Maguire's star rising to dizzy heights
Published 20/02/2010 | 05:00
Everything was going so well. On Tuesday afternoon, Jason Maguire travelled to Newcastle for a nice book of rides. Riding high in third place behind the perennial one-two of Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson in the British jockeys' championship, three winners in two days had taken the Meath-born rider's tally to 81.
With nearly 10 weeks left in the season, a maiden century was -- barring injury -- nigh on a formality, and similar luck would have been expected to secure him the bronze medal at season's end. Such eventualities would finally authenticate Maguire's renown as one of the most naturally talented riders in the game.
And so to Newcastle. Riding Seedless for his boss Donald McCain in a maiden hurdle, Maguire's autopilot failed as he led four of the 15 runners the wrong side of a marker with a circuit to run.
On 'At The Races', Derek Thompson, in true 'Tommo' fervour, exclaimed: "They've gone the inside when they should've gone the outside!" It was that simple.
As the senior rider of the damned posse and the one that led the bunch, Maguire was General Custer for the baying masses. This Little Bighorn saw each of the wayward troops condemned to 12 days out of service.
Independent observers offered a strident defence on the riders' behalf, blaming the layout of the track, but Maguire was soon on 'At The Races', cap in hand, white flag aloft. He'd already been around the course in the previous race. There was no excuse.
"Look," he says ruefully 24 hours later, "you could come up with 101 excuses, but we messed up. It's never happened to me before and I'd be hoping I won't let it happen again."
With his rifle decommissioned for most of two weeks from next Thursday and an in-form Tom Scudamore just 17 winners adrift in fourth, coasting home to third place and that maiden century won't be quite the formality now. Those targets are still achievable, though, and Maguire's proximity to both is testament to his ascent of late.
Interestingly, the first person he pays tribute to is Gordon Elliot, an old friend whose cross-channel raids have proved profitable for both men. "Riding for Gordon during the summers has been a massive help," he says. "You can easily get left behind before a season gets going, so a good start gives you a chance for the winter."
While the 29-year-old's raw ability has long been acknowledged, Maguire's progression from the anonymity of midtable obscurity is not before time. On landing in Tom George's Gloucestershire yard as the prodigiously gifted nephew of Adrian Maguire in 1999, a tall reputation went before him.
At home, Maguire had burst on to the scene with all the dash and exuberance of youth, only to find himself treading water when the novelty wore off and his claim was reduced. At George's, he would gradually find his feet again. He developed a level of consistency that saw him ride 30-plus winners in five consecutive seasons, but neither was he hitting the heights that he had once promised.
With the exception of a first Cheltenham Festival success on Galileo in 2002, he was languishing in the comfort zone. George's yard didn't progress on the back of Galileo's triumph, and neither did Maguire. They were going fine, but going nowhere.
Eventually, the duo went their separate ways in 2007, and another door opened. Donald McCain, who had taken over from his father 'Ginger' at the family's Cheshire yard, approached the redundant rider about formalising a relationship that had been casual, but frequent up to that point.
Maguire grabbed the opportunity.
McCain's ambition injected new energy into the yard that once housed Red Rum and Maguire at last found himself with a team of horses at his disposal that his abilities deserved.
"When I was riding for Tom George," he reflects, "it was 30 or 40-odd winners a year, and I wasn't getting much else outside of what I rode for him. The day after it was in the paper that we'd split, I met Donald at Hereford and he offered me the job. He would have only had about 50 horses at the time, but I'd got to know him and we got on well, so I said yes straight away.
"In the winter now he'd be full with around 120 horses and it's a massive help having that kind of ammunition behind you."
Last year that ammunition helped Maguire broach the 50 mark for the first time, and he clocked out with a haul of 70. This term, as he sits atop the table that doesn't include McCoy or Johnson, if you can imagine such a thing, he has leapfrogged riders of the calibre of Timmy Murphy and 'Choc' Thornton.
Asked if he was always confident that he could get this far, Maguire is frank. "I wasn't, no," he admits. "You'd be tipping away and hoping, but when I lost my job, like, where was I going? Freelance looked the only option and that's a hard road to go down and you'd wonder if you're going to be the next fella packing his bags.
"The great thing about falling in with Donald is that he is a very positive man to ride for and that gives you great confidence. So that has probably helped me improve my riding, too."
Now that he has established himself among the top tier, Maguire, who saves special mention for his father Michael and one-time Kilcock permit holder Pat Beirne for keeping him on the straight and narrow in his youth, is setting the bar even higher. After all, McCoy, and Johnson, can't go on forever.
"Getting the 12 days is a kick in the teeth," he reasons, "but the target would still be 100 winners this season.
"After that, who knows? Whenever AP and Dickie step aside, the whole thing is wide open.
"I'd be under no illusions, but someone has to be champion jockey, so why not? Donald's is a big yard and he's not afraid to run them, and that's vital if you're going for a championship. I'd never say never anyway."
Only time will tell if Jason Maguire can one day succeed in the very quest that so cruelly proved beyond his uncle in that epic skirmish with Richard Dunwoody for the 1994 title.
For now, the show moves on to Haydock this afternoon. Best to make the most of what opportunities there are before Thursday.