Maybe the greatest comeback
22 December 2023 , Punters Info
By Michael Guerin
In a sport of great comebacks few, maybe none, can match Ricky May.
The enormously popular Mid-Canterbury horseman heads to Invercargill today to partner favourite Beach Ball in the $110,000 Ascot Park Hotel
Invercargill Cup, the only group 1 race in New Zealand this weekend.
May is enjoying being a serious player in our biggest races again, a role he held for three decades thanks to horses like Inky Lord, Iraklis, Christian Cullen, Monkey King and Terror To Love.
They helped make May the most successful reinsman in the history of our biggest race, having driven a record seven New Zealand Trotting Cup winners, and that was going to be his most famous accomplishment until January 2, 2000.
In less than two weeks it will be four years since May collapsed and for a very short time died, falling from the sulky when leading a race at Omakau in Central Otago, saved by the quick actions of those on track and later by having an operation on his heart.
After being diagnosed with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, which can cause the heart to stop with no warning, May had a cardioverter defibrillator implanted in his chest.
It delivers a shock through a wire which runs into a chamber of the heart if it plays up again.
Nearly four years later it is so far, so good even though May hasn’t strictly stuck to the doctor’s guidelines.
"I did all the stuff they told me, like not driving a car and I didn’t drive in a race for over six months,” May tells the Herald.
“But they told me to be careful around some electrical stuff like electric fences, chainsaws and even welding.
“So I am careful around the fences but I have to admit I use the chainsaw because nobody else here (family farm) wants to do that.
“But to be honest I have had no real issues with my heart at all since it all happened and I try not to think about it much.
“My health is pretty good, my work load isn’t as big at it used to be but that is also because I am 65 now.”
So does a racing champion who has been to death’s door and is now at many people’s retirement age still look forward to a day at the Invercargill trots?
“I am still really enjoying the driving and if I thought I was losing it I’d give up.
“But we have Maurice (McKendry) and Tony (Herlihy) out there still driving group 1 winners so I can do the same.
“It definitely helps being behind a good horse too.”
Beach Ball is better than a good horse, finally developing the manners to match his motor and has been harness racing’s most dramatic improver this spring.
He was third in the New Zealand Cup and smashed Self Assured when able to lead last start and May says he would like to be in front at some stage over the 3200m at today’s twilight meeting.
“If he can get around to lead he will be very hard to beat because he seems to be a good space at the moment.
“I think most of those on the front line (Beach Ball starts on 10m) would hand up if we take off and the key for us will be staying in front of Self Assured.”
The latter has also staged a comeback this spring, although nothing to match May’s, after looking finished as an open class force before a stunning NZ Free-For-All win in November.
Tempo and tactics should determine whether he can overcome his 20m backmark today in a race where Mossdale Ben and American Me appeal as the dangers and best place bets.
Also facing a challenging handicap today is Dominion hero Oscar Bonavena (R6, No.10) but he is aided by having only eight rivals and the only one really capable of beating him would seem to be the enigmatic Smokin Bandar if he can behave himself and eventually reach the lead from
the 10m mark.
The open class races aside the meeting runs very deep, with class age group performers in most races.
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