The turf

It's scary what it takes to be (and stay) a jockey

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

19 September 2015

9:00 AM

It’s a tough old business, this racing. Hayley Turner is the best woman rider we’ve ever seen in this country. She rode two Group One winners in the space of six weeks in 2011 and is only 32, but she has decided to end the struggle to find enough decent rides and to quit at the end of the season. Former champion Kieren Fallon, the rider of three Derby winners, has disappeared to the US. ‘At 50 there was nothing left for him here: it was a case of go abroad or get out,’ one of his former rivals told me last week.

Then there is Seb Sanders, who in 2007 shared the Jockeys’ Championship with Jamie Spencer. Earlier this month, when Seb rode a horse called Langley Vale at Goodwood, he did so in his stockinged feet, with no boots, explaining that he had arrived too late to take a sauna before racing and had discarded his footwear to help him achieve his allotted weight of 9st 5lb. Jockeys’ boots are often paper-thin and while Langley Vale’s rider broke no rule such a desperate measure underlined the pressures facing all but the current top tier of jockeys. Before that bootless day Seb, who has nine times ridden more than a century of winners in a season, had reached the winner’s enclosure only a dozen times this season, not surprising when he had only secured 140 rides.


What is making it harder for the older or less fashionable riders is that with the likes of Tom Marquand, Jack Garritty, Louis Steward, Cam Hardie, Edward Greatrex, Shane Gray and Sammy Jo Bell we probably have the most outstanding crop of apprentice riders ever coming through the ranks. An apprentice is given a 7lb weight allowance until he or she has ridden 20 winners. It then drops to 5lb until their score reaches 40 winners and then to 3lb until the apprentice has 75 winners on the board: after that they are out on their own competing at level weights with the Ryan Moores and Frankie Dettoris of this world. If you train a horse you reckon has a decent chance in a big handicap but may have been allotted a couple of pounds too many by the handicapper what are you going to do: will you put up a middle-rank jockey with no claim or will you go for a rapidly improving apprentice who can take 7lb, 5lb or 3lb off your horse’s back?

Last Saturday, for example, Louis Steward rode the winners of two handicaps at Doncaster. At Chester Jack Garritty rode a double for Richard Fahey and Alan Bailey while his fellow Fahey apprentice Patrick Mathers rode another winner. At Bath Tom Marquand rode a double for Malcolm Saunders and Jo Hughes and at Lingfield Edward Greatrex rode a treble for his boss Andrew Balding, for Sylvester Kirk and for John Jenkins. As the day’s racing ended, Jack Garritty’s winners had amassed £539,650 in prize money this season, Tom Marquand’s £252,999. Marquand was on 42 winners for the season from 307 rides, Garritty on 38 from 238. Comparative figures for some well-established jockeys were 12 from 220 for Steve Drowne, 19 from 216 for Cathy Gannon and 21 from 238 for Martin Lane.

I went to Bath to observe the Marquand phenomenon and watched him coolly hold on by a neck to win the first and lead most of the way and repel a late challenge to win the second for Jo Hughes, who said, ‘I’ll certainly be using him again.’ There, too, was trainer Philip Mitchell, himself once champion amateur rider and the father of two jockey sons. He insisted: ‘This boy will be the next Ryan Moore.’ What is impressing the professionals is not just Tom Marquand’s balance and sense of pace but also his intelligent debriefing on his mounts. Certainly his has been a breakneck race to the top: in 2014 he started with just 14 rides. He did not ride on turf until this season but has already seen his claim fall to 3lb. As a result, having talked to his boss Richard Hannon, he won’t ride on the All Weather this winter to save a bit of his claim for next season. ‘As much as we learn, the all weather doesn’t count towards the championship and I wouldn’t be riding the same quality of horses.’ There is not an ounce of cockiness about this likable youngster but the confidence instilled by jockey coach Rodi Greene and his agent Sash Righton, says Tom, is crucial. ‘If you’re oozing confidence on a horse you will most likely get it to win. If you are riding with confidence, gaps open for you. You are not trying to force things to happen.’

And his happiest achievement so far? He rode Who Dares Wins first to win at Wolverhampton. Upped in grade, they won together again at Salisbury. Then, in a £12,000 handicap at Sandown, the pair got up on the line, beating a certain Frankie Dettori. It won’t be the last time he has a story like that to tell.

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