Connor Beasley: Jockey targets Newbury triumph after comeback from injury
As flat racing's 'northern circuit' reflects on another bumper summer of success, few can feel a greater sense of satisfaction than jockey Connor Beasley.
A year on from living in the restricted confines of a neck and back brace to aid recovery from career-threatening injuries sustained in a race-fall, and from hearing himself regularly written off, Beasley, 22, goes to Newbury this weekend with Alpha Delphini hoping to bag the biggest prize of his fledgling career.
And with the scars now healed and grave concerns about his future career no longer echoing in his ears - one of which had to be partially rebuilt - both Beasley and the Bryan Smart-trained five-year-old could hardly be in better nick.
A rich vein of late summer form has seen a string of visits to the winners' circle for the County Durham jockey, some of the most striking of which have come on the gritty Alpha Delphini who is now lining up in Newbury's five-furlong (1000m) Dubai International World Trophy on Saturday.
"This time last year, I couldn't really do a great deal," said Beasley, "I couldn't even put on my socks, so things have come a long way. I'm hopefully getting my career back on track with some nice winners and nice rides so my confidence is up."
The winner of more than 30 races since returning to the saddle in March has little memory of the fall at Wolverhampton in July 2015 - in which his mount Cumbrianna suffered fatal injuries - but reels off a mind-boggling list of his own injuries with a shrug of the shoulders and an insistence it was all "one of those things, I suppose."
He went on: "I fractured my skull, and there are six plates that will stay in there. I 'did' [fractured] the middle of my neck, the middle of my back, took half a lug [ear] off, smashed my teeth and had a clot on the brain that got drained off, so I was in intensive care in Stoke for a while.
"It's all a bit of a blur, and I didn't know much about what was happening - my fiancée and my mother and a lot of my family came down from County Durham which was a bit of a hike, and probably more of a nightmare and trauma for them than for me."
Once home there was three months living like "a mechanical man" in the brace - "it was strapped right around me and there were rods and stuff from under my jaw all the way down to my lower back and waist" - and plenty of time to think.
"There was never a doubt in my mind that I'd be back," said Beasley who married Carla at Christmas, "though I suppose I didn't really take into consideration how bad I was until I look back now.
"But I was never negative - I was always positive - and I think that helped me get through it."
After a moment's pause he added: "To be fair, before my accident I probably took the job a bit for granted, probably like a lot of the lads, but now I try to soak it up a lot more than I used to, and not just think of the next winner.
"Getting back was a bit of a shock, it was like starting from scratch really. I had to learn to read a race again and had to build everything up - strength, confidence, and it took a good month just to get into the swing of things but everything's good now."
While Beasley, who has won four races with Alpha Delphini this year, is in the south for Newbury, he will be keeping an anxious eye on Scotland's premier flat race, the £200,000 William Hill Ayr Gold Cup.
There, another prolific part of his recent purple patch Nameitwhatyoulike lines up as one of the leading contenders behind favourite Growl for the six-furlong feature, one of the season's most celebrated sprint races. Rising star apprentice Adam McNamara takes the ride.
"At Ripon he did it really gutsily," said Beasley. "And then at York, he was even better. He travelled through the race the best he's travelled, so he goes in good form and hopefully at the top of his game.
So after all the turmoil following the fall, if everything worked out, how good would a televised pot at Newbury be?
"It'd be the dream really. Obviously I'm living the dream at the minute after all that's happened but a decent prize would just top it off. Someone was looking down on me after the fall, and I'm very grateful and it'd be great if it continued."
News from Newbury and commentary of the Ayr Gold Cup (15:45) on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday, 17 September