There are records that can map the progress of a racing career, and others that can stop one in its tracks. In 2012, Ray Dawson was banned from riding for two years, having acquired the unwanted distinction of becoming the first jockey in Ireland to test positive for a banned substance twice. Nor was that the end of Dawson’s problems in the early part of his career, or even the end of the beginning.
“When I got done the second time, that’s when things got really bad for me,” Dawson says. “I didn’t do anything about trying to get better, I was still in denial about having a problem. It wasn’t the ban. It was my actions after the ban that did for my career for a few years.”
Eight years on, Dawson is back on track. The last two months have been the most productive of his career, with valuable winners in handicaps at the Ebor and St Leger Festivals, and he could cap it all with a win on Roger Varian’s Spanish City in Saturday’s Ayr Gold Cup.
But it was only when Dawson finally faced up to his addiction to alcohol that things started to turn around. “It’s a big drinking culture in horse racing, unfortunately,” he says. “It’s a good way to release the pressures and does grab hold of a lot of people. I started riding again in England [in 2017] but the drink kept getting in the way. It was just the same stuff, but five years later.
“I was very lucky to meet my now fiancee, Abbie, who was a massive starting point for me to try and change my life. I started going to AA meetings and I just accepted I was an alcoholic and I was able to be helped and move forwards..”
Dawson knows only too well “there are probably a lot [of jockeys] that are in the same position or on that road” and recently took part in a video produced by the Professional Jockeys’ Association urging others with similar issues to seek help.
“It’s a bit of a coincidence my career is going well at the same time the video’s come out,” he says, “but it really does show people that no matter how bad you feel or what you’ve done, there’s always a way out and it’s never too late.”
Spanish City, currently around 25-1 for Saturday’s big race, illustrates the pressures facing jockeys on a daily basis. “He’s got bags of ability,” Dawson says, “but he needs a lot of things to go right. You need to take your time, get plenty of cover and not hit the front too early, so he’s not an easy ride by any means. If it goes right, he’ll run a massive race, [but] in a split-second, if you make the wrong decision, you’ve given it a terrible ride, as we’re always the first to be blamed.
“There is a lot of pressure and you have a lot of negative days. It’s still one day at a time, but the longer you’re in recovery, the more tools you have and the more close friends you have around you as well. You use them for support. You don’t use the drink any more.” Greg Wood
Chris Cook’s Saturday TV tips
Some of us got a bit too excited about Nahaarr (3.40) when he lined up for the Stewards’ Cup, sending him off as the 3-1 favourite for that famously tough, 27-runner handicap. “He didn’t handle Goodwood all that well,” Tom Marquand reports and, at twice those odds, it may be worth giving him another chance in the Ayr Gold Cup.
It could be that Goodwood simply came too soon after the colt’s impressive success at Newbury, before which he had been an unlucky third in the Silver Wokingham. He can prevail this time, while Young Fire makes each-way appeal at 20-1 or so.
1.40 Newbury It has been a career-best year for Equilateral, who was repeatedly blocked in a Listed race at York on the only occasion he stepped out of Group One company. Second to Battaash in the King’s Stand, he looks the pick of these speedsters and has Hollie Doyle aboard for the first time.
1.55 Ayr It feels as if a Listed prize in Scotland ought to be easy meat for Addeybb, a dual Group One winner in Australia this year. In strict handicapping terms, he has barely anything over a few of these, since he concedes half a stone, but he must still rate the most likely winner.
Chris Cook’s Saturday tips
Newbury 1.05 Mithras 1.40 Equilateral 2.15 Ouzo (nap) 2.50 Extra Elusive 3.25 Rhythm Master (nb) 4.00 Beautiful Bertie 4.30 Diocles Of Rome 5.05 Petite Jack
Ayr 1.20 Pythagoras 1.55 Addeybb 2.30 Magical Spirit 3.05 Umm Kulthum 3.40 Nahaarr 4.15 Irreverent 4.50 Bronze River 5.25 National League
Newmarket 2.05 Monsoon Moon 2.40 Manaabit 3.15 Arabic Charm 3.50 Ocean Wind 4.25 Angel Fairy 5.00 Suzi’s Connoisseur 5.35 Luna Magic
Newton Abbot 2.25 Bit On The Side 3.00 Fern Owl 3.35 Operatic Export 4.10 Timoshenko 4.45 Coole Cody 5.20 Danseur Du Large 5.55 Light N Strike
Wolverhampton 4.40 Starseed 5.15 Brunel’s Boy 5.45 Greatgadian 6.15 Clinician 6.45 Little Downs 7.15 Secret Potion 7.45 Red Allure 8.15 Lismore
2.15 Newbury Ouzo may offer some value here, having run a close fifth in a very hot handicap at the Ebor meeting, just ahead of Shelir, a winner next time.
2.30 Ayr Kevin Ryan has been short of winners lately but there is plenty to like at 20-1 about Magical Spirit, a running-on fourth in a shorter race a fortnight ago. That was his comeback from a summer break during which he had a wind operation.
2.50 Newbury Having been frustrating, Extra Elusive looked game at Windsor, with Hollie Doyle and a change of tactics seeming to help. A peak-form Elarqam would beat him but that rival is the frustrating one these days.
3.05 Ayr Third place in the Lowther is a strong bit of form in the context of this Group Three and Umm Kulthum looked a horse with plenty more to offer in the York race.
3.25 Newbury Contenders for the Mill Reef are rarely stepping down in class but that’s how it is for Rhythm Master, beaten only by a pair of Royal Ascot winners in the Morny. He did best of those to come off the pace in the Deauville race.