Mick Fitzgerald

Mick Fitzgerald  In recent years, Mick Fitzgerald has become a familiar face as a television presenter, on At The Races, Channel 4 Racing and, more recently, ITV Racing. However, before being forced to retire after breaking his neck, for a second time, in a fall from L’Ami in the 2008 Grand National, Fizgerald enjoyed a stellar career as a National Hunt jockey.

 

All in all, he rode 1,280 winners – 726 of which were for Nicky Henderson – including 14 at the Cheltenham Festival and, although he never won the jump jockeys’ championship, at the time of his retirement he was, numerically, the fifth most successful National Hunt jockey of all time. Fitzgerald had originally intended to retire at the end of the 2006/07 season, but continued riding until his Aintree mishap. His recovery was painful and slow and he finally called time on his 20-year career after taking medical advice.

 

At that time, Nicky Henderson paid tribute to him, saying, “He’s not only been a great jockey, but a great mate; very reliable, a superstar. Stable jockeys are unfashionable these days, but he’s been an exemplary one, loyal, dedicated to the whole operation, utterly professional.”

 

Fitzgerald rode his first winner, Lover’s Secret, at Ludlow in 1988, but gradually established himself in the upper echelon of National Hunt jockeys and enjoyed associations with Paul Nicholls and, of course, Nicky Henderson. His career highlights included winning the 1996 Grand National on Rough Quest, after which he told Des Lynam, “Sex us an anti-climax after this”. He was leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival twice, in 1999 – when he won the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Call Equiname, for Henderson, and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on See More Business, for Nicholls – and again in 2000.

Toby Balding

Toby Balding  The late Gerald Balding OBE, universally known as “Toby”, was the elder brother of the Ian Balding, who saddled Mill Reef to win the Derby in 1971, and a highly successful trainer in his own right. In fact, he had the rare distinction of saddling the winner of the three most important races in British National Hunt racing, the Grand National (twice), the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle.

 

Born in the United States, Balding first took out a training licence, while still a teenager, in 1956. His first major success came with Highland Wedding, ridden by Eddie Harty, who won the 1969 Grand National by 12 lengths. Two decades later, Balding repeated the feat with Little Polveir, who won the 1989 renewal of the Aintree marathon by 7 lengths under Jimmy Frost.

 

The previous month, Balding had saddled his first winner of the Champion Hurdle, Beech Road, ridden by Richard Guest, who sprang a major surprise by beating Celtic Shot by 2 lengths at 50/1, with 11/8 favourite Kribensis only seventh of the twelve finishers. His second winner, Morley Street, in 1991, was sent off 4/1 favourite and duly obliged, beating Nomadic Way by 1½ lengths under Jimmy Frost.

 

In 1992, Balding saddled outsider Cool Ground, ridden by his protégé Adrian Maguire, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at 25/1. The result was controversial insofar that many observers believed Golden Freeze, the rank outsider at 150/1, was ridden with the deliberate intent of unsettling hot favourite Carvill’s Hill, who eventually finished well beaten.