In a display of tenacity and courage that reminded us why we should really give our professional jockeys a little more leeway and credit than the bollocking that is the standard retort of the grandstand brigade, Ian Sturgeon picked himself up off the Greyville polytrack after being kicked in the bicep and knee and found himself in the winner’s enclosure a matter of minutes later.
Anybody who witnessed the Kildonan gelding Fire The Rocket drop the Northern Ireland born Sturgeon to the floor on Friday evening in an awkward position under the starting gate at the jump of the second race, would have automatically pictured stretchers and red lights.
But ‘Fish’, as he is affectionately known to most of us, just rolled away, lay still for a second – then pulled himself toward himself, as it were, and got to his feet.
In moments, the professional jockey, who enjoys listening to rock band Fall Out Boy, had dusted himself off and was back behind the stalls and fiddling with the equipment on the unfazed Doug Campbell trained 5yo.
Both were passed fit to race and despite his 12-1 price tag, Fire The Rocket stormed home in a happy ending to get up and beat the improved again Vous Et Var in a thriller.
Even those who were blown out of the Pick 6 opener would have felt a sense of admiration for a great performance by horse and rider.
In the words of elated winning trainer Doug Campbell, ‘Ian is a great horseman.’
And the 31 year old, who started riding work at Clairwood at the age of 12, would have chalked up many new admirers with a really gritty display of determination and nerves.
Apparently Fire The Rocket pre-empted the gate opening and when they didn’t spring he tried to stick his head underneath – and then disaster struck as the bridle came off, with Sturgeon tumbling to the floor.
The ‘Casual Harry’ Fish was at pains to point out that it was no fault of the horse.
“I told him to get ready for the start. He did nothing wrong. Landing up at his feet wasn’t exactly the best place to be,” he said.
Sturgeon, who has ridden 57 winners this season, joined the SA Jockey Academy in 2000 and came closest to his first Gr1 success when Sushisan ran second to Eyeofthetiger in the 2006 Vodacom Durban July.
He enjoyed the guidance of champion jockey Michael Roberts early on and that mentorship, coupled with his own equine skills, have made him the complete professional – albeit an underrated one in an unforgiving game.
Race riding somehow still holds the edge on punting when it comes to extreme pasttimes!