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Last year’s Grand National winning jockey, Daryl Jacob, talks about the biggest race of his life, why he once nearly quit the sport, and just how far he will go to win a Mars Bar.
You won the National last year on Neptune Collonges, a 33-1 shot. How did you rate your chances going into the race?
We definitely thought we had a chance. He’s been a class horse, he’s been placed in Cheltenham’s Gold Cup, he’s won Grade One races, he’s been a great servant, and he probably would have won a Gold Cup if it hadn’t been for the likes of Kauto Star and Denman being around. We knew he stayed, and we knew weight wouldn’t be a problem for him, so we were hopeful of a big win.
It was the closest finish in Grand National history. Did you think you’d got it when you crossed the line?
No, it was too hard to tell, really, because it was so tight. I knew I was gaining on Richie [McLernon, riding Sunnyhillboy] but when we crossed the line, it was the nod of the head, really.
Looking back at the race, do you remember much of it, or is it a bit of a blur?
You obviously watch the replays, which helps bring it back, but at the time you don’t really take it in, because there’s so much going on, so much to concentrate on, and you have to focus very, very hard for that race.
What is it about the Grand National that captures the public imagination like no other race?
It’s an exciting race, the thrills and the spills. Everyone likes an adrenaline rush. It catches people’s eyes, there are so many horses jumping these unique fences. People, when they have a few quid on you, they don’t know whether they’re going to get around or where you’ll finish or what you’ll do. It’s always an exciting race.
Is it exciting to ride in? Or is it too nerve-racking for that?
If you’re on a good jumper it’s okay, but if you’re not, it’s not!
What do you say to those who would argue the race is too dangerous?
Look, there’s 40 jockeys going out there to ride in the race. If we thought it was dangerous, I don’t think we’d do it. We trust the horses, we trust the Clerk of the Course, the fences and everything. If it was very, very dangerous, I don’t think we’d do it.
How has riding a National winner affected the last year for you? Has it upped your profile a bit?
I like to get on nice and quietly and do my own thing. I love going racing and I love riding horses. I keep my head down.
Yours is a pretty dangerous way of making a living. How do you deal with that?
You don’t think about that, because if you did think about it, you wouldn’t do it. We love horses and we love jumping, it’s just a very exciting sport. It’s just like Formula One or motorbike racing. They’re doing a-hundred-and-whatever miles an hour, if they crash, they’re in trouble. You just have to trust in the trainers that you ride for that they school horses well. Sometimes accidents do happen.
You lost a good friend [jockey Kieran Kelly] in an accident ten years ago. Does something like that stay with you?
He’ll always be with me. Kieran was a great friend of mine, and unfortunately he died, but I don’t think about that when I’m racing. I always wanted to do him proud, and I think that I’m doing that.
You nearly jacked in your career back in 2006, didn’t you?
Yeah. Things weren’t really happening, I wasn’t really in love with the game anymore, I had a few niggly little things that were on my mind, and things weren’t working out. I was going to go back to Wexford and become a builder. Luckily for me, I had great bosses in Robert and Sally Alner, and they persuaded me to change my mind.
What sacrifices do you have to make to do what you do?
You’ve got to be 110 per cent committed to the game – there’s no point in trying to do this at 75 per cent. You’ve got to give everything. You do have to sacrifice things for it, especially if you’ve got weight problems, you’ve got to miss meals, or miss socialising if you have to ride the next day. And you’ve got to be very, very fit as well.
Do you struggle to keep your weight down, or does that side of things come fairly naturally to you?
I’ve got to look after it. I wouldn’t be the sort of person who can go and eat whatever I want every night.
What luxury do you allow yourself when you have a blowout?
It depends what time of the year it is. During the summer, when the racing’s not quite as busy, I can go out a bit more. But during the winter, if you have a day off the next day, you’ll still be riding the following day, so you’ve still got to keep an eye on yourself. I do like my pizzas and all that. Lasagne. A bit of Chinese every now and again. And then there’s the Mars Bar challenge. I’m going to lose it this year.
What’s the Mars Bar challenge?
Myself and Sam Twiston-Davies have a bet every year to see who can ride the most winners. But I think he’s going to beat me this year. And the prize is a single Mars Bar. It’s pretty high stakes. It was incredibly close last year, I just beat him on the last day at Sandown. We were tied going into the final day.
That must have been a good-tasting Mars Bar.
Don’t worry, it was very good. I really enjoyed that with my cup of tea coffee that night.
You spend a lot of time on the road in your profession. Is that tough?
Yeah. I think that’s the most tiring thing, doing a lot of driving. You are on the road seven-days-a-week when you’re racing, and it can get very tiring.
You were in the first programme of Channel 4’s new look racing coverage on New Year’s Day this year.
Yeah, it all seemed to go really well.
Have you enjoyed Channel 4’s coverage over the years?
Yeah, it’s been great, it’s really informative. I’ve always really enjoyed it.
What does it mean to have such a lot of racing on terrestrial television?
It’s great. It just gets the sport out there to people – every sport needs national television, and Saturday is a good sports day, so to have coverage every Saturday is great.
The Grand National is on Channel 4 on Saturday 6th April. The Grand National is on Channel 4 on Saturday 6th April at 4.15pm. Channel 4 will cover the entire meeting, afternoons on 4-6 April.