The Grand National 2014: Ryan Mania on how to ride a winner

Ryan Mania won the Grand National at his first attempt last year – and almost broke his neck in his very next race

HOW TO WIN THE GRAND NATIONAL 

1. Have a dummy run

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We built replicas of the Grand National fences and schooled Auroras Encore on them. He enjoyed jumping them in training, so when he jumped the first one in the race it wasn’t a surprise.

2. Follow the leader

Last year I remember lining up behind Ruby Walsh and thinking that was a very good place to be! He’s won it twice, so I stuck behind him until he jumped a fence slowly and I managed to overtake him and push on. That was my plan and it worked perfectly.

3. Stay in touch

As the race was unfolding [around three fences from home], I was perfectly placed, three or four back. The horse was in his comfort zone and had something to chase, and I could see the race unfolding in front of me.

4. Take a breather

Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies once said he beat me on this course by giving his horse a breather between Becher’s Brook and the canal turn on the second lap. This time I remembered what he’d said and when I got to Becher’s the second time around, I backed off, which meant the horse had a bit left in the tank for the run-in.

5. Don’t rein him in

Sometimes your horse will go roaring out in front too soon. But you’re worse off trying to rein him in as you’ll use up more of his energy if he’s fighting you. Best to let him go until he gets into his stride.

6. Be lucky!

You can run into trouble anywhere on the Grand National course. You could be having the perfect trip and yet be taken out by another horse falling. I was lucky last year, in that nothing was going on around me and I had a virtually clear round.

OR BACK THE WINNER…

– The luckiest racing silks are blue or green. over the past century, 44 per cent of winning jockeys wore blue or green silks (including Ryan Mania last year — and he’ll be wearing predominantly blue again on Mr Moonshine).

– All of the past ten winners had run in at least ten steeplechase races before going on to win.

– Thirteen of the past 20 horses to win the race have been aged either nine or ten.

– No horse has managed to carry more than 11st 6lb to victory since red rum won his third National in 1977, carrying 11st 8lb — and aged 12!

This is not a joke: never have the ups and downs of life as a jump jockey been more dramatic. One day Ryan Mania was crossing the finishing line at Aintree aboard the winner of last year’s Grand National, the next he thought he’d broken his neck.

“I went from the incredible high and euphoria of a completely unexpected win in my first Grand National ride to watching replays of my big moment from a hospital bed, not knowing if I’d ever be able to ride again,” recalls Mania. He had romped to Aintree glory on 66–1 rank outsider Auroras Encore before coming crashing back to reality the very next day at Hexham racecourse in a horrific fall.

On the day of last year’s National, everything had gone to plan for the 23-year-old jockey from Galashiels. “The horse was in great shape and I was very relaxed because we weren’t expecting to win,” he says. “The idea was just to get him round. The sun had come out that week and I’d noticed a change in the horse because he loves a bit of sunshine on his back. It was sunny on the day of the race and I could tell he was alert, with a real spring in his stride. But I still didn’t expect to win, so I was in complete shock after he flew the last part of the course and we crossed the line first.”

After such a stunning victory in the world’s most prestigious steeplechase, most jockeys would have given themselves the weekend off. But Mania was back riding the next day. “I was given the option not to ride, but I thought, ‘No, this is my job, I’ll go and ride another winner at Hexham’.”

Less than 24 hours after clasping his winner’s trophy at Aintree, Mania was well placed on Stagecoach Jasper in the 3.10pm at Hexham. Suddenly, after clearing a hurdle, the horse stumbled and fell, throwing him to the turf – where he was kicked on the back of the neck by a following horse. “The first few seconds were really scary,” says Mania softly. “I knew I’d taken a pretty big whack. Initially I didn’t have any feeling in my legs, which was very frightening. But the weirdest thing was that I felt like I was floating. It was like an out-of-body experience. I could see my body lying there, but I felt like I was hovering above it.”

Mania was attended to on the course for half an hour by doctors and paramedics before being airlifted to Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. “I was lying there injured, yet all the doctors were still congratulating me as they were examining me,” he says.

After an anxious 24 hours he was diagnosed with a fracture in his vertebra – not nearly as serious an injury as had been feared. So, was his fall caused by excessive Grand National celebrations the night before?

“No, I hadn’t even had one drink,” he laughs. “It was only a week later when I managed to get a drink in. It was just a freak accident where my horse cleared the jump but unfortunately stumbled. I couldn’t blame the horse, as it was the one behind that stood on me!”

Mania was detained in hospital for two nights, during which he became the centre of a media storm. “It was surreal because I was lying in my bed watching a live report on the news that showed hordes of press camped outside the hospital. Reporters and photographers were trying to sneak into my room so the staff changed my name on the door to ‘John Smith’. Then when I left hospital, the paparazzi were waiting and followed me all the way back in the car. It just shows you how sick this country is, because they wouldn’t have shown any interest in me if I hadn’t got injured.

“That was my first taste of celebrity life. And to be honest, I hope it’s the last.”

That hope may prove forlorn if Mania wins on Saturday on another outsider, Mr Moonshine, which was pulled up last year. No jockey has won back-to-back Nationals since Brian Fletcher on Red Rum in 1973 and 74. If he does confound the odds, we trust he’ll take a day off to celebrate this time.

Auroras Encore retired this year. Stagecoach Jasper was fine after its fall and is still racing 

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