I must admit to having backed Oscar Delta in the Foxhunter Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The 20-1 chance travelled beautifully, jumped the last in front and was all set for victory until unseating his jockey halfway up the run-in, having had a coming together with some tape masquerading as a running rail, handing the prize on a plate to favourite Salsify. Bugger, I thought. (My actual response would have made Ted Walsh blush – I think Clare Balding may have described my language as “fruity”, however bearing in mind I had yet to pick a winner all week, having bet in every race, I think it is understandable.)

My feelings of hope, excitement and expectation had now given way to shock – how can this have happened? – swiftly followed by anger, firstly at the horse, then the jockey, then the woman I saw on the replay standing on her own behind the (cursed) tape who clearly distracted my nag in his bid for glory.

But then I saw the face of hapless Jane Mangan, the teenage pilot of Oscar Delta. She had given the ten-year-old a perfect ride until disaster struck. My punting woes were suddenly put into perspective by the sight of an 18-year-old in tears having had her dreams shattered in the strangest of circumstances.
Needless to say, my next feeling was one of pity – with perhaps a bit of embarrassment, on my part, thrown in for good measure. All in all, it was a rollercoaster of emotions, condensed into ten minutes.

Quite understandably, Ms Mangan was reluctant to come out after the race and talk to the press. Her father, Grand National-winning trainer Jimmy Mangan, was philosophical, pointing out that losing a horserace is of little consequence when there is a jockey – JT McNamara, who suffered a fall in the Kim Muir Chase – lying in a hospital bed in an induced coma with serious neck injuries. The staff at Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder would like to send our very best wishes to JT and his family at this time.

In the midst of excitement at an event like the Cheltenham Festival, it’s all too easy to forget the dangers that jockeys face every time they go out to ride. Yet potential disaster is only ever just around the corner and we must try never to lose sight of this fact.

One man who is definitely concerned with rider safety, amongst other things, is Paul Struthers, Chief Executive of the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), and this month’s ‘Talking To’ interviewee. Struthers was formerly Head of Communications at the British Horseracing Authority but left the organisation under a cloud after apparently being singled out over the fiasco surrounding changes to the whip rules.

His future career in the sport looked uncertain but it’s hard to keep a good man down, as they say, and not long after he had waved goodbye to the folk at 75 High Holborn, Struthers was back as boss of the PJA, negotiating revisions to the very whip rules he had helped to implement. It would be fair to say his new job started more successfully than his old one ended.

One might have thought it would have given Struthers immense personal satisfaction to ‘get one over’ his old employers, so soon after they had cut him adrift. But no.

“There was no satisfaction from the fact I had been at the BHA and then found myself at the PJA,” Struthers tells Tim Richards. “The satisfaction came from resolving a problem that I, as part of a team, was responsible for creating.

“In the two months between jobs, I had time to reflect as a racing fan and punter. I didn’t like seeing the sport I love dragged through the mud. It wasn’t a case of proving my worth at the PJA.

“The bottom line was that [BHA Chief Executive] Paul Bittar had a clear view of how inadequate the rules were, so we were never a million miles apart. There was never any question of claiming the credit.”

In an industry where many people are quick to congratulate themselves, often for doing very little, Struthers’ attitude is certainly a refreshing change.