Paul Hanagan has celebrated bigger winners than Majestic Dawn’s success in the bet365 Cambridgeshire, but few victories will have provided greater satisfaction given the year he has endured.
Having come close to calling time on his glittering career after sustaining a back injury in a fall at Newcastle in February, the two-times champion jockey continued his recent resurgence in the saddle with a breakthrough first victory in the ultra-competitive handicap.
Though one for more muted celebrations, the Classic-winning rider admitted he came close to letting his emotions get the better of him after steering the Paul and Oliver Cole-trained 40-1 shot to a surprise success.
Hanagan said: “That fall was the most difficult time of my life. You just know when it’s a bad one. The scariest moment for me was I couldn’t get up. I struggled to breathe and that’s when I knew it was serious.
“I’m not one for getting emotional, but when I was being interviewed on television after winning, I thought ‘oh no, I’m going to go here in a minute’, which I shouldn’t be ashamed of, but it was a massive thing in my life, that fall. Winning today was pretty emotional.
“It was very special. I was six months out with the injury and I didn’t think I was going to make it back at all. To bag one like that is quite special. I’m absolutely delighted.”
Recovery was a slow process for Hanagan, but taking inspiration from his close friend and former rider Freddy Tylicki, as well as his own desire to return, has helped him come through those dark days and emerge on the other side.
He added: “I’m best mates with Freddy Tylicki and it kind of hits home how lucky I am, as he wasn’t so lucky after a life-changing fall. It’s people like him that have given me inspiration. The likes of Freddy have been amazing.
“I was in so much pain and just constantly struggling to get out of bed and because of Covid and the lockdown, I couldn’t get any help. Jack Berry House was brilliant doing a video link, but it is not the same as seeing people in person.
“What it really came down to was the operation. The specialist was amazing and it was a flick of the switch after that. It was then a case of do I really want it? But the hunger was there more than ever.”
Returning from any injury requires the support of others, and Hanagan, who is fast closing in on riding 2,000 British winners, is grateful to several people who helped get his career back on track.
He added: “The support I’ve had has been amazing. I can’t speak highly enough of Jack Berry House, which is on my doorstep in Malton. Without the support of them, I don’t think I would have made it.
“My agent Richard Hale never gets a mention, but I’ve been with him since I was 16 or 17 and I turned 40 last week, so it speaks volumes for the guy as he has been there from day one.
“I think the sport we are in is a great sport and everyone comes together when you have a bad time.”
While Hanagan may be in the later stages of his career, he hopes his return to the saddle can act as an inspiration to others that may be struggling for confidence or have been in a similar position to that he faced earlier this year.
He added: “The first couple of weeks were hard, just getting that race and match fitness back again, but once I got over those first two weeks, things have flown.
“To win a race like this maybe shows people who are going through a hard time you have the support out there to get back, and if you really want something, you can do it.”