For jump jockeys, the off-season is often a time to rest, recuperate, reflect, and recalibrate for the year ahead. But for some riders, especially those from overseas, the down time also offers an opportunity to reestablish relationships and pick up mounts back home. For National Steeplechase Association jockey Tom Garner, the winter of 2021 has been a combination of both.
The Englishman, a native of Cirencester, located about 15 minutes outside of Cheltenham, began the winter recovering from serious leg and knee injuries suffered at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., in November.
“I tore my PCL and MCL (posterior and medial cruciate ligaments) in my knee and fractured my femur,” Garner revealed this week. “I flew home and saw a British horse racing doctor in London, where he put me in a leg brace for 12 weeks. My recovery went well.” Spending every day in the gym and undergoing physical therapy daily at Oaksey House, a state-of-the-art jockey rehab center in Lambourn, Garner was able to get back in the saddle in a remarkable 14 weeks post injury — at least eight weeks ahead of the typical recovery period — said Garner, who expressed deep gratitude to the facility and its staff for his speedy rebound.
Two weeks into his return, Garner, the regular rider for Ed Swyer’s 2019 Eclipse Award winning jumper Winston C, is upbeat. “I’m picking up lots of rides and, hopefully, will have a few winners before returning to the U.S.” Garner, who currently resides in Lambourn, a village known as the “valley of the race horse,” has deep roots in the area, having partnered with local trainers such as Nicky Henderson, Warren Greatrex, Clive Cox, Charlie Hills, and Oliver Sherwood for the past decade or so. In fact, Garner expects to have a couple of rides at the English Grand National Festival at Aintree on April 8 to 10, after which he’ll be traveling back to the States.
Between rehabbing and riding, Garner landed a gig working the jockey cam at the Saudi Cup in Riyadh on Feb. 20. The trip also afforded him the chance to catch up with Dubai-based friends who were competing at the Cup, including Dave Egan, who won the $20 million feature aboard Mishriff.
Looking ahead to the NSA spring season, Garner is anxious to reunite with all of his timber and hurdle horses including Winston C, Redicean, Tomgarrow, and Rashaan, whom he rode to upset 2020 Eclipse Award winner Moscato in the G1 Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga last summer. Garner was hoping to see Winston C in action in Ireland this winter, but the timing just hasn’t worked out between his injury, the lockdown, and quarantine situation.
This year, Garner will ride primarily for Leslie Young, who trains Rashaan and Redicean, but he’s also eager to pick up mounts for other conditioners, too.
His goals for the season are simple: “To ride as many winners for the owners and trainers who support me. But if the horses and I can stay injury-free that will be the best outcome!”
(Tod Marks photos)