George Baker: the most popular person on track as he returns to the racecourse
George Baker's rehabilitation took another big step forward on Sunday when he went racing for the first time since he suffered bleeding on the brain in a horrific pile-up on the frozen lake at St Moritz in February.
The outing to Goodwood was something of a quiet 'prep' run for a bigger target at Royal Ascot – although he nearly didn't come out of the stalls.
He explained: "As a jockey you normally just walk straight into the racecourse. I didn't have a badge today and when I arrived with Ed Walker they nearly didn't let me in because I wasn't wearing a tie! To have come back racing for the first time and not be allowed in would have been shocking."
He added: "This is something out of my comfort zone. I want to go to Royal Ascot, so I thought I should come racing somewhere else first to see how I get on."
Baker was, unsurprisingly, the most popular person on track, and it would have been a tiring day after catching up with so many well-wishers and colleagues.
'It was a nice thing to do'
He admitted: "I do struggle with fatigue and that's normally when there's loads going on around me. It's one thing I've struggled with – I'm getting there but I'm now pushing myself a little bit more."
After getting back home, Baker said: "Ed had a runner in the first, so I watched that and stayed for half an hour or so before leaving the track.
"I went down to the weighing room and it was great to see mates like James Doyle, Jamie Spencer, Martin Dwyer and Patsy Cosgrave, as well as the people who work on the racecourse like the starters and other officials – all people I was used to seeing nearly every day of the week but haven't seen for a few months now.
"It was just a nice thing to do and it all went well."
Baker's recovery might be slower than he would prefer, but it has been steady and significant and has confounded those experts who did not expect him to go home for between four and six months. He is now keen to stretch himself further in order to speed his recovery.
He said: "The rehab's going well and I'm getting there. It still feels a bit slow to me but the tests I do are becoming easier, although not everything is natural again yet – and with a head injury you can't be sure it ever will be.
"For a while the prognosis didn't look great, but my body has dealt so well with everything that's been thrown at it and I've taken the therapy great. I'm improving all the time. I'm very lucky in that respect."
Baker's upcoming Gold Cup day invitation will provide an opportunity not only to see more friends and fans but also to reacquaint himself with two of his closest four-legged friends, his St Leger hero Harbour Law and Northumberland Plate and Prix du Cadran winner Quest For More.
He continued: "I've been invited to Royal Ascot on the Thursday by owner Bjorn Nielsen, who I rode for and who has a box there, and [wife] Nicola will be coming along to look after me.
"I've got to get out of my comfort zone and a day at Royal Ascot will definitely be that as there will be a lot going on. I'm looking forward to it and it will be interesting to see how I get on.
Praise for Oaksey House
"I'm gradually getting back into the real world and when I was in Newbury High Street the other day I bumped into one of the stewards, who was pleased to see me. It was nice to see someone from racing like that, and I'm on the phone a lot more now than I was, talking to some of the lads, which is great for me after being out of the loop for such a long time."
Baker admits he is still a little unsteady on his feet but, once again, it is an aspect of his rehabilitation that is improving all the time.
He said: "The guys at Oaksey House have been brilliant and they're pushing me more and more, which is good. They're very good at what they do and I really appreciate it.
"I'm getting there, and I'm walking better now."
He added: "All I'm aiming for at the moment is returning to normal life. Anything else that happens is a bonus."