Tag Archive for: Graham Lee

National glory for Amberleigh House was so special to Aintree’s most famous family

It is hard to mention the Grand National without the name McCain following close behind and 20 years ago the race’s most famous family wrote their name into the Aintree record books for a fourth time thanks to Amberleigh House.

Ginger McCain was arguably the man who helped shape the destiny of the world’s most great steeplechase, with his charismatic personality and masterful handling of the great Red Rum breathing life into the marathon event at a time when many questioned its existence.

McCain had already tasted National glory on three occasions with the legendary Red Rum by the time Amberleigh House set about trying to conquer Aintree, but it had been over 30 years since the horse that had defined the Southport handler’s training career had first etched his name onto the Grand National’s roll of honour.

The McCain family of course had heard every tale possible about Red Rum, but Amberleigh House – who was very much a part of the family and had a love of Aintree befitting of a firm McCain favourite – would cement his decorated trainer’s legacy and give Ginger’s son Donald just a glimpse of how the halcyon days of Red Rum may have been.

“I remember everything about that day and we were all very involved with Amberleigh,” said Donald McCain.

“I rode him out every day and my wife looked after him every day.

“It was great for dad because everyone called him a one-horse trainer. He was never bothered by it because he would say ‘what a great job I made of that one’.

“We had one good horse in the yard at the time and a lot of time and investment went into him and it meant an awful lot to all of us. We made the best job of him we could.”

Donald McCain won the National himself with Ballabriggs
Donald McCain won the National himself with Ballabriggs (Martin Rickett/PA)

Amberleigh House would be one of Ginger McCain’s final runners in the Grand National before he passed the baton over to son Donald in 2006 and although the younger McCain would go on to win the Grand National himself with Ballabriggs in 2011, it is still that 2004 triumph that sticks in the forefront of his memory.

He added: “It was quite surreal and it was literally from the elbow where it all happened so it wasn’t a very long period of time, but it was just very, very special.

“For us as a family, we grew up around a retired Red Rum but weren’t around when he was winning and to get to feel a bit of that was very special and to this day it would be the best day I’ve had in racing, even better than the day I won it with Ballabriggs.

“There was a McCain way but that is probably gone now to be honest. We knew what an Aintree horse was and how to get one ready for Aintree and train them for that one day. But things have changed so far now that I don’t think that even comes into it the same now.”

Amberleigh House competed round the famous fences on 11 occasions failing to complete only twice – when brought down in his first crack at the big race in 2001 and when pulled-up on his final start before retirement in 2006.

Graham Lee struck up a productive partnership with Amberleigh House
Graham Lee struck up a productive partnership with Amberleigh House (David Davies/PA)

He was ridden for the majority of those assignments by Graham Lee, the crack jump jockey turned Flat pilot who formed a dynamic partnership with the foot-perfect stayer.

The 20-year anniversary of the duo’s finest hour comes poignantly at a time when Lee is recovering from the life-changing injuries suffered in a fall at Newcastle last November and there is little doubt about Lee’s importance to the Amberleigh House story.

“Graham was a very high-class jump jockey and what has happened to him is very sad,” continued McCain.

“We all think about him all the time and he managed to carve a second career on the Flat, but he was a very good jump jockey, one of the best around.

“He was a big part of Amberleigh House and they were made for each other, they were a pleasure to watch together the pair of them.”

Amberleigh House's defeat to Clan Royal in the Becher Chase was significant in him landing the National
Amberleigh House’s defeat to Clan Royal in the Becher Chase was significant in him landing the National (Martin Rickett/PA)

With Amberleigh House and Lee’s biggest day still to come, it was the pair’s defeat at the hands of Clan Royal in that season’s Becher Chase that proved instrumental to Grand National glory, helping shape riding plans for the big race itself a few months later.

“I think losing that Becher Chase won us the National and I think Graham would say the same,” said McCain.

“He got beat a short head in the Becher Chase that season by Clan Royal and it was the shortest of short heads.

“If you looked at Clan Royal he was twice as big as old Amberleigh and we were distraught to be honest. They were ding dong from the top of the straight and the two of them came clear and it was a fantastic finish.

“To be honest losing that I think helped us win a Grand National as I had a good talk with Graham and we decided Amberleigh only had one little burst of acceleration in him and there was a general consensus that sounds cocky now, but don’t hit the front until the elbow.

“If you watched Graham a few years later he tried to do the same on a horse of Ferdy Murphy’s who just didn’t stay. He arrived at the last with a chance on Big Fella Thanks in Ballabriggs’ year and tried to do a very similar thing with him.”

It was Becher adversary Clan Royal that was sent off the 10-1 co-favourite for the 2004 Grand National with Amberleigh House 16-1 in the market.

Jonjo O’Neill’s charge looked to be in the process of obliging favourite-backers when jumping to the lead two out, with Amberleigh House still having plenty to do among those still attempting to complete the course.

A repeat of the previous year’s third seemed the best Amberleigh House could hope for, but the complexion of the contest was about to change, with Clan Royal and Martin Pipe’s Lord Atterbury running out of steam and Lee executing the McCain plan to perfection as Amberleigh House and his trademark white noseband closed the gap on the lung-busting run to the line.

“I think he was fourth from the back of the Canal Turn and you’re looking behind to see if something was going to come and do him for fourth and then I just thought at the second-last he was staying on but just took two more strides to jump it,” explained McCain.

“If he had jumped it two strides sooner I would have thought we had a real chance and then Hedgehunter fell at the last and I thought ‘we’re going to be third again in the Grand National’.

  • 1973 Red Rum
  • 1974 Red Rum
  • 1977 Red Rum
  • 2004 Amberleigh House
  • 2011 Ballabriggs

“Then halfway up the run-in everything changed, it was the most amazing day.

“There was only one man who would ever know how confident he was and that was Graham himself. But it was a case of we didn’t want to get there too soon and the one thing I can imagine is he would have been getting the most wonderful ride off him, as you will never see another horse jump Aintree better than Amberleigh House – and I mean the old Aintree, not the one we’re on about now.”

It was a case of third-time lucky for Amberleigh House and a National win that McCain thought had maybe passed the horse by after his gallant third to Monty’s Pass 12 months prior to his glorious afternoon on Merseyside.

However, the pint-sized National hero would keep coming back for more of the famous spruce, never letting his side down when faced with the challenge of the National fences.

“The year before he was third in the race he was very tired afterwards, he was absolutely drunk and we had to take him away out of the winner’s enclosure,” said McCain.

“You kind of wondered if that was his chance of winning the Grand National gone. He didn’t know where he was for about 20 minutes so it is to his credit he came back and he just loved the place.

“He was just the most amazing little horse and Amberleigh was so good to jump round there, he was as good as you ever see. You never really didn’t expect him to get round which was a fairly big thing at the old Aintree. He was only 15’2 and half an inch but as good a jumper as you would ever see – he was just so good round there.”



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Graham Lee ‘humbled’ by racing club initiative

On the 20th anniversary of Graham Lee winning the Grand National on Amberleigh House, a new racing club was launched to help raise money for the jockey after he suffered life-changing injuries in a fall at Newcastle in November.

The 48-year-old had a long and distinguished career in the saddle – under both codes. As well as winning the Grand National, he completed the unique double of riding the Gold Cup winner at Royal Ascot, via Trip To Paris.

The Graham Lee Racing Club has been set up by the Good Racing Company, founded by Phil Hawthorne, who established a similar venture for former rugby league player Rob Burrow.

They have purchased a two-year-old filly called We’ve Got This, in reference to a message Lee’s wife Becky posted on social media after the accident.

Lee’s daughter Amy and son Robbie have been at the forefront of the fundraising, with the latter designing the club’s logo, featured around Lee’s favourite number 17, also the number Amberleigh House wore at Aintree and the cost, £17, to join the venture, while Amy set up the initial Just Giving page.

Graham Lee with son Robbie, wife Becky and daughter Amy in hospital
Graham Lee with son Robbie, wife Becky and daughter Amy in hospital (Louise Pollard)

She said: “It’s so nice that something so positive comes out of something so awful. I love meeting people who know dad, everyone has their really cool stories and everyone has been wanting to help so much. It’s nice to create something positive.

“When we set up a Just Giving page for dad, the target was £100, last week it hit £200,000 – which is crazy. I never expected that.

“I’ve always said to dad every time he has a negative thought, there’s a donation to show him he needs to keep going, there are so many people behind him.

“When he’s had his down days, we’ve sat there and we’ve read all the lovely messages and it always puts a smile on our faces.

“We’ve had so much support and the McCoys have been like a second family to us – the night it happened AP picked me up, as I live near him, and he brought me up home.”

She went on: “Dad is just dad to me. I never really clicked how incredible he was. I’ve always thought the world of him but another jockey said to me ‘he’s like God, he’s who everyone wants to be like’. It’s so nice to hear something like that.

“I wish that I could be half the person. I’m a performer, I’m studying musical theatre, and to have that competitive mindset to be a winner, to be a champion, is admirable.

“While he was a jockey, it was onto the next thing. When he won the National, he was just thinking ‘I need to go to Hexham tomorrow’, he never got to celebrate it really, but since his accident, he’s really reflected and we’ve pulled out the old photos and old videos.

“When his friends and fellow jockeys come and see him, they reflect on races from years ago and his memory is insanely sharp. I think it’s starting to click that ‘actually, I think I was all right. I don’t think I did too bad a job’.

“So many people have come to see him or got in touch with a message, it’s been so nice and really kept dad going.

“The world goes on but for us four, we’re still at November 11, time’s just stopped since then. Everyone has been carrying on, as they should. But it’s nice that people are still caring at this point, five months down the line. They are still showing up, ringing, messaging.”

Club ambassador Adele Mulrennan with Paul Hanagan on the left with trainer Craig Lidster and Good Racing Company founder Phil Hawthorne on the right of William Pyle with We've Got This
Club ambassador Adele Mulrennan with Paul Hanagan on the left with trainer Craig Lidster and Good Racing Company founder Phil Hawthorne on the right of William Pyle with We’ve Got This (Louise Pollard)

Lee’s former weighing room colleague and dual champion jockey Paul Hanagan is now assistant trainer to Craig Lidster, who has been entrusted with looking after We’ve Got This.

“It’s an honour to be involved in this, Graham’s family are closely involved, Steve and Wendy Burdett, who own Eboracum Stables, have given us the horse, so a lot of thanks go to them,” said Hanagan.

“The filly is by Invincible Army, she’s been doing everything right and I’ve sat on her myself. She’s flourished these last few months and we’re really looking forward to the season.

“Obviously, I’ve had a few sleepless nights hoping I’ve picked a good one! Hopefully she’ll be running in the next five to six weeks.

“Graham has made a huge contribution to racing all through his career and I’d love to give something back.”

Lee himself said: “I’m really humbled that a fundraising racing club has been set up in my honour, and that Paul Hanagan has chosen the horse for me. I’ve been shown videos of the horse and she looks very promising. No pressure Paul, but I hope you’ve picked a winner!

“I’ve seen what the Good Racing Company has achieved for Rob Burrow and how it’s united the racing community. I have high hopes that this new racing club achieves the same success with We’ve Got This, and my family and I look forward to following the excitement and being part of this new community.”

Lidster, whose yard is flourishing, said: “As you can see, she’s a nice, big filly, so hopefully we might get to York at some point.

“I don’t want to put her on a pedestal but she’s going the right way, she’s got a great attitude, she loves her work and we’re pleased with her.

“She has size and scope about her, so we’ll be choosing the right track for her; galloping tracks like York and Doncaster.

“This is a special cause. Family is family, whether that is your own or the racing industry – and that is how we look at Graham and anyone else in this sport, we all look to help each other when these things happen.”

More information can be found at: https://thegoodracing.co/



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Lee ‘overwhelmed’ by support following Newcastle fall

Graham Lee has thanked the racing community for their support as he begins to make plans to move home following the injuries he sustained in a fall last year.

The Grand National and Group One-winning jockey was unseated by his mount when leaving the stalls at Newcastle in November.

He suffered a serious spinal injury and the sport has rallied around him and his family since, raising over £188,000 via JustGiving for the Injured Jockeys Fund.

Currently at the Spinal Unit at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough, Lee is planning to adapt his house in order to move home and released a statement via the IJF.

It read: “It’s three months now since my accident and I thought it was appropriate for me to say something publicly for the first time.

“Frankly, I’ve been overwhelmed by the unbelievable support and good wishes sent by everyone and I’d like to thank you all so much on behalf of myself, my wife Becky and our children, Amy and Robbie.

RACING National
Graham Lee winning the 2004 Grand National on Amberleigh House (John Giles/PA)

“It feels like I’m in a bit of a bubble here at the James Cook Spinal Unit but the girls share with me all the messages that they are receiving and every single one is appreciated, as is the support of my great friends who continue to visit me so regularly and keep my spirits up.

“I never really considered that I had achieved that much as a jockey and it seems crazy that so many people are thinking of us all. I can’t deny it has been – and continues to be – hard for us all, but these messages help us all so much.

“I would also like to thank the team of nurses here who are just unbelievable in the around the clock care and support they offer us all.

“As most of you know, the injuries I have suffered are life-changing and there is a long road ahead. But we have just received planning permission so that work can start to adapt our home in the hope that I will be able to leave hospital at some stage in the next few months.

“Thank you again. I am truly humbled and grateful.”



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Nomination to Paddington makes 72,000 guineas in aid of Graham Lee

A nomination to star colt Paddington was sold for 72,000 guineas at Tattersalls on Monday to raise funds on behalf of injured jockey Graham Lee.

The Grand National and Ascot Gold Cup-winning rider remains in hospital after suffering serious neck and spinal injuries in a fall at Newcastle last month.

A JustGiving page set up by Lee’s daughter Amy for the Injured Jockeys Fund is approaching the £170,000 mark – and the Coolmore team were keen to add their support by auctioning off a nomination to their top-class three-year-old Paddington before the first ‘Sceptre’ lot at the Tattersalls December Mare Sale.

Paddington rattled off four straight Group One victories in the space of 68 days earlier this year, landing the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

The recently-retired son of Siyouni will stand his first season at Coolmore in 2024 with a stallion fee of €55,000.

The winning bid was made by Lady Lloyd Webber of Watership Down Stud.



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Fundraising auction set up for Graham Lee

An online fundraising auction in aid of Graham Lee has been set up, featuring plenty of interesting racing lots.

All monies raised will be managed by the Injured Jockeys Fund but go directly to the 47-year-old rider.

Bids can be placed on a number of experiences, including spending a morning on the gallops of trainers such as Paul Nicholls, Karl Burke, Harry Derham, Donald McCain and Fergal O’Brien.

Tours of several studs are also available, along with hospitality packages at racecourses like York, Newbury, Sedgefield and Stratford.

Perhaps the most popular of the lots, though, will be the chance to play a four-ball round of golf with Sir AP McCoy.

Grand National and Group One-winning jockey Lee suffered a serious injury at Newcastle earlier this month.

A JustGiving page established by Lee’s daughter has raised more than £162,000 for the Injured Jockeys Fund, while a nomination to new stallion Paddington, provided by Coolmore, will be auctioned off by Tattersalls on December 4.

The latest auction set up in aid of Lee can be viewed via https://platform.nationalfundingscheme.org/GrahamLee



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Graham Lee switches hospitals to be nearer home

Graham Lee has been moved to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

The Grand National and Group One-winning jockey suffered a serious injury at Newcastle a fortnight ago and had been receiving treatment at Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in the same city.

It was reported last week that he was making “positive progress” and he would be moved closer to home when a suitable bed became available.

However, it is expected to be a long rehabilitation process.

An update issued by the Injured Jockeys Fund read: “Graham Lee has now moved to the Spinal Unit at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough where he will remain for the foreseeable future.

“He is no longer in ITU but remains on a ventilator, albeit this can be reduced from time to time.

“His cervical injury, which was to C3/C4, means that his movement is affected.

“His family are pleased that he is now nearer home and remain grateful for the constant support.”



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Coolmore offer Paddington nomination for auction in aid of Graham Lee

A nomination to star colt Paddington is set to be auctioned off at Tattersalls early next month to raise funds for injured jockey Graham Lee.

The Grand National and Ascot Gold Cup-winning rider remains in Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle after suffering serious neck and spinal injuries in a fall on the all-weather two weeks ago.

A JustGiving page set up by Lee’s daughter Amy for the Injured Jockeys Fund recently passed the £150,000 mark – and the Coolmore team are keen to add their support by auctioning a nomination in their top-class three-year-old Paddington before the first ‘Sceptre’ lot at Tattersalls on December 4.

“Our partners Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, George Von Opel and Peter Brant along with everyone here at Coolmore and Ballydoyle wish Graham and his family all the very best,” said Coolmore’s MV Magnier.

Paddington rattled off four straight Group One victories in the space of 68 days earlier this year, landing the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown and the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

The recently-retired son of Siyouni will stand his first season at Coolmore next year with a stallion fee of €55,000.



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‘Positive progress’ reported in Graham Lee injury recovery

The Injured Jockeys Fund has provided a further update on Graham Lee, in which he is described as having made “positive progress”.

The Grand National and Ascot Gold Cup-winning rider remains in Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle after a serious fall last week, when unseated from Ben Macdui at the start of an all-weather handicap on Friday.

He suffered an unstable cervical fracture causing damage to his spinal cord and has undergone two procedures to stabilise the fractures and further protect his spinal cord.

The IJF update, circulated on Friday afternoon, read: “Graham has made positive progress in the last 24 hours and has been able to talk normally with his family for short periods when his ventilator is turned down.

“He has been reviewed by his spinal consultant and when a bed becomes available in the ITU at James Cook Hospital, Middlesborough, he will be transferred closer to home.

“Graham and his family want to thank everyone for their continued and overwhelming support.”



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Graham Lee’s family speak of ‘overwhelming’ support for injured rider

Graham Lee has undergone surgery at the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle after a serious fall last week, with his daughter Amy thanking the racing world for its “overwhelming” support.

The Grand National and Group One-winning jockey was unseated from Ben Macdui at the start of an all-weather handicap at Newcastle on Friday, suffering injuries that saw him taken to hospital and admitted to an intensive care unit.

He has since been identified as having an unstable cervical fracture causing damage to his spinal cord, and the racing world has rallied round the rider and his family.

The Injured Jockeys Fund have been heavily involved in those efforts, and on Wednesday afternoon released an update which read: “Jockey Graham Lee had surgery yesterday at the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle to stabilise the fractures in his cervical spine and further protect his spinal cord.

“He also had a tracheostomy performed to allow him to be more comfortable and improve communication.

“Whilst Graham has recovered from the surgery well, the extent of his long-term recovery remains uncertain.”

The statement added: “Graham’s family would like to thank everyone for their best wishes and for their support of the JustGiving page set up by Graham’s 18-year-old daughter Amy, who says: ‘I am personally writing down each and every message and donation that comes through and I share all of these with dad. To be honest it’s simply overwhelming and we can’t believe that so many people are thinking of us. I wish I could explain how much of a difference it will make to dad’s recovery knowing that he has your support – thank you from the bottom of my heart’.”

The JustGiving page created by Amy Lee is now approaching £80,000 in donations that will go to the IJF.



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IJF pledges to support Graham Lee throughout recovery

Injured Jockeys Fund president Sir Anthony McCoy and vice-president Jack Berry have issued a joint-statement underlining the organisation’s support for Graham Lee, however long his recuperation takes.

McCoy shared the weighing room with Lee during the 47-year-old’s first part of his career, during which he was a Grand National-winning jump jockey.

Lee then turned his attentions the Flat, where he won an Ascot Gold Cup on Trip To Paris and the Nunthorpe on Alpha Delphini.

It emerged on Sunday that the injuries Lee suffered in a fall at Newcastle on Friday were very serious, with an MRI scan showing an unstable cervical fracture which was causing damage to his spinal cord.

The statement read: “Like everyone in racing, we at the Injured Jockeys Fund are all devastated with the news of the injuries Graham Lee sustained from his horrific fall at Newcastle on Friday.

“All our thoughts are with Graham, his wife Becky, and their family.

“As bad as Graham’s injuries are, please do rest assured that our team at the IJF will look after his needs to assist him in his recovery and predicament for as long as it takes.

“Whatever help he and his family needs, we will be there to provide it.”

Julie Harrington, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, also sent her best wishes.

She said: “We are shocked to hear the distressing news regarding the injuries suffered by Graham Lee. Our thoughts are with his family and friends and the whole sport is praying for one of its finest ambassadors.

“We are doing everything we can to support Graham and his family, and we ask that everyone respect the privacy of his family at this time.”



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Graham Lee remains in intensive care with cervical fracture

Graham Lee has been diagnosed with an unstable cervical fracture and remains in intensive care following a serious incident at Newcastle on Friday.

The 47-year-old was unseated from his mount Ben Macdui as the stalls opened in a sprint handicap and he was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Lee has damage to his spinal cord and other complications and at this stage his condition has been described as “very serious”.

A statement from the Injured Jockeys Fund said: “Jockey Graham Lee’s MRI scan has shown that he has suffered an unstable cervical fracture causing damage to the spinal cord, as well as damage to blood vessels in the mid-cervical region.

“He remains in ITU with respiratory support at the Royal Victoria Infirmary Hospital in Newcastle, but it has been possible to reduce his sedation.

“This is a very serious injury and at this early time, it is not possible to predict the extent of long term recovery.

“Graham’s family are very grateful for the many messages of support that they have had.”



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Graham Lee in intensive care following Newcastle fall

Graham Lee is in intensive care after suffering a neck injury in a fall at Newcastle on Friday evening.

The rider was taken to hospital after being unseated from his mount Ben Macdui as the stalls opened for BetUK. Home Of The Acca-Fenwa Handicap.

A statement from the Injured Jockeys Fund said: “Graham was taken by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where he is in intensive care with a neck injury.

“He will undergo further tests today to assess the extent of the injury.”

Lee has ridden under both codes during his lengthy career, with Amberleigh House propelling him onto the front pages in 2004 after the pair won the Grand National for legendary trainer Ginger McCain.

Graham Lee on Amberleigh house after winning the Grand National
Graham Lee on Amberleigh house after winning the Grand National (Phil Noble/PA)

The rider also enjoyed a successful partnership with staying hurdler Inglis Drever, counting the 2005 World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival among their seven victories together, while the Ferdy Murphy-trained pair of Another Promise and Kalahari King were also Grade One scorers.

Lee switched his attentions to the Flat in 2012, also striking Group One gold with Trip To Paris in the 2015 Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and Alpha Delphini in the 2018 Nunthorpe.

He had his best season on the Flat in 2014 when he rode 159 winners, with 47 victories on the board this campaign.

Jim Goldie has employed Lee’s services over jumps and on the Flat and was thinking of the rider and his family.

He said: “I’ve been there. My dad fractured his skull when I was 14, so I know what it’s like. We have to be hopeful. The one thing is racing will look after him.”

Dale Gibson, interim chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, was at Newcastle and said: “Any time a jockey gets injured, there’s always a real sense of community and group feeling and that’s very much the case now.

“Graham is hugely popular and what he’s achieved in the sport is incredible.

“The PJA and the weighing room very much want to send our best wishes to Graham and his family.

“The IJF are always the lead on communications, that’s the way it works for an injured jockey, and we are all keeping our fingers crossed.

“It’s not easy for jockeys going out and riding today, especially those who were here last night, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here, to offer support – having ridden for 24 years, I know what it’s like. They’re a very close-knit community.”



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