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No praise too high for top work riders

Author: Howard Wright

27/09/2018
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Work riders  are worth their weight in gold to trainers. They might not be paid in the sterling, dollar or dirham equivalent, but their value to trainers, especially those seeking explanation or confirmation of what they have seen on the gallops, cannot be under overestimated. Not all work riders are ex-jockeys out of the top bracket. Some of the best were former riders who never made the highest grade, maybe for want of opportunity or more likely the inability to make below normal weights in races. In recent times, though, as taking out a trainer’s licence has become more expensive and not a little precarious for all but the ‘best connected’, more and more successful jockeys hanging up their breeches and saddle from competitive riding have gone down the work rider route as a second career.

Take a look at the list of riders in the recent Leger Legends charity race, the now traditional opening day highlight at the St Leger Festival at Doncaster. Sixteen runners and at least nine of the jockeys regularly ride out, even if Gay Kelleway, Adrian Nicholls and Ollie Pears are trainers in their own right, while Ian Mongan and Barry Keniry do so in the role as assistant to their wives, who hold the trainer’s licence. Top of the list of the rest was Ted Durcan, the seven time UAE champion and dual British Classic victor with more than 1,500 winners to his name, including the Oaks in 2007 for Henry Cecil and the St Leger two years later for Godolphin. Durcan retired from race riding in February this year, but his has been no pipe and slippers job, with a daily walk with the dog to relieve the monotony.

While no longer chasing around the country or continents for rides, Durcan has been busy building up his bloodstock business, and all along continuing to show his worth to his latest employer, Sir Michael Stoute, at early morning exercise. Always regarded as an astute judge of horse flesh, Durcan did the donkey work in Stoute gallops and on the racecourse in the last few years of his career and he remains an integral part of the stable’s operation, numbering the very smart Poet’s Word among his regular gallops’ partners. That Durcan has lost none of his competitive dash was evident at Doncaster, where he followed in the footsteps of such luminaries as Julie Krone, Sir AP McCoy, Mick Kinane and Joseph O’Brien by winning the Leger Legends race at his first attempt, showing immaculate judgement of pace to take Central City past Andrew Thornton on longtime leader Detachment in the last 75 yards.

Farther down the list of finishers, it was possible to spot an even more significant pointer to the value of work riders. There in sixth place was Gary Bardwell, and but for a slow start from his mount Jamie Mackay might have done better than beat just one home. The significance here is that both Bardwell, twice Champion Apprentice but a retiree from the racecourse for 16 years, and Mackay, 25 years younger and just four years on from his last ride against serving professionals, both work for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation, which has gathered together a veritable Who’s Who of more than competent work riders.

Remarkably, Bardwell is not the only former Champion Apprentice working for Saeed bin Suroor, for he was joined a couple of years ago by Chris Catlin, the 2001 title winner. Catlin admitted he had ‘fallen out of love with racing’ when he decided not to renew his licence in 2016, having registered more than 1,200 winners in Britain as well as several overseas, including the German 2000 Guineas. “The lifestyle that goes with it, involving all the travelling, was getting a bit much, and the opportunity came along to join Godolphin, so I took it,” he told the Racing Post at the time. For Neil Pollard, who retired from race riding in 2009 after a career that included winning the Royal Hunt Cup on Showboat for Barry Hills, the choice between a promising start as an instructor at the Northern Racing College and the chance to return to familiar territory in Newmarket to work for Bin Suroor was a no-brainer.

As for the oldest work rider on Godolphin’s books, also employed by Bin Suroor, there is no doubting the benefit for both sides. Kieren Fallon’s ups and down have been well documented, but last year’s reflections to journalist Steve Dennis put the present into perspective. “I’m riding out every day; I still get the contact with horses, and there’s all the banter between the lads. Before, I would have my head down; now I find I can open up more,” says the man who was Champion Jockey six times and rode more than 2,500 winners, including the Derby three times and the Arc twice. Another Derby winning jockey, Willie Ryan, has only recently put away his saddle at the other Godolphin axis run by Charlie Appleby.

He leaves behind a formidable array of work riding talent, including another former Champion Jockey Seb Sanders, one of the best female jockeys of the age in Kirsty Milczarek, and the Spaniard Oscar Urbina. And then Appleby can also call on Brett Doyle, who learned his trade with the master tutor Clive Brittain before heading off towards the end of the 1990s for a worldwide career that has encompassed Jebel Ali Stables, Hong Kong, Bahrain and several places in between. Back in Britain, he is the exception among Godolphin’s senior work riders in still having a full licence, and at the time of writing has clocked seven winners from 55 rides this year. However, Appleby left nobody to whom he talked after Masar’s victory in the Derby in any doubt about Doyle’s greatest value to the team. Doyle teamed up with Masar last year and has ridden work on him ever since, including when the pair travelled to Dubai over the winter. The groundwork led to a groundbreaking success for Godolphin.

Howard Wright

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27 Sep 2018
Issue Number: Issue 648
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