Thursday, March 14, 2013

They also ride who only stand and wait

The more I think about the remark that the Coral Cup is many people's favourite race of the week, the more I puzzle over it.  Do such people really exist?  Possibly they do.  I suppose also that there might have been some people who came home from Champions' Day, when Frankel's swansong took top billing among a plethora of top-class races, and said that they'd enjoyed the apprentices' race the best.  After all, if the Falklands referendum can only get 98% or whatever it was agreement, then I suppose that there's always going to be someone whose opinion is not what one would expect.

My gripe with Channel Four today was that I found it really hard to stomach being repeatedly told what a tough week AP McCoy is having.  In fact, I didn't stomach it after a while, as I turned the channel off.  This was ludicrous.  If he's having a tough week, then what about the several top-class jockeys who couldn't even get a ride there, about whom the C4 team spoke not a word?  At least AP had more or less a full book - and if several of his mounts didn't have particularly good chances, that's the price one pays for taking a retainer.  If a jockey doesn't want to be obliged to ride a particular person's horses, it's easy: all he has to do is not take a retainer from that person.  It's as simple as that - and AP would be the first to know that.

I'm not, by the way, in any way having a go at AP, who is the most wonderful man as well as a tremendous jockey.  In fact, I'm sure that he'd agree with every word I'm saying, and that he'd be terribly embarrassed if he knew that the TV pundits were trying to get people to feel sorry for him.  Congratulate him on any of his magnificent achievements, and he'll tell you with complete sincerity that he just considers himself lucky to be allowed to ride so many nice horses.

Tell AP that he's the best jockey, and he'll tell you with complete sincerity that there are plenty of good jockeys out there who'd compile outstanding records if they were given the chance to ride the horses he's put on.  Tell him that he's having a tough time, and he'll tell you with complete sincerity that there are plenty of jockeys out there whose lot is much tougher than his, and that he's the lucky one.  And the Channel Four pundits are doing him (as well as the other jockeys) a gross disservice by implying that he is a far less gracious man than he is.  He deserves better, as do the other jockeys.  As do the viewers.

To move neatly on to some of the less fashionable riders, I've been delighted to see two of our local conditionals enjoying good rides at Cheltenham.  Joe Akehurst (pictured in the first paragraph, on Frankie on New Year's Day) had a good ride in the Fred Winter Hurdle on his stable's (ie John Ferguson's) third string, while Gary Derwin (pictured in the second paragraph, at Southwell last month) had a good ride on Ericht for his boss Nicky Henderson in Channel Four's favourite race.  They are both good lads who, like so many other overlooked jockeys, would compile a string of very good results if given the chance to do so.

You might wonder why I refer to Gary as a local conditional, as he's Irish and lives in Lambourn.  Well, the answer is that he began his working life with Mark Wallace, when Mark trained in Sefton Lodge in the Bury Road.  Gary wasn't yet 16 when he started with Mark, but somehow he was able to leave school early and head over here to begin work.  I think that he stayed with Mark until the latter headed down to Sydney, when Gary headed north, beginning his jumping career with Howard Johnston before moving to Lambourn when that stable was disbanded.  If you're one of umpteen claimers in a stable such as Nicky Henderson's, it's an achievement just to get a ride, so the fact that Gary is doing well is very good.

Another jockey who ought to be mentioned in dispatches is Steve Pateman, who is at the Festival as a spectator with a tour party of Aussies.  Having had a few days in Ireland visiting Willie Mullins and Enda Bolger, he had a ride at Warwick on Sunday (pictured in the third paragraph, on the Richard Phillips-trained 66/1 shot Great Hero) but that'll be his only ride here on this visit as he flies out of Heathrow on Saturday evening, arrives at Tullamarine on Monday morning and is due to ride at Warrnambol on Monday afternoon.

It was a pleasure to meet and walk the course with Australia's answer to AP McCoy, the leading jumps hoop who is a top man as well as a top rider.  Obviously (in a country which doesn't have much jumps racing) he doesn't rack up anything like the volume of success which AP manages - in fact, jumps race-riding isn't really a full-time job there, so his regular job is riding trackwork at Caulfield every morning for Robert Smerdon and Ciaran Maher -  but his dominance is equally complete.  Let's hope that we see him back here again anon - you never know, he might even manage to emulate his compatriot Jamie Evans with a Festival winner one day.

Oh yes, and as the final five photographs (featuring Gift Of Silence, Gift Of Silence, Tommy and Ethics Girl, Tommy, and Ethics Girl respectively) suggest, it's been a lovely day, albeit a fairly cold one which began with hard frost.  But the wind has dropped and the sun shone, so that's great.

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