Friend in high places

SOME jockeys riding in the Grand National are very superstitious. Several will walk out of Aintree’s weighing room just before 4pm tomorrow with lucky charms tucked away, others will wear undergarments that have supposedly brought them luck in the past.

Not 27-year-old Daryl Jacob, the man chosen to partner the well fancied What A Friend in the world’s most famous steeplechase. “The only help I need will come from the skies above”, he tells me. “Kieran will be watching my back over every fence”.

Jacob was referring to his best friend Kieran Kelly who received fatal injuries in a horrific fall in Ireland back in 2003. The pair once shared a house together when Jacob was still learning his trade and Kelly was already a well-established jockey and destined for stardom. Whatever happens tomorrow, Kelly will look down proudly on his former housemate.

Jacob is no stranger to Aintree and is all set for his fourth ride in the National tomorrow. “My best finish was fourth in 2007 aboard Philson Run”, he says modestly. “Since then, I unseated on that same horse at the 8th in 2008 and then fell at the 22nd when still going well on Maljimar last year”.

However, with no disrespect to those horses, the son of a deep sea fisherman has landed the ride on a serious contender in tomorrow’s race. A runner who was a nostril away from making the podium in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yet, Jacob is quick to accept that fate has played a huge role in landing such a plum ride.

”I’ve picked up some nice rides from Paul Nicholls and that only happened because of injuries to Ruby Walsh and Noel Fehily earlier in the season”, he stresses. “Paul has been really good to me”.

Well, Jacob will be hoping he can repay the champion trainer by landing him his very first National. He has sent out 48 runners so far and can boast no better than a second place to date. “What A Friend seems in really good form and I went down to Ditcheat recently and schooled him over some ‘National’ style fences. He seemed to really enjoy the experience and feels like the ideal type for the race”.

His partner in tomorrow’s race also happens to be part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jacob had the pleasure of meeting the Manchester United manager in the paddock at Cheltenham. However, he hasn’t yet been on the end of the famous ‘hair-dryer treatment’.

“Racing is all a bit of fun for Sir Alex and he was all laughs and jokes at Cheltenham when I met him”, he tells me. Sadly, football commitments mean that Ferguson will not be at Aintree to witness what could be Jacob’s finest hour to date.

To find out more about the Grand National and to download a sweepstake kit for tomorrow’s big race, visit