Rowing across the Atlantic and horseracing are not obvious sporting bedfellows, but the two come together this afternoon at Plumpton's Spinal Research charity day. A series of unconnected events over the last six years have brought them together.
In 2005 17-year-old Hugo Turner crushed his C7 vertebra in a diving accident in Cornwall. He suffered major damage to his spinal cord and required neck surgery before learning to walk again. Six years on he is putting the accident behind him and rowing across the Atlantic in a four-man team including his twin brother and two other former Loughborough University students.
In December 2008 racehorse owner Andy Stewart was about to head off to watch his horse Celestial Halo run in the Bula Hurdle when he took a phone call. He was told that his son Paul had broken his back after being caught in an avalanche while snowboarding in the Alps. This accident set Stewart off researching possible treatments, and he soon came to the conclusion that Britain lagged behind other parts of the world.
"Stoke Mandeville is a brilliant hospital, but a lot of eminent doctors were saying that there were new treatments being pioneered in Miami. I saw what they were doing, and I believe that if there's enough research and input, and it all costs money, it could dramatically change the way the Western world deals with spinal injuries."
Spinal research is, of course, of vital importance in the rehabilitation of many injured jockeys. Stewart now devotes much of his time and money to supporting research and new techniques in the treatment of spinal injuries. "What I want to do is to try to get the research into it for the next generation. It may not help Paul that much, there's no quickfire solution, but who knows?"
Today that sponsorship covers racing at Plumpton, where the highlight is theatlantic4.com Novices Chase. The four rowers will be in attendance and Stewart himself has runners in the opening novice hurdle and handicap hurdle later on the card. You sense that whist he would like a winner what is far more important to him is raising the profile of the Atlantic challenge which is trying to raise Â£150,000 for the charity.
Stewart said, "Today highlights the latest major fundraising challenge with four lads rowing from the Canary Islands, covering 3000 miles taking three months before coming ashore on Sandy Lane beach in Barbados." The rowers set off in just under three weeks, on 4 December.