Sunday 19 November 2017

Harding farewell - one man who earned his stripes

Brian Harding (left) with One Man and owner John Hales (right) after their victory in the 1998 Champion Chase. Photo: PA
Brian Harding (left) with One Man and owner John Hales (right) after their victory in the 1998 Champion Chase. Photo: PA

Graham Clark

When Brian Harding walks out of the weighing room to ride Anywaythewindblows in the concluding bumper at Perth tomorrow he will be overcome by a mixture of emotions.

One of the most modest and hard-working members of National Hunt racing, for once all eyes will be on the Castletownroche, Co Cork native as it will mark the end of a career spanning 25 years in the saddle.

While showing no signs of his ability deteriorating, with the 44-year-old still as strong at the finish as those half his age, the decision to call it a day was one that in his own eyes was the right one.

Harding said: "It had to happen some time. I have been doing it a long time and I will be 45 in September. The last three years have been some of the best of my life, but I made the decision at the start of the year that this year would be the last one.

"I would rather stop on my terms and work towards the future. It is quite sad, but it had to happen. I am glad in some ways as I've had a full year knowing it is going to happen. If I go out on a winner that would be great, but I am sure that will be hard."

Harding will be forever remembered for giving One Man, trained by the late Gordon Richards, his moment of glory at the Cheltenham Festival in the 1998 Queen Mother Champion Chase, with the hugely popular grey having previously failed in two Gold Cups and a Royal & SunAlliance Chase.

John Hales, owner of One Man, said: "I remember getting a phone call the evening before the Queen Mother. It was Gordon telling me that Tony Dobbin was injured and couldn't ride. He asked me what I was thinking and I asked if he had any suggestions. When I asked him who he was thinking of he didn't hesitate and said that Brian should ride him, he knew the horse and in his mind it made sense. I had no problem going along with it. On the day Brian gave him a brilliant ride, he bounced him out and it was such a great day."

Although One Man is a moment Harding will never forget, there are plenty of other great memories since riding his first winner over jumps aboard Palm House at Kelso in October 1992.

He said: "I was lucky to sit on a horse like One Man. I was not supposed to ride him, but with Dobs getting hurt I got the ride. Those are the sorts of days you dream of. Granit D'Estruval winning the Irish Grand National, that is a moment right up there. The French Furze is a horse I loved, a good little horse that I managed to win the Fighting Fifth on."

But it is a case of one chapter closing and another opening for Harding: "I will still be involved in racing as I will be doing my jockey coaching and I have 15 or 16 on the books so I will still be involved through them. I will be doing my pre-training and breaking them in with my girlfriend Kelly and I will be working hard to get that up and running."

While the fanfare that greeted Tony McCoy in the build-up to his final ride aboard Box Office two years ago may have been missing for Harding, there have been plenty paying tribute to the Corkman, the most notable being Richards.

"He really is a shining light for young up and coming jockeys," he said. "He is a great example of what professionalism and dedication is needed if you want to be successful."

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