Peter Toole: Jockey recovered from serious Aintree fall

By Frank KeoghBBC Sport
Peter Toole on his rehabilitation

Peter Toole is here to tell the story that some thought they might never hear. He is happy, riding again and ready for a fresh challenge.

The jockey suffered bleeding to his brain after a fall at Aintree on Grand National Day two years ago. He was in a coma for 13 days as friends, family and racing fans prayed for a recovery.

Following Toole's fall, a Facebook group called Get Well Peter Toole was set up, with more than 3,000 people joining as racing rallied round to support one of their own.

Toole eventually recovered virtually all of his previous powers, albeit some of them at a slightly reduced speed, and is heading home on Monday to the Republic of Ireland to start a new chapter in his life.

"The support from everybody was unbelievable," the 24-year-old tells BBC Sport. "The amount of cards were uncountable. The basket at my mother's house was overflowing. There were hundreds.

"I'd like to thanks all those people out there who took the time to do it."

The jockey from County Meath was an emerging star of the National Hunt ranks, competing in the big races alongside riding greats like AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh.

On Saturday, 9 April, 2011, he suffered bleeding on the right side of his brain when his mount Classic Fly fell at the first fence in a novices' steeplechase held in advance of the National.

As radio phone-ins and media reportsexternal-link concentrated on two equine fatalities in the main race, Toole's mother Fidelma, father James and elder brother Paddy were among those praying he would pull through.

"At least I'm still here. I can do everything I did before, I'm just a little slower at doing it," says Toole.

Few sportsmen, with perhaps the exception of motorcyclists, risk danger like jump jockeys. An ambulance follows their every move as they guide thoroughbreds weighing half a tonne at speeds of 30mph over obstacles more than four feet high.

It is a dangerous game for man and beast and we speak at a time when racing again prays for one of its own with popular amateur jockey JT (John Thomas) McNamara in intensive care, with serious spinal injuries following a fall at the Cheltenham Festival.

While Toole suffered a brain injury and the concern over McNamara is with spinal injuries, there are still parallels.

"Hopefully, John Thomas does come out of it," Toole adds. "We wait and hope. It's a long process.

"Going at that speed, and taking a fall is always going to be tricky. Hopefully, there is a positive outcome."

Toole had his own false starts in his two-year road to recovery.

With slow, deliberate sentences, he recalls a period in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin: "When I came out of the coma, they had me in a wheelchair for weeks and weeks.

"They gave me a crutch and said, 'You will be advised when you can use it'. I went to get out of bed out of curiosity one day and fell over. The nurse helped me back and said, 'You can't be doing that'."

Gradually, with the help of the crutch and people like his jockey pal David Crosse, he got back on his feet.

Toole happily cracks a few jokes: "Even when I'm around the weighing room, the amount of people who say hello is unbelievable. I think, 'Who the hell is that?'"

Trainer Charlie Mann, based in Upper Lambourn in Berkshire, stood by his injured jockey as he recovered,

"He's retained his sense of humour," said Mann, whose own riding career ended when he broke his neck in a fall. "He's worked hard, done well and hopefully can find another career in Ireland.

"A lot of people take it for granted, but this is a precarious business we are in. You are only one fall away from your career ending.

"It takes a long time to get over things like that, but he was a different person once he started riding out with the horses again.

"He's still good, but took the decision not to reapply for his licence. He's a very, very good jockey, a likeable fella who is missed in the weighing room.

"It's a waste, but he's alive and he's got a future."

That future was uncertain when the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF) sent one of its staff, Karen Sharpe, to help the rider and his family in the hours after his fall.

"Peter was in a coma, he wasn't responding, there were no signs of him hearing anything," Sharpe says. "They say people pick up voices and his mum and dad would read out bits from the Racing Post to him.

"My husband even went off to Sedgefield races with a dictaphone and recorded messages from jockeys which were played to Peter."

She saw the improvement as Toole left hospital and continued his rehabilitation at the fund's Oaksey House, named after its founder Lord Oaksey.

"The funny thing is I spent all that time with him in hospital, felt I knew him and was close to him, but when I went to see him in Ireland months afterwards, he was really meeting me for the first time as he couldn't remember his time in Liverpool," Sharpe says.

"I'd sat and held his hand, felt like I'd known him for years, and he didn't have a clue who I was."

Does Peter Toole know what might happen next when he settles back to life in his Irish homeland?

"No is the honest answer," he says. "It could have been a lot, lot worse. The future could hold anything."