08 September 2021

Jubilant Gary Bardwell bags Leger Legends prize

08 September 2021

Gary Bardwell just edged out Robert Winston to finally win the Mondialiste Leger Legends Classified Stakes at Doncaster on Natural Colour.

Bardwell, a former champion apprentice, has been a regular down the years in a race that raises money for charities including the Injured Jockeys Fund – but had never troubled the judge before now.

Famed for his all-action style in the saddle, Bardwell hit the front a furlong out on the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Natural Colour (11-1) and looked to have the race sewn up.

Winston, however, was getting a real tune out of 3-1 joint-favourite Shining Aitch and flew close home, only to fail by the narrowest of margins.

Barry Geraghty finished sixth on Mumtaaz, with Richard Johnson fading into seventh on Greek Kodiac having helped make the running.

Bardwell, who rode in the very first Leger Legends in 2010, said: “I’m over the moon. Thanks to Saeed, what a pleasure to ride in these famous blue colours of Godolphin. I’m lost for words.

“She’s always a bit keen at home, but I knew she’d stay because it was a mile and a quarter last time. As we hit the line I thought I was beaten.

“I’ve got all my family here today – my wife, my brothers, my kids and my grandkids – so it’s a special day.

“When I got to a half-furlong to go I was out on my legs and I thought I was beat, but she’s brave and she stuck her head out all the way to the line.

“This is probably the first year that I’ve really got fit for it, I’ve been in training for six weeks in the gym, running every night.

“Today I didn’t have one drink, I had nothing to eat but a bit of toast this morning. I knew she’d give me everything and I had to be ready for her.

“This is up with the best of all my big winners.”

Former champion jump jockey Johnson said: “It was good fun – they just went a bit quicker than I did over the last two furlongs.

“It’s lovely to be here today, in this amazing weather. Fi (wife Fiona) just joked, because she obviously couldn’t come to my last race (retirement at Newton Abbot) because of Covid, that it’s quite nice she’s seen me have my proper last race now.

“It’s fantastic that Doncaster put this race on and raised a huge amount of money for the IJF and different charities.

Gary Bardwell celebrates (Mike Egerton/PA) (PA Wire)

“It’s lovely to be part of it – all the lads riding have enjoyed it, and we can go back now and have a drink and cool down.”

In different times, the now-retired Johnson would have been at Uttoxeter and not Doncaster.

Asked if he had mixed feelings, he said: “No – I had an amazing career for longer than I could every have imagined. For me, the main thing was it was my time to stop – and actually, I’ve really enjoyed life after racing.

“I still enjoy looking at the results – whether it’s Philip (Hobbs) or Henry Daly, or whoever having the winners. It’s a different type of life, but it’s nice to enjoy racing from a different side.”

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