A Grand National win is the ambition of every jockey, and on Saturday, 23-year-old Ryan Mania not only realised that dream, but also accomplished it at his first attempt.
His victory aboard 66-1 chance Auroras Encore in the Aintree marathon was particularly poignant, given that the Galashiels jockey briefly quit the sport two years ago, disheartened by the lack of opportunities.
Cheered on by his family, Selkirk agent Bruce Jeffrey, and a number of Borders supporters who had travelled to the Liverpool track, Ryan produced a rousing finish aboard the 11-year-old to secure a resounding nine-length success.
In typically unassuming style, he described the biggest success of his racing career as “a great victory for Scotland.”
Trained in Yorkshire by Sue Smith – also celebrating her first Grand National success – Auroras Encore had previously proved his stamina when finishing runner-up in the Scottish National, and was one of two potential rides for Ryan.
“I’m glad I stayed loyal to him,” admitted the 2012 Braw Lad. “He only made a couple of little mistakes – he was just brilliant,” he enthused.
The victorious jockey gained high praise from the winning trainer, after giving the gelding a patient and composed ride.
“The horse ran a fantastic race, and Ryan gave him a fantastic ride,” said Sue, wife of legendary showjumper, Harvey. “He always had the horse where he wanted to be,” she added
Ryan, who had little time to celebrate, with rides at Hexham the following afternoon, said he couldn’t have asked for a better ride in the 40-runner marathon, which saw all horses and jockeys return safely.
“I couldn’t believe the run I got,” he said. “It was just unbelievable.
“Crossing the Melling Road I thought we could be in the first three or four.
“I couldn’t believe the way the front two stopped in front of me at the last.”
“Everything went right,” he continued.
“Very rarely does a race work out to plan, but he jumped very well, and took the fences brilliantly.”
Ryan also paid tribute to the winning trainer.
“Sue and Harvey have been great, and I’m lucky to have such a fantastic yard behind me,” he added.
Rugby’s loss proved to be racing’s gain – Ryan’s childhood desire to play the sport hampered by his size.
“I was just too small,” he explained. “I tried, but I wasn’t good enough,”
In 2011, Ryan spent the winter in Fife as a hunt whipper-in, before returning to race riding.
The day before his Grand National debut, he had tweeted that the horse was “worth a bet”, adding that he also needed the “luck of the town behind” him.
On Saturday, he confirmed both counts – winning against the odds, and proving the toast of Galashiels and the rest of the Borders.