Back in 2003, promising Flat jockeys Paul Hanagan and Keith Dalgleish finished the season with 64 winners apiece. Both looked set for a bright future. The former went on to claim two jockeys’ championships and become number one rider to leading owner Hamdan Al Maktoum. The latter quit the saddle a year later.
Dalgleish certainly had the talent to succeed in his first career – recognised as a potential star by trainer Mark Johnston, he was handed opportunities aplenty, bagging a Group 1 prize on Yavana’s Pace whilst still a teenager and enjoying high profile victories at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.
Yet unlike Hanagan, who recently secured his first success at the top level in Britain aboard July Cup conqueror Mayson, Dalgleish struggled to overcome the obstacle that has caused so many jockeys, from Fred Archer to Johnny Murtagh, such despair: his weight.
He may have been regularly riding at 8st 10lb but, unsurprisingly, Dalgleish did not enjoy forcing his 6ft body to waste ahead of the racecourse. It became too much for the young man and, aged just 21, he retired.
“My life now is what I would consider as normal and I’m much happier, which isn’t surprising when you consider that I was never eating properly,” Dalgleish tells Tim Richards.
“As a jockey you are in that little bubble where you think life is normal, but it’s not. The odd time if I wasn’t riding on a Sunday I would have a meal on the Saturday night, but that would ruin my weight for a whole week.
“Nowadays I can enjoy going out and not having to worry about what I eat; no big deal to normal everyday people, I know, but when you have spent an important part of your life wasting and watching your diet it’s a big plus.
“I’m about 15st now, so I have put on six and a half to seven stone. When I packed in riding the great thing was being able to eat what I wanted when I wanted. Nowadays it doesn’t really enter my head.”
Those of us who follow racing or work in the sport know that jockeys have to be light to do their job but hearing someone describe how just one meal can throw everything into disarray brings home the level of sacrifice some have to make on a daily basis.
A Derby winner may ease the discomfort of an empty stomach but Joseph O’Brien is one of those Flat riders whose body may yet have the final say.
Thankfully, Dalgleish was not lost to the sport and if the first two years and plethora of winners are anything to go by, his nascent career as a trainer will yield plenty of happy days.
On the subject of new beginnings, it was heartening to see the BHA and Betfair putting aside past grievances and embracing each other following the signing of a funding deal that guarantees a minimum of £40 million to racing over the next five years.
After all, it was only in February in this magazine that Martin Cruddace, Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer at Betfair, slammed the BHA for “getting into bed” with William Hill in bringing judicial action against the Levy Board, likened Chairman Paul Roy to a character from The Muppets and claimed British racing was heading for “catastrophe”.
The new agreement has seen the BHA withdraw from the judicial action against the Levy Board’s decision that betting exchange users are not liable to pay levy – in which Betfair is an interested party – leaving William Hill as the sole claimant.
So what does Cruddace now have to say about the BHA Chairman?
“I would like to personally thank Paul Roy and those who have represented racing for the time and energy they have invested in helping us all work together to bring about this deal,” he said.
For a real example of “investing energy” in racing, look no further than Dalgleish and co.