How my bat­tle to sur­vive was won

Jockey Ge­orge Baker tells how he over­came a hor­ror fall in St Moritz

Racing Ahead - - JONATHAN POWELL - Tak­ing My Time, the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Ge­orge Baker, is pub­lished at £20 by the Rac­ing Post.

The di­ag­no­sis could hardly have been bleaker af­ter Ge­orge Baker sus­tained life threat­en­ing head in­juries in a high speed fall rac­ing on the ice at St Moritz in Fe­bru­ary 2017. Fast for­ward 19 months and here he is forg­ing a de­served rep­u­ta­tion as one of the best and most in­tel­li­gent of rac­ing an­a­lysts on RUK and ITV.

In ad­di­tion he is shortly to take on the tax­ing role as the agent book­ing rides for James Doyle and Wil­liam Buick, two of his for­mer col­leagues in the weigh­ing room.

Baker’s in­spired re­cov­ery is beau­ti­fully doc­u­mented in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy

Tak­ing My Time which was pub­lished ear­lier this month.

As a trus­tee of the In­jured Jock­eys Fund who moved rapidly to help in the dark­est hours while he was in in­ten­sive care in the Alps and later on his re­turn to this coun­try, I have fol­lowed his dogged progress to­wards a nor­mal life with keen in­ter­est. I knew about some of the dif­fi­cul­ties he faced as he found him­self hav­ing to learn even the sim­plest func­tions like walk­ing, talk­ing, get­ting out of bed and boil­ing a ket­tle. Yet un­til I read this book I didn’t have a clue about all the chal­lenges he has had to over­come with the lov­ing sup­port of his wife Ni­cola and his own res­o­lute tough­ness of spirit. The se­vere mem­ory loss and er­ratic be­havioural pat­terns are thank­fully a thing of the past but at dif­fer­ent stages of his test­ing jour­ney to re­store his health he con­cedes that he was in turn con­fused, de­pressed, an­gry and down­right ter­ri­fied. One of the hard­est mo­ments was com­ing to terms with the un­de­ni­able truth that he would not be re­turn­ing to his for­mer life as a top Flat jockey which yielded over 1,300 win­ners. His finest mo­ment had come in vic­tory on Har­bour Law in the St Leger at Don­caster in Sep­tem­ber, 2016. Given that he is six feet tall Ge­orge Baker had de­fied na­ture for many years as one of the finest jock­eys of his gen­er­a­tion be­fore the fall that al­most ended his

life. He is bright, too, as I re­call from the first time I in­ter­viewed him. He and John Fran­come are the only jock­eys I know who read the Times each morn­ing. They also share a well de­vel­oped sense of the ridicu­lous which was just as well for Baker in the tor­tu­ous months that fol­lowed his fall.

All he can re­mem­ber now is mak­ing progress down the back straight at St Moritz be­fore the lights went out. His mount Boomerang Bob fell and broke a leg as he put his foot through the ice where there was a weak­ness in the track.

When the horse’s trainer rushed to help he found his jockey con­scious at first but un­able to speak. Not was he re­spond­ing to the words of the medics.

He was put in an in­duced coma and a piece of tape placed across his eyes to keep them shut be­fore he was air­lifted 50 miles north of St Moritz to a hos­pi­tal where he was given a brain scan.

When his wife Ni­cola ar­rived she was told her hus­band was no longer in a coma but was warned that she would no­tice there was some­thing very dif­fer­ent about him.

Ni­cola’s tes­ti­mony in the book is both heart-rend­ing and com­pelling and she quickly came to ap­pre­ci­ate that he was in the best pos­si­ble place since the hos­pi­tal was used to deal­ing with sim­i­lar emer­gen­cies that had oc­curred on the nearby ski slopes.

As she con­tin­ued her vigil be­side Ge­orge’s bed­side he be­came very agi­tated, pulling at his hair and his scans, claw­ing at the catheter in­serted by the doc­tors and cru­cial mon­i­tors – which were then moved to his feet where he couldn’t get at them.

Soon he took a turn for the worse. Even in his more lu­cid mo­ments he wasn’t mak­ing much sense and he would play with his mo­bile phone for hours, press­ing the keys but un­able to make any calls be­cause Ni­cola had sen­si­bly drained the bat­tery.

Ni­cola re­lates that the fe­male nurses had their own is­sues to deal with be­cause the part of Baker’s brain that deals with sex­ual thoughts had been af­fected. Thus he be­came an ab­so­lute pest, ask­ing out ev­ery sin­gle nurse and telling them they were all gor­geous. When one re­sponded that she al­ready had a boyfriend he replied, “Do you want an­other one.”

The re­sults of a key MRI scan re­vealed that he had suf­fered numer­ous bleeds on the brain, and was suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic am­ne­sia. That is con­sid­ered se­ri­ous if it lasts for 24 hours. Ge­orge Baker would re­main in that state for four weeks.

Thanks to his own com­pre­hen­sive in­sur­ance pol­icy he was able to be flown home in a pri­vate jet and taken by am­bu­lance to the Welling­ton Hos­pi­tal in St John’s Wood.

The In­jured Jock­eys Fund was with him ev­ery step of the way, prac­ti­cally and fi­nan­cially and within a week we heard the good news that he was able to move to the other side of the hos­pi­tal where he be­gan ther­apy al­most im­me­di­ately.

It is eas­ier to tell this story be­cause it has a happy end­ing even though Ge­orge will never ride in a race again.

Yet there is a last­ing re­gret that he can­not re­mem­ber the early months of his daugh­ter Is­abella. He has been busy mak­ing up for lost time with her and Ni­cola.

I cher­ish the chat I had with him in the sum­mer of 2017 as we sat in the gar­den at Oak­sey House in Lam­bourn. Baker had just fin­ished his lat­est ses­sion of phys­io­ther­apy. He was walk­ing again, a shade un­steadily per­haps, but his fo­cus was clear and his re­solve un­shak­able. Once a use­ful golfer, he was learn­ing to swing a club again, with some dif­fi­culty, and spoke of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to re­gain his driv­ing li­cence. He added that John Fran­come en­cour­aged him to take up ten­nis and reg­u­larly prac­tised with him even though his bal­ance was at first a ma­jor hin­drance.

Most of all he wanted to thank the IJF for their sup­port from day one.

“Noth­ing has been too much trou­ble for your chief ex­ec­u­tive Lisa Han­cock and her team”, he as­sured me. “They have or­gan­ised every­thing. For five weeks af­ter my fall I was unaware of what was go­ing on. Dur­ing that time the IJF sup­ported Ni­cola so much. I can­not thank them enough. I re­ally mean it.

“To have had such a great sup­port net­work has been a mas­sive help. Ob­vi­ously it helped that I was young and fit but by be­ing so quick to re­act and then through every­thing that has been done for me since the ac­ci­dent, the IJF has been in­stru­men­tal in my re­cov­ery.

“The team at Oak­sey House has been fan­tas­tic. While the phys­i­cal re­hab I’ve had was mas­sively im­por­tant, be­ing able to deal with the men­tal side has been a very big thing. In a sit­u­a­tion like mine you need the best treat­ment. I got it”.

Ear­lier this month Baker wrote an in­for­ma­tive, thought pro­vok­ing col­umn in the Rac­ing Post who chose to high­light his views on whip penal­ties.

Given his life chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at St Moritz his pas­sion­ate, well ar­gued ar­ti­cle at the foot of the page on the need for many more jock­eys to take out med­i­cal in­sur­ance should be com­pul­sory read­ing for ev­ery rider in the busi­ness.

He rea­sons: “I know pri­vate in­sur­ance isn’t cheap and there is a scary num­ber of rid­ers who don’t have it. A lot of peo­ple go out ev­ery day think­ing they are never go­ing to need it.”

No won­der he is amazed that around only 25 per cent of jock­eys have pri­vate med­i­cal in­sur­ance. It is a dis­turb­ing statis­tic for a sport that re­quires an am­bu­lance to fol­low ev­ery race.

To have had such a great sup­port net­work from the in­jured jockey fund has been a mas­sive help

Boomerang Bob and Ge­orge Baker (se­cond left) be­fore crash­ing at St Moritz

John Fran­come

Medics pre­pare Ge­orge Baker for air­lift­ing from the frozen lake at St Moritz fol­low­ing his fall from Boomerang Bob

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