George Baker’s riding career was at its peak when he suffered a life-changing fall on the ice at St Moritz in February 2017. Despite the weight issues inevitably associated with jockeys of his height, he had amassed close to 1,400 winners, including six centuries. A coveted first Classic win on Harbour Law in the St Leger the previous autumn had been swiftly followed by another Group 1 success in the Prix Du Cadran on Quest For More, and there was much to look forward to. Life changed in an instant for Baker and his young family, and it was soon apparent that he would never ride again. However, with huge support from his family and friends, as well as from the Jockeys Education and Training Scheme (JETS) and many others within the racing industry, he has reinvented himself in a variety of fulfilling new roles.
Winning the St Leger on Harbour Law the September before my accident was massive for me – it also gave me a wonderful platform for getting media work after I was forced to retire. I’d have loved to have more big-race success, but not many jockeys get to ride an English Classic winner and retiring would have been much harder mentally without having done it. A lot of people were shocked when Harbour Law won, but I’d ridden him all year and it was very much a plan from Laura and Ian Mongan and the owners, and they nailed it.
My weight was always an issue as a rider, but if I hadn’t had the accident I’d have kept going as long as I could because I loved the life. My last full year had been my best and I was in a really good place, with an agreement to ride Bjorn Nielsen’s horses, whichever yard they were in. Stradivarius had just turned three and I could potentially have been his regular rider, although I couldn’t have done the weight when he won the Goodwood Cup.
Since I retired from race-riding my main work has been as a jockey coach, and that’s helped me in so many regards. When I first started, Jamie Osborne let me help out his daughter Saffie, so that’s how I learned my trade. I was a self-employed coach until the opportunity came along to become an employed regional manager a couple of years ago. Then earlier this year I applied for the head of coaching role, which was previously shared by Richard Perham and Kevin Darley, and I started at the beginning of July. JETS played a big part in helping me get my level 2 and level 3 jockey coaching qualifications, and they were extremely helpful in getting me my employed role in the coaching programme.
My broadcasting work with Racing TV coexists brilliantly with my coaching, as I just love watching racing. I first announced my retirement on the ‘Get In’ show on Sky Sports Racing, and then did ‘Luck On Sunday’ on the other channel. I’ve been with Racing TV ever since then really. It was difficult watching racing to begin with as I was thinking ‘I should have ridden that’, but I soon found myself enjoying it from a different viewpoint.
I help out Ed Walker on a part-time basis – that’s another enjoyable part of my racing life. I watch work a couple of times a week and I also help with race planning, and in discussions about how a race might be run. I was riding for him before the accident, when he was in Newmarket, and then when he had to move yards because his lease had run out myself and Simon Marsh put him in touch with Bjorn, who owns the Lambourn stables where he is now. Ed has been great to me and is one of my best mates.
Looking back, I’ve been so lucky from a personal perspective. Obviously, I’ve got a wonderful family, and I received the best possible care in hospital, but the support from the Injured Jockeys’ Fund has been massive and I’m very honoured to be a trustee for them now. It’s a wonderful charity to be involved with. I do nearly all my coaching from Oaksey House, so it’s like a second home now. I’ll never get on a horse again, but I’m mustard on the Equicizer!
The whip has been a major bone of contention in my coaching role, but my take on it is that whether you think the rules are right or wrong, it’s had a very positive effect. It looks so much better
and if you stick to the numbers you can’t go wrong. I agree that Jim Crowley’s ride on Hukum didn’t look bad, but one thing that the jockeys were adamant about was that they wanted things black and white, with no discretion on numbers and so on. Interestingly, Sean Bowen was regularly getting banned before the rules were changed, but he’s worked his arse off to comply with the numbers and just look at him now. He’s completely rebuilt his action and hasn’t had a ban since.
I didn’t use a sauna in my last five years as I found it easier to maintain a constant weight by doing any sweating I needed at home in the bath. That way I’d be prepped for racing before setting off, knowing that I’d done the weight, rather than get my head fried while stuck in traffic worrying I wouldn’t have enough time in the racecourse sauna. That said, I believe there should be an option to use a racecourse sauna. However, that option should be closely monitored to avoid bad practice.
Last winter I went up to 13 stone. I wasn’t in great shape, so I gave myself a kick up the backside. I’d gone down to just over eight and a half stone while I was in hospital, which had prompted Gary Moore to joke that I’d obviously been taking the proverbial through all those years when I’d complained about my weight struggles. I’ve been on a get fit, good food diet since then, and I’m now around 11 stone, which I think is a healthy weight. Tennis helped me get back on my feet, but my movement isn’t good enough still. I’m golfing regularly though. I was okay at it before the accident and rebuilding my game has been the toughest part of the recovery! Thankfully, I’m at last starting to get back to where I was.