Royal Ascot-winning jockey George Chaloner, 25, has decided to retire, his body and spirit broken by a succession of bad injuries.
The decision followed Chaloner’s third bad fall in less than three years at Newcastle in February, when his mount Woodacre fractured a leg. It was the jockey’s first ride back after he spent three months on the sidelines recovering from a similar fall at Wolverhampton in November 2016.
At Newcastle Chaloner broke his foot and his T8 vertebrae and was millimetres away from being paralysed. The scans also revealed previous injuries to his back which had not been diagnosed.
More significantly, the fall broke his resolve.
He said: “There’s no way I ever want to sit on a horse again, I just couldn’t do it. After that last fall it wasn’t until May that I could even watch my partner Shelley [Birkett] ride.
“I suffered nightmares after the fall at Wolverhampton and although I worked hard to come back, it was unbelievable I should have another fall on my comeback ride. I can’t take it any more. I think somebody up there is telling me something.”
Highs and lows
Chaloner’s short career was one of highs and lows. The highs came during eight days in June 2014 when, riding for his boss Richard Fahey, he partnered Baccarat to win the Wokingham and the following Saturday won the Northumberland Plate on Angel Gabrial. That put him firmly on the racing map.
He recalled: “It was a great week. The day after the Wokingham I rode a winner at Pontefract for Lord and Lady Halifax, I had a few more winners during the week and then on the Saturday I won the Plate.”
The following year, by which time he had ridden out his claim, Chaloner’s run of bad luck began when he broke his foot in a fall on the gallops riding out for Richard Whitaker. He worked hard to come back in 2016 and rode 18 winners from 263 rides, but disaster struck again for him one Friday night at Wolverhampton last November.
He said: “The filly I was riding broke a foreleg and all I remember is seeing the stands going round in front of me as I hit the sand. They put me in a neck brace and took me to hospital in Wolverhampton, but the medics there thought I was in fancy dress and drunk so they left me for an hour and a half on a stretcher to sober up!
Family of jockeys
Chaloner hails from a well-known racing family. In the 19th century his great, great grandfather Tom Chaloner was a successful rider on the Flat, winning all the Classics bar the 1,000 Guineas and landing the St Leger five times. His grandfather was a twin and the two brothers were based in Malton, and both rode over jumps.
After leaving school at 16 and completing a course at the Northern Racing School, where Josephine Gordon was in the same group, Chaloner also headed to Malton and, like Paul Hanagan a few years previously, joined Malcolm Jefferson before transferring to Fahey.
He said: “I owe Malcolm so much. He was great to work for. After a while I used to go in for morning stables there and then go and ride work for Richard and come back and do evening stables.
“Then one day he told me that I was starting at Fahey’s the following Monday. When I began riding as an apprentice he used to follow me and would ring up every now and then with advice or a bollocking.”
Chaloner, who said he is eternally grateful for the help that both trainers have gave him during his riding days, is currently repaying Jefferson by driving him around on the gallops at Malton and sometimes taking him to the races.
Following his last fall in February, after which he spent two weeks in hospital, Chaloner, who has been diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and is receiving therapy organised by the Professional Jockeys Association, began to face up to the fact he would never ride again and would need to build a new career.
He has not been idle and has had spells shadowing the starters or stipendiary stewards on racedays at various courses in the north, spent time with the groundsman and then with assistant clerk of the course Anthea Morshead at York, and worked on the Knavesmire conducting tours which took racegoers to the start during the Ebor meeting.
Now at just 25 he is trying to find a permanent second career and says: “I’d love to get a job in racing but it isn’t easy finding the right opportunity. The Injured Jockeys Fund and Jets [Jockeys Employment & Training Scheme] have been really helpful and now I’ve decided to announce my retirement I hope something will turn up.”
THREE OF THE BEST
Chaloner rode him three times and after finishing runner-up in a hot handicap at York’s Dante meeting on the first occasion he won the 2014 Wokingham the following month from Ryan Moore on Professor.
Chaloner partnered Marwan Koukash’s horse three times. On the second occasion when he was trained by Richard Fahey he won the Northumberland Plate by three and a half lengths.
Another owned by Koukash. On his first ride on him Chaloner won a Goodwood handicap worth £62,000 to the winner in August 2015, beating Jim Crowley on the Charlie Hills-trained Jallota.