One-eyed jockey has the vision to deliver a winner
At about the same time that the Jockey Club’s acrimonious parting of ways with its chief executive was becoming a public mud-slinging match on Sunday, another jockey club doubled its membership when, with real mud flying, Dr Guy Mitchell won an amateur riders’ race at Goodwood on the 50-1 shot The Game Is On.
Mitchell, a 46-year-old GP from Pulborough in West Sussex who is racecourse doctor at Goodwood, Ascot and Fontwell, was having only his fourth ride in public when he became the first jockey with only one eye to ride a winner under rules.
“I don’t think much about having one eye,” he says without a hint of bitterness that for 30 years he was denied a licence. “I find it far more remarkable that I’m 46 and doing it. That’s the achievement. For a day or two, it was the best thing ever.”
The other member of this select club of jockeys with important but obviously not essential body parts missing is Guy Disney, an amputee who lost his leg below the knee in a rocket attack in Afghanistan. Disney has since won both the Grand Military and Royal Artillery Gold Cups over jumps.
Ultimately, however, the first winning post for both men was actually being allowed to ride. While the fight to compete was shorter and more intense for Disney, Mitchell had been trying intermittently since he was 16.
He lost his eye at the age of three when a tumour was removed from behind it. “Adversities,” he says, “are the making of you.” His disability did not stop him doing anything until, at medical school, he quit rugby after fracturing the socket of his good eye in several places when, trying to grab a low pass during a training session, he ran into the point of an opponent’s shoulder. “That got me in a lot of trouble with my mum,” he says.
One imagines he has a terrific bedside manner and the patients of Pulborough are set a good example by their doctor’s levels of fitness. He is even a member of the “Mad Men of the Windy Mountain” club for those who have cycled up Mount Ventoux – which breaks cyclists and bikes in equal measure as a summit finish on the Tour de France – three times in a day.
The son of an Epsom trainer, Mitchell first attempted to get his licence – in those days from the Jockey Club – while at school, but was turned down. He tried again at university and, still riding out once a week, was finally cleared to ride last year after going to the British Horseracing Authority’s chief doctor, Dr Jerry Hill, asking for a pragmatic discussion about it, as time was running out. Not much different from driving up a motorway, he reasoned.
Mitchell downplays his job as a racecourse doctor as “pre-hospital sports medicine” rather than “arriving by air ambulance in an orange jump suit ready to save the world”. His initial assessment includes checking for potential spinal injury and clear airways.
The racecourse doctor is usually the first person a fallen jockey takes his frustration out on.
“It’s a pretty good indication their airways are clear when they tell you to ‘p--- off ’ in no uncertain terms,” he says of the primary diagnostic technique, which he knows not to take personally. Knowing that he has carried out 1,000 vasectomies, I would be more respectful.
On one occasion he put David Crosse’s shoulder back in two minutes after the jockey had dislocated it at Ascot and signed him off. When he saw that Crosse had gone to the trouble of being cleared by another doctor to ride the next day, he thought there must be good reason and invested heavily on the horse he was riding. It did not win, but drilled home the point that racecourse doctors are not dealing with normal people.
He is also sure that the indestructible AP McCoy codded him that he was fine when he was broken. That, however, is a far bigger club than the one he finally joined on Sunday.
Job done: Guy Mitchell, who lost his right eye when he was three, has realised his dream