alfie. It was by far the scariest ride of his career, but well worth it.

An easier day

At 28 years old, Jimmy was having trouble maintaining his weight and needed a break from racing. He traveled to California to train, decompress and get his head together. While exercising horses one day at Santa Anita Park, he ran into TVG man and horse trainer Frank Lyons.

Lyons suggested Jimmy get in front of the camera and on the program. Jimmy adapted immediately to a warm audience and had guest appearances on days when Belmont or Saratoga had steeplechase events. He progressed to getting his own show on TVG covering international racing.

Jimmy has had several successful endeavors besides broadcasting. He’s a shrewd businessman and has been involved transporting million-dollar horses all over the world, was the executive vice president for a logistics company and is currently the president of a software company.

But I believe Jimmy Duggan is most at home behind the camera and the microphone. He is the most respected voice around when it comes to steeplechase racing in the U.S. and abroad, and his word is golden among horseplayers. It’s pretty safe to say that Jimmy knows his onions and is one of the most sincere people on television. He’s been a great ambassador for steeplechase racing, and his passion for the sport is unmatched. 

Jimmy resides in California with his beautiful wife of 14 years, Jane, and their 11-year-old daughter Grace. Jane is a professional dressage trainer and rider and Grace spends a good deal of time with her pony, Blackie. Jimmy has a book in the works about his adventures coming out in the near future and it sounds quite interesting.

Want to talk horse racing? Email Pete at redmanontherail@gmail.com.

Source: https://www.thespectrum.com/story/sports/mesquite/2018/09/18/eighth-pole-life-steeplechase-jockey/1280461002/

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