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|William Hill St Leger|
|Date: Saturday 16 September Time: 15:35 BST Venue: Doncaster racecourse Coverage: Updates on BBC Radio 5 live|
It was the most poignant of times for us to meet.
It is a year to the week after jockey George Baker celebrated a first success in one of flat racing’s five Classics when partnering 22-1 outsider Harbour Law to success in the St Leger.
The memories remain vivid: the odds-on favourite Idaho stumbling and unseating his rider; Baker’s late thrust for victory on Harbour Law; a first win in the prize for a female trainer Laura Mongan.
The joy for members of a small, popular team that they had seen off the “big boys” in the oldest Classic was widespread.
Twelve months on, however, so much has changed.
A crashing fall for Baker when his mount Boomerang Bob was brought down in a race staged on the snow-covered lake at St Moritz, Switzerland in February left the jockey feeling, in his own words, “like an alien at times”.
Baker, who had to be taught how to walk again, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “When I’m walking or I’m doing balance tests, it just doesn’t feel like me trying to do it. It’s strange but I am having to learn to do things again.
“I have to be realistic I am a different person to who I was. Mentally I feel the same, but physically I’m not. I’m improving, but who knows how far the progression will go.
“My wife [Nicola] and my parents will say ‘George is there’; it’s more physically than anything because mentally I’m very lucky, and my personality hasn’t changed.
“My balance has been quite badly affected from it, and it’s just getting around and doing normal things. I couldn’t go for a run at the moment, and I couldn’t ride a racehorse.”
It is believed a crack in the ice caused the incident, in which a total of three horses fell, and Boomerang Bob suffered fatal injuries.
Suffering from bleeding on the brain, Baker, famously Britain’s tallest jockey at 6ft, was treated in the intensive care unit of hospitals in Switzerland and London before having weeks of rehabilitation.
All things considered, it was extraordinary to see him attending the sport’s Royal Ascot in June, and he’ll be back at Doncaster for the St Leger as an ambassador for the new sponsor.
“The big thing has been accepting that at the moment I’m not the same person I was before,” said the 35-year-old.
“I’m lucky because I’m aware of what’s happened, and I can look at it logically.
“I’ve always been a relatively level-headed person, and I’ve been of the impression the whole way through it that there’s no point looking back, and thinking ‘why, what, if, but, maybe’.
“I’ve just been really positive; I’m a jockey, or was a jockey, or want to be a jockey again – whichever way you want to word it – and I was doing my job. It was my decision to do it.”
Baker, the winner of 100-plus races in six of the nine seasons prior to 2017 and rated among the elite jockeys based in Britain, has no memory of the incident, or of the period afterwards.
That is because of post-traumatic amnesia (PTA), the length of which is used to assess the gravity of head injuries that patients have suffered.
Specialists told him that one day of PTA is considered “very bad”; he was in the condition for five weeks.
In contrast, there is nothing wrong with Baker’s recollection of every detail of Harbour Law’s St Leger day.
Like the moment straight after that finish he proudly shouted over to fellow jockey Paul Hanagan: “I can’t believe it, I’ve just won the St Leger”.
He smiles at Hanagan’s response: “Have you – oh, I didn’t realise it was you. Well done, mate”.
|Profile: George Baker|
|Age: 35 Based: Oxfordshire||Victories: Baker has ridden more than 1,000 winners|
|Triumph: Baker’s win in the 2016 St Leger on Harbour Law was his first Classic victory. He finished second aboard Rising Cross in the 2006 Oaks at Epsom||What’s in a name? In 2011, George Baker rode a horse called George Baker, owned by a George Baker, to victory at Leicester for trainer George Baker|
Memories like that make him want to return to the saddle, and when I bring up his words “want to be a jockey again”, the positive attitude which has clearly aided his recovery is straight back.
He said: “It’s an unknown quantity. If you speak to specialists, they say with head injuries, you just don’t know what’s possible. We’ll just have to see what happens.
“I mean that’s the aim [to return to race-riding], but I’m fully aware that I’m a very lucky boy to be in the situation I am in now after what happened to me – that I’m alive – and that my body has dealt with what’s been thrown at it.
“I’ve said this a million times: if someone had said to me when I was in hospital [in March] that I’d be walking around Royal Ascot [in June], I would not have believed it.
“So, anything’s possible – watch this space.”
You can hear more from George Baker on BBC Radio 5 live from 19:00 BST on Thursday
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