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Interview: Local Flat jockey Jimmy Fortune on his career and why he decided to retire

Jimmy Fortune - at home Jimmy Fortune - at home Flat jockey Jimmy Fortune did not want his last race to be a wet September evening's Nursery Handicap qualifier on an all-weather track.  So he was very pleased when trainer John Gosden gave him his last ride at Newmarket on Nathra in the Group One Sun Charriot Stakes on October 7 - the day he announced his retirement.

It was a race he had won in 1999. This time Fortune and Nathra came home third behind Roly Poly and the grey filly Persuasive.

He must have had a smile last Saturday (October 21) when Persuasive - also trained by Gosden and ridden in both races by Frankie Dettori - went on to win the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.

Before his final ride: a hug from Frankie Dettori as Jimmy Fortune prepares for Newmarket's Group 1 Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes  (Photo from Twitter)Before his final ride: a hug from Frankie Dettori as Jimmy Fortune prepares for Newmarket's Group 1 Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes (Photo from Twitter)Jimmy Fortune is 45 with some 1,800 winners to his name: "I'd loved to have stayed in racing and ride out every morning, but my back wouldn't stand it anymore."  Now he is looking for a new venture and looks forward to spending more time with his two late-teen sons.

Originally from County Wexford, Fortune has had a long and successful career in racing.  Always racing mad, he started working for trainer Jim Bolger when he was fifteen.  Since then he has ridden for so many great trainers and so many great races on so many great horses.

He lives in Shalbourne - his kitchen still has plenty of copies of the Racing Post in evidence.  He has not yet quite switched off the racing bug.  Over a cup of tea, asked him what he considered the highpoint of his riding career: "There's been so many - leading jockey at Royal Ascot, leading jockey at Glorious Goodwood, winning the Fillies Mile and the QE2 on the same day."

"And yes, for sure, the 2007 St Leger on Lucarno - my first and only Classic win.  There's a lot of great memories."

Those memories go back to when he was a 16-year-old and rode Joveworth, the 50-1 winner of the Ayr Gold Cup in 1989.  He was champion apprentice in 1990.

After riding for Joveworth's trainer Mike O'Neill, for seven years he was John Gosden's preferred jockey at Manton - Gosden trained Lucarno.  He rode for owner Robert Sangster, for trainers Luca Cumani, Brian Meehan and many, many more.  

He has ridden horses like Agent Murphy, Tullius and Quest for More.  And further back Oasis Dream, Raven's Pass (who he rode in ten races - winning four of them), Side Glance, Serious Attitude, Coastal Bluff, For the Present and Commander Collins.

He had spells riding in Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau. And in the days before Britain had all-weather tracks and the Flat season ended in November and restarted in April, he spent many winters racing in India - alongside Lester Piggott, Richard Hughes, Kieren Fallon, Mick Kinane and Christie Roach.  

You get the impression he would have preferred to carry on wintering in India: "When all-weather tracks were introduced here they were frowned for a time - I'm not a fan of all-weather racing."

"Racing in India is much rougher than it is here - you have to be alert all the time. It really sharpens you up as a jockey.  It was the making of Silvestre de Sousa." Again, he must have had a smile or two when Silvestre de Sousa was crowned Stobart Champion Flat Jockey of 2017 at Ascot on Saturday.

Fortune really enjoyed his time in India: "I rode for some wonderful people and made some good friends."  He has especially fond memories of Mumbai's race course: "It's big and bit similar to Ascot - a mile-and-a-half run with a two-to-three furlong run in.  I enjoyed that."

And India brings us again to Jimmy Fortune's very unfortunate back problem.  Twenty-six years ago - that is well before jockeys wore back protectors - he had a horrible fall on one of India's rock hard courses.  He damaged three discs.

Much later, after his back went into spasms following a race in Ireland, he underwent an operation.  It was successful and the problem was solved.

Then two years ago he had a nasty fall at Royal Ascot and fractured 'a few vertebrae' - amazingly he was back in the saddle within two months.

This year saw a most unwelcome lay-off after a young horse he was riding at Newbury started some serious 'fly-leaping' - when horses put their heads down and do vertical leaps which jerk a jockey around.  Jimmy Fortune's back muscles went into spasms.  That day he got through his three rides on the trot with the help of the physiotherapist.  That was a Friday.

On Saturday morning he could not get out of bed. It was the start of three months - a whole summer's racing - laid off with all sorts of treatments.  He went to see a surgeon: "He couldn't pinpoint the cause, but said it wasn't to do with the old injuries. I tried to come back five times, but each time I rode out, I'd be struggling next day."

"With physio three or four days a week I could get it right, but couldn't keep it right.  In that state you can't be around racehorses - you'd be a danger to yourself and everyone else. Even if I got it right, I couldn't put the workload in to be competitive. As a freelance jockey it's very difficult for people to put you up if you're not 100 per cent fit."

So, after some very careful thought, he decided to retire:  "I've been incredibly lucky - I've had thirty years in the game. I'm extremely lucky - especially when you think of jockey's like Freddy Tylicki."
Tylicki suffered major paralysis after a four-horse pile-up at Kempton almost a year ago.  Now in a wheelchair, he concentrates on his recovery and writes a column for the Racing Post and this week he wrote about the retirement of 'the great Jimmy Fortune':

"He was a true professional who you would be happy to follow in a race, but somebody you would not want to get into a finish with because he was so strong.  I wish him and his boys the very best of luck for the future."

Manton trainer Brian Meehan, for whom Fortune often rode, calls him 'a good man': "He tells you what he thinks when he gets off a horse - there're no frills.  He was a physically strong rider - a great man at the finish - once he's into the drive position there's none better."

Now - we have a rather delicate and tiny problem with this emphasis on Fortune's finishing strengths.  He does not want people to think that was all he excelled at.  And though he would never boast, he was obviously an all-round brilliant horseman and a good race tactician - you do not get to dispute the run to the line without tactics.

Moving on from tactics, what strategy does he have for the future? "I'm taking a break first. I fancy being involved in property - of some sort...[he smiles]...It's less risky than horses!"  


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