'I hoped I could ride again, but it's too dangerous' - Retired jockey Davy Condon on retirement
Davy Condon admits to "feeling lost" about what the future holds after the spinal injury that he aggravated in a fall in the Grand National prompted medical advice that he never sit on a horse again.
The immensely talented and popular 30-year-old's 14-year riding career is over following his fall from Portrait King at the third-last fence in the £1m Aintree spectacle on April 11. He was left motionless on the famous Liverpool turf, having suffered short-term paralysis for the second time in a year.
When he spoke to this paper last week, the dual Cheltenham Festival and nine-time Grade One-winning rider acknowledged that he might not ride again after what was believed to have been a second incidence of spinal concussion due to a bulging disk, the first having occurred when he fractured two vertebrae when Flaxen Flare crashed under him at Cork in August.
That fear has now been realised following an appointment with consultant neurologist Dr Brian Murray. "I was half expecting it," Condon admitted. "I hoped I'd still be able to ride out but it's too dangerous. The disk with the problem is near the top of my spine between the C3 and C4 vertebrae. It is behind my tongue, so they are going to have to fuse it or take it out. I won't know until I meet the surgeon in Beaumont. The consultant explained that the fall in Cork was spinal shock, but the fall in Aintree was a spinal injury, not a shock, so I actually damaged the spinal cord this time. He said that I probably wouldn't be so lucky a third time."
In a Turf Club statement, the regulator's chief medical advisor Dr Adrian McGoldrick confirmed: "Dr Murray has recommended that Davy retire from horse riding, be it professional or recreational, due to the risk of further spinal injury."
Cruelly, Co Cork-born Condon's predicament echoes that of his father Mike, who in 1990 spent two months in a coma after a point-to-point fall that would deny him the chance to sit on a horse again.
The night before Condon's fall, Robbie McNamara suffered serious injuries at Wexford. McNamara, whose first cousin John Thomas is paralysed from the neck down following a Cheltenham fall in 2013, has no feeling in his lower body, and Condon visited him after his own grim diagnosis on Tuesday.
"I wasn't too bad about it at first," he said yesterday of receiving what constitutes a life-changing development. "Straight afterwards I went to see Robbie and he said that he was glad that they had said what they had, because he felt I would have ended up in a bed beside him otherwise.
"It has hit me harder today, though. Ever since I was able to walk I was up on a donkey or a pony, so I am feeling a bit lost and upset. I don't know what I will do. I will have the surgery and take the summer off to have a think about it. I never fell out with anyone in racing, so hopefully that will stand to me."
A supreme stylist, Condon rode around 400 winners, having initially been pitched into the limelight as an apprentice when Willie Mullins entrusted him with the ride on the quirky Holy Orders in the 2003 Melbourne Cup. His first major jumps and Cheltenham Festival winners were also for Mullins courtesy of Homer Wells in the 2007 Thyestes Chase and Ebaziyan in that year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
In recent years he has enjoyed tremendous success with Noel Meade and Gordon Elliott, with whom he combined for a second Ladbroke Hurdle win aboard Bayan at Ascot on his return from his Cork fall in December.
"I have no regrets," stressed Condon, who enjoyed his best season last term with 37 winners. "Every move I made in racing always worked out for me until now. Not being able to go out on my own terms doesn't feel nice, though."
Elliott was among those to pay tribute to Condon on social media. "Davy has been an integral part of the team and has ridden some of the biggest winners I have had," he wrote. "He is a very popular person in the industry and here at Cullentra. We all wish him the very best of luck with whatever he chooses to do next. Thanks for everything Davy, we've had some great memories together."
Condon said that he is out of his neck brace and feels better every day. He plans to attend next week's jockeys' end-of-season bash at Punchestown, which is being held in aid of Robbie McNamara. Also confirmed for Punchestown are Colin Tizzard's Thistlecrack and Cue Card, first and second respectively in Aintree Grade Ones.