Former Cheltenham Racecourse boss Edward Gillespie looks at the careers of champion jockeys
FORMER Cheltenham Racecourse boss Edward Gillespie spent 32 years glorious years at the home of jump racing.
Here, in the second of a series of articles, he looks at the careers of champion jockeys.
The names in the record books of the four champion jockeys in the past 32 years are John Francome, Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody and AP McCoy.
Four more varied individuals are hard to imagine, out of the saddle.
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John is truly multi-talented. An outstanding rider across all disciplines, he is also an exceptional player of both tennis and the piano.
He builds houses with his bare hands, writes thrillers and has a nerve and enough skill to accompany Tiger Woods around a golf course.
He gave up after-dinner speaking when it got boring, which was regrettable for those denied his ability to tell a tale, once shocking the 300 guests at the Champion Jockey's Dinner when a punch line required John to stand on the table.
Of all the jockeys I have spent time with, John was number one for keeping an eye out for a young colleague who has been wrongly blamed by a trainer, in front of the disappointed owner, for getting beaten when the horse was plainly not fit.
Once he was back in the changing room, the champion would have an arm round him and a cup of tea in his hand.
Clive Cox trains at John's stables and I hope we can find another way of knowing when to add our support to one of Clive's runners now John will be no longer on the Channel 4 racing team.
Where John is all natural talent, honed by expert tuition and topped off by hours of practice, Peter Scudamore is work, work, work and sheer determination.
His father Michael was a top jockey in his day and Peter applied himself to reaching the top from a very early age.
Wherever there was a chance of a ride and to widen his experience, Peter would be on the way.
That took him to riding for several short seasons in Norway, for example, where he and his father campaigned successfully and are highly respected.
In those years when Peter won race after race from the front on Martin Pipe's super-fit horses, they so dominated the two championships that their competitive edges made it imperative to introduce a third championship – between each other.
Martin would have much pleasure letting Peter know about a couple of winners at the other meeting just as Peter would in getting on a winning spare ride.
It was a match made in heaven for punters looking for thorough preparation and uncomplicated delivery.
Then came a glut of good horses that won the partnership every big Saturday race. They adored each other.
Richard Dunwoody acknowledged he was never going to be champion while Peter was around.
When Peter made the surprising announcement of his retirement, the vacancy with Martin Pipe was too good to turn down and the winners came thick and fast.
As he has proved since with his polar expeditions, for Richard quantity is of far less interest than the quality of the challenge.
Winning the championship with Martin was out of character but something he needed to get behind him.
Winning the Grand National or a top race in USA was far more to his liking.
Not being able to decide for himself when to call it a day and being forced to quit by injury was always going to be a problem for this control-freak.
After he proved he could establish a successful business career that included publishing football programmes, Richard found bigger challenges in the big outdoors.
Sixteen championships and the growing possibility that the magic 300 in a season is still a reality sets AP McCoy well apart from the rest.
Once pain is taken out of the equation, almost anything is within scope.
Seeing the physique of jockeys when all they are wearing is a towel opens the eyes to what these maniacs put themselves through.
There was an evening when Peter Scudamore was referred to hospital when the racecourse doctor could not identify what turned out to be an extra band of muscle in his stomach.
He and others frequently rode with broken collar-bones. Occasionally, a shoulder was not too good either.
April is not a good month for AP's physique.
There's not much to like about it the rest of the year so, unless you are a fan of scars and suffering, avert your eyes.
That all proved to be worthwhile when he exploded with celebration when Don't Push It won his Grand National and Synchronised won the Gold Cup, making the pain bearable for him and for us.
When we lost Synchronised in the Grand National, we very nearly lost AP.
That is a measure of how special he is and how important it is that he reaches 300 this season, next season or very soon after that.
A lifetime of changes have occurred over the past 30 seasons
Graham Lee has achieved the unthinkable this year, riding over 100 winners on the Flat after converting from a successful career as a jump jockey.
This has prompted AP McCoy to consider the necessity of every part of his body as he comes to terms with a weight that makes such an alternative route to extend his riding for another couple of decades impossible.
In comparison with their Flat racing counterparts, jump jockeys have the worst of it for injuries and the inevitable calling of time when they approach 40.
In the 30 years I have seen them at close quarters, their attitude, camaraderie and passion for the sport leave me in no doubt there are many more sporting legends than will be remembered on the championship roll of honour.
In 32 seasons, there have been just four champions.
In 1980-81, John Francome headed the list with 105 winners, a total that had only been exceeded seven times to that date.
That was achieved from 574 rides, the second highest number after Stan Mellor's 608 two decades earlier.
AP McCoy cruised past 105 for this season during November and has already completed well over 500 rides.
The number of jump racing fixtures has changed very little over that period, remaining at around 550, but several major changes have occurred.
When John Francome finished the season in 1981, in was late May and his next ride in the UK would be seven weeks later.
That all changed when summer jumping was introduced.
Opportunities increased by not just seven weeks but by the thinning out of fixtures across the calendar, 50 more on Sundays and an end to those 12 fixtures on Boxing Day which stretched jockey availability to the limit.
Jockeys can now ride at more than 50 per cent of the fixtures, and while self-regulation has been introduced, life-style pressure comes from too much racing rather than not enough.
Their diets and medical support have improved out of all recognition and fitness levels are maintained despite long journeys.
With fixtures spread more evenly though the winter alongside all-weather racing, far fewer are lost to bad weather and, when they are, additional fixtures are scheduled and major races are saved.
Courses are now far better drained and lay frost covers to reduce risk of abandonment.
It can still go horribly wrong, as was the case with the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 when the end of the season was devastated, but generally the top jockeys have far greater opportunity to maximise their winners and income than ever before.
As a result, there are far fewer opportunities for those lower down the pyramid of jockey talent and the number of professional jockeys, currently well below 100, has fallen to less than half the number 30 years ago.
Another factor that may be short-term is the concentration of so many of the top horses in so few yards.
The differential between the value of the most valuable and least valuable races has never been wider and jockeys who are unlikely to get a share of the big money find making a living from the sport incredibly challenging.