Auroras Encore’s 66/1 shock victory in the 2013 Grand National was a fairytale result for his young pilot Ryan Mania, who became the first Scottish-born jockey to triumph since 1896, having quit working in racing just under two years earlier.
It was his first ride in the Aintree showpiece, but the 23-year-old did nothing wrong, settling his Sue Smith-trained mount behind the leaders before kicking on after the last fence to score decisively by nine lengths.
“It feels like it never happened,” said Mania, speaking in January 2014 shortly after his 24th birthday. “It has been ages now, but it still hasn’t sunk in.
“Auroras Encore’s build-up had been awkward – we had 10 foot snow drifts at Sue and Harvey’s – and we couldn’t use the facilities at home. It probably worked out for the best though because we had to take him for racecourse gallops and go schooling elsewhere, and that probably helped him get in the right frame of mind.
“He had been in no form at all, but I knew from his homework that he was going there in the best form he had been all season.”
Mr David Campbell on the 40/1 chance The Soarer had been the previous Scottish-born jockey to succeed in the Grand National and Mania’s hopes were not that high.
“As to Auroras Encore’s chances though, it was my first ride in the race so we were just aiming for a clear round. Everything went to plan during the race – I wanted to follow someone who had got around before and I lined up behind Ruby Walsh (On His Own).
“I didn’t want to panic, so I just took each fence as it came and wasn’t going to think about where I might finish until I got to Becher’s second time. The horse took to the whole thing and was always travelling really well. After jumping the third last and crossing the Melling Road, I thought I would probably finish third or fourth. It wasn’t until after the last that I thought I would win.
“I was in shock when I crossed the line – just a dream come true and I could not believe what had happened. People thought I was hiding emotion, but it was just pure shock!
“It is more normal to expect a southern-based jockey to win the Grand National because the majority of the time they are on a horse with a realistic chance. They ride in more big races down there and it was unrealistic for me to think that I could win a race like the Grand National.”
However, the turbulent life of a jump jockey was apparent less than 24 hours later when Mania suffered a kick between his shoulder blades following a fall from Stagecoach Jasper in a hurdle race at Hexham Racecourse and was rushed to hospital by the Great North Air Ambulance after being treated by doctors and paramedics where he came down for 25 minutes.
The fall looked serious and that view was heightened by the length of treatment and the arrival of the air ambulance. Mania did have concerns initially: “The first 20 seconds or so that I was on the ground were very scary. I didn’t have a lot of feeling in my legs there was a tingling sensation and I didn’t know what was happening.”
Thankfully, the only damage was a small fracture in his C7 vertebra. He explained: “After that, I got feeling back and then I knew was going to be OK. It was a small injury and one I could have done without it, but it kept me in the papers a bit longer!
“It really summed up the life of a jump jockey and that sort of thing can happen any day of the week – you ride a winner and then you have a bad fall. People don’t realise it, but obviously it was more highlighted because of what had happened the day before.”
His Grand National victory made front page news and the fall received similar coverage.
Born on 23 December 1989, Mania was raised in Galashiels, Scotland and first sat on a Shetland pony when he was three. At the age of 12, he started working with point-to-pointers under the care of Borders trainer Bill Hughes and rode two winners between the flags as an amateur rider.
He started to learn his craft on the Common Riding circuit in the Borders and attended the British Racing School.
Mania joined Lothian trainer Peter Monteith as a conditional jockey and partnered seven winners in his first season (2007/08). He went 44 rides before breaking his duck and promptly made it a double, winning aboard Quicuyo and Millie The Filly at Ayr on 8 March, 2008.
There were 15 more successes the following season. He also had 11 rides on the Flat, finishing second once, during 2008 and 2009.
He teamed up with leading northern handler Howard Johnson in County Durham and rode 31 winners during the 2009/10 campaign and 24 in 2010/11.
However, Johnson was banned from training in August, 2011, and, with opportunities scarce in the north, Mania left racing to work for his local hunt, the Fife foxhounds.
“I didn’t know what to do. I took six months out but after two months I thought ‘what am I doing?’” said Mania, who returned to the saddle in December, 2011. “I came back into racing because I missed it – it’s as simple as that.
“I returned on my own, but a couple of weeks later Harvey asked me to come and ride out and the partnership has just gone on from there. The opportunities for jockeys up north are very limited and I am lucky to have such a good yard behind me.”
Grand National success is very memorable and means time in the limelight, but some jockeys have not been able to capitalise on it. However, Mania is enjoying his best-ever season in 2013/14 following Auroras Encore’s thrilling victory.
“I am having a really good season and riding with more confidence. Sue Smith’s yard is flying and I am also picking up some nice spare rides.
“I have never been one to big myself up and never gone to the races thinking I am a good jockey, but winning a race like the Grand National definitely helps your confidence.”
Auroras Encore was due to return to Aintree in April to go for the first £1-million Crabbie’s Grand National, but an injury has put paid to those plans and the horse has been retired.
On the second outing this season, the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on 25 January, the 12-year- old horse ran well for a long before dropping back to finish ninth.
He was found to be lame after the race and had incurred a leg injury which required an operation on Tuesday, 28 January to pin together a fracture of the fetlock joint of his off-fore leg. It was a successful operation, with Auroras Encore back in his box at Craiglands Farm on Sunday, 2 February after two pins were inserted in the leg.
The injury came as a shock to Mania who said shortly afterwards: “For the past two days, Auroras Encore has been the only thing I’ve thought about
“I haven’t been thinking ‘oh no, there goes my ride in the National’, rather, I just want him to be OK.
“He came through the operation OK and it will be good to get him home. He’s going the right way, thankfully, and now all we can do is hope he keeps improving. He’s a hardy old horse, so he’ll keep fighting.
“Nobody can ever take the Grand National victory away from us. I just hope he gets to enjoy his retirement.”
GUIDE TO THE GRAND NATIONAL 2014 – CLICK HERE