Leger Legends close in on one million mark at Doncaster

Off Art ridden (left) by Brian Harding wins The Clipper Logistics Leger Legends Classified Stakes in 2017 (Picture: PA)
Off Art ridden (left) by Brian Harding wins The Clipper Logistics Leger Legends Classified Stakes in 2017 (Picture: PA)
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DALE GIBSON’S 500-plus winners in the saddle will never compare favourable with the big race successes accrued by Frankie Dettori – the ‘legend’ who beat the Yorkshire rider in the race to be champion apprentice in 1989.

Yet, while Dettori remains the public face of racing, Gibson is the ‘legend’ off the track who has committed himself, since hanging up his riding boots nine years ago, to making sure that the welfare of jockeys comes first and foremost.

He has been integral to changes to the fixture list that give jockeys a break at certain times of the year – and to bring forward the start-times of evening meetings in a new move.

And now he hopes to achieve the greatest milestone in his racing career when the ninth Leger Legends takes place at Doncaster on September 12, the opening day of the prestigious St Leger meeting.

To date this annual race, featuring retired riders competing over the straight mile on Town Moor under the rules of racing, has raised £880,000 for two Yorkshire charities that are key to the sport – Doncaster’s Northern Racing College and Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund rehabilitation centre in Malton.

Now Gibson, and Tim Adams, chairman of the Leger Legends organising committee and a trustee of the aforementioned NRC, hope this month’s race can take the overall sum raised passed the £1m milestone before they pass the reins to a new team that will include Andrew Thornton, the recently retired jump jockey.

Once again backed by Leeds-based Clipper Logistics and the Reuben brothers who spearhead Arena Racing Company whose portfolio includes Doncaster racecourse, this year’s race will see 550 guests enjoy hospitality – and a fundraising auction – before the Legends race.

This year seasoned veterans like Gibson, who hails from Boston Spa and who was victorious aboard Bob in the 2014 renewal, take on newcomers headed by the aforementioned Thornton who retired from the saddle earlier this year after winning more than 1,000 races.

Also taking part for the first time will be 2008 Grand National-winning rider Timmy Murphy, Willy Twiston-Davies who enjoyed notable successes under both codes, Classic-winning jockey Ted Durcan, Barry Keniry and North Yorkshire’s Amy Ryan, who was a champion apprentice on the 
Flat.

Previous winners point to the calibre of names that Gibson, the Professional Jockeys Association’s executive director of racing, managed to persuade to return to the saddle. Charlie Swan, synonymous with triple Champion Hurdle hero Istabraq, won the inaugural race in 2010 while Julie Krone, the winning-most female rider in history, prevailed 12 months later. Other greats to be victorious include Mick Kinane (2012) and Sir AP McCoy (2015).

Though Gibson’s 529 successes include a Stewards Cup at Goodwood, and five winners for the Queen, nothing compares to his association with this unique event and its lasting contribution to the sport. “The target is £1m and our social media strapline is ‘make it a million’,” he told The Yorkshire Post.

“If you said all those years ago when Tim, myself and a few others came together that we would be bearing down on £1m, I would have been falling off my perch. I thought it would be a maximum of two or three years. Yet more than 500 people keep turning up and Lester Piggott is the first name each year. That says something to me. I believe it’s become one of the best social days out in racing.

“The College is getting young people involved in the sport. You need to encourage them and they are producing some very good young riders.

“When you see the treatment jockeys get at Jack Berry House, it’s incredible. It wasn’t even built when we had the first Legends race. Yet, without it, Derek Fox would not have won the Grand National last year. He did his shoulder and wrist 31 days before he won at Aintree on One For Arthur. Like with the College, we need to keep raising money to pay for the running costs and improvements.”

To take part in this year’s Leger Legends silent auction, log on at www.legerlegends-auction.com