Box Office, Sandown Park
25 April 2015
Two jumps from home the realisation hit me.
I’d been holding Box Office on the inside of a tightly bunched field and he was going well. After clearing the third last I eased across to the outside tucking in behind Richard Johnson, whom I could see was building to a strong finish on Brother Tedd and I wanted to go with him. Box Office was strongly in contention coming round the final bend for home and I was sensing a winner. As we approached the second last, however, both Brother Tedd and Grand Maestro began to pull away from the pack and, jumping in third place and coming up the hill towards the finish, it became clear that Box Office didn’t have an answer on the day.
It was only then, when I had to reluctantly admit to myself the race was lost, that something other than the thunder of hooves and the rhythm of my own breathing muscled in on my thought process.
This is it, said a voice in my head, this really is the end.
I was now a matter of seconds away from the moment all the numbers stopped for ever. My career total of National Hunt winners would remain at 4,348 after this, my 17,546th ride. I’d never add to my twenty champion jockey titles; I’d never win another Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup. All the stats, the numbers that had governed my life for the last two decades, they were just a few hundred yards from being stilled for ever. My whole career, my whole adult life even, had been built on making those numbers click upwards as fast as I could but in a little over a couple of furlongs they would never move again.
I cleared the final fence of my racing career, saw the two leaders pull further away and became aware of a couple of horses in the corner of my vision. There was no way they were getting past. Box Office might not have had enough left in the tank to win that day but I was sure as hell that I’d ride the final furlongs of my career as hard as any I’d ever ridden before. I’d clocked up somewhere in the region of 40,000 miles of racing during my career, equivalent to going twice around the world, and now I gritted my teeth, reached for my stick and knuckled down for the last two furlongs of my racing life.