Race to the Championship

Race to the Championship

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If we do get a tussle for the title between Silvestre de Sousa and Jim Crowley you can be sure whoever is crowned champion jockey will be more than worthy of the title. My money is quite literally on Jim and my old agent Tony Hind to come out on top.

Let me first of all stress I would not be in the least surprised if Silvestre successfully defends his crown. I know he will be desperate to do so. After I won my first title I was even hungrier to win my second. Silvestre will be the same.

Things have, of course, changed since I landed my third and last championship. The fact the season now ends on Champions Day helps all those who go for it.

From Ascot to November Handicap day championship chasers used to have to ride at lots of low-grade backend meetings, including every Saturday night at Wolverhampton. That was not only exhausting but also risky as a jockey is more likely to be suspended when riding a lowly-rated horse than one with much more ability. Those lower-grade horses take more stoking up. They also deceive you when a gap appears - you think you're quick enough to take it but you're probably not and end up causing interference.

You also don't really want to be riding in races under floodlights after 9pm. By that time of night, after a very long day that would have started first thing in the morning, a jockey will be pretty tired and not as sharp as he should be. Inevitably that means concentration levels dip - and that means a ban could be around the next corner.

Quite simply, you cannot ride winners if you're banned. It's worth sacrificing a couple of wins to make sure you stay out of the stewards' room.

Both Jim and Silvestre work as freelancers and will benefit from not being tied to a yard. Although they don't have one stable they can call on for lots of guaranteed chances, a stable jockey will end up having to ride a lot of young maidens who are only having a run to gain some experience. Jim, and Silvestre can, in theory, select the best ride in every race - although that comes with an important caveat.

It sounds a stupid thing to say, but if you're challenging for the title you can't always concentrate solely on getting aboard the best available horse in a race. By jumping on a particularly attractive prospect you might jump off a horse you've ridden before. If the horse you've plumped for gets beat you might not be able to jump back on the one you jumped off next time out.

Even more critically, a freelance jockey needs to work out from which trainers he is receiving the most support. You're always treading a very thin line, even though you're not retained by anyone. For example, Jim has been riding a lot for Hugo Palmer. If Hugo has a 16-1 shot in a race of some importance it would make more long-term sense for Jim to ride Hugo's horse and not the 2-1 favourite if that horse is trained by someone who won't ever be able to supply him with many mounts.

Tony, or Boney as we call him, understands that. He knows what to do and has learned what not to do. With Ryan Moore, who he made champion three times, it was easy. With me it was harder and at times we made a few mistakes, not least by turning down rides from trainers we should have remained loyal to with a view to the future. We learned from those errors.

Boney could be the big thing in Jim's armoury, particularly because he is also Ryan's agent.

Some people will think it's a negative for Jim that Ryan is back from injury. I can tell you from personal experience it's actually exactly the opposite.

Here's why. Everybody wants to use Ryan but Ryan can't ride all the horses. What Boney can say to trainers is if Ryan becomes available he will take the ride, but if he doesn't will you be happy to use Jim?

Most trainers will say yes because they want Ryan but know Jim is an excellent substitute. When Ryan was off injured those trainers might not have bothered ringing Boney, so Jim would never have been in contention for their horses.

Having Ryan on Boney's books helped me and it will help JIm.

Both Jim and Silvestre are good guys. In Silvestre's favour is he has been there and done it, both as a winner and loser at the end of a long title battle. He knows what it takes and also knows all about the mind games that go on - and, believe me, the mind is important in a close championship fight.

The mind is everything. When you're in a real scrap for the title you become totally consumed by it. In every race you're mad keen to find a way to win, even more than you would be usually. You have to be wary of trying to make things happen when you should not. That's how things can start to unravel. Silvestre also knows how to bounce back if you start a week level with your rival but end it six winners behind.

The great thing about Jim is not only is he a very good jockey, he is also completely dependable and consistent. The same Jim Crowley turns up every day in every race. He isn't streaky. Frankie would be the first to tell you if he has had two winners on a card he will have a better chance of winning on his next ride than if those previous horses had all lost.

Jim, however, is thoroughly level-headed. He has to make sure he remains that way as the title race enters its closing stages.

I think he will. To prove I think that, I had £100 on Jim at 50-1 earlier this month. I saw he was 12 winners behind Silvestre and I know how many trainers rate him, so I had a shot in the dark and backed him. I'm the sort of person who could have 20 runners in a week and not back one of them, but I would be attracted to the sort of bet I've had on Jim or a punt in the golf.

So, I'm narrowly on Jim's side in this title race, for him, my wallet and the agent who was invaluable to me achieving my own lifelong dream of becoming champion jockey.

The Sales

We managed to buy one yearling at Doncaster this week. However, buying anything was difficult.

Myself and agent Steve Hillen went into the ring on a number of occasions but with nothing to show for it. Sometimes that's how it has to be.

I'm buying on spec, which means I pay for my purchases with my own money and then have to sell on what I've bought. I wouldn't want to spend too much over £60,000 in those circumstances. If I can't sell a horse I have to carry on owning that horse - and I can't afford to be spending £60,000 of my own money on a racehorse.

For owners racing is a hobby. For me racing is a livelihood.

We did buy a Choisir colt for £52,000. He is a strong, active boy who had a bit of presence about him in the ring. I bought him at 11am. I don't think I would have been able to buy him after lunch.

In the morning buyers are trying to get a feel for the sale. That results in indecision. It's also true that more people come in after lunch and then, all of a sudden, prices for nice horses start going up. People start to panic that they're going to come away empty-handed or with less than they wanted.

It has a ripple effect. The top tier horses sell for more than they would have done and so do all the tiers further down the ladder. £A 60,000 yearling will be sold for £80,000 and so on.

I have to wear my heart on my sleeve and love a horse before signing the docket.

The Choisir colt was one I loved. I'm pleased to say he was sold by the time I got home.


I have this year become a patron of Heros, the excellent racehorse retraining and rehoming organisation, which has a big fundraising event at Windsor tonight, when our travelling head girl, Frankie Amatt, rides Presto Boy in the charity race.

Heros does great and important work. Like many other people, I make my living out of horses. They are our best friend and I'll do whatever I can to help them find good homes in their retirement.

Anyone who would like to sponsor Frankie can do so at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Frankie-Amatt

Team Ethos

We've had some scorching weather this week, which is nice as Weathercock House is very much a yard fond of staff barbecues.

Every couple of weeks in the summer Lizzie hosts a barbecue for all the members of the team. It sounds corny but what we have here really does feel like a big family. Lizzie likes that as much as I do and she likes the staff as much as I do. She is a great people person. We have a lot of girls working here and, realistically, if they have a problem they might feel more comfortable talking to Lizzie than me. Some of them even pop into her office to see the new hats she sells and hires as they arrive!

Our son Harvey organises a mini football tournament on those barbecue evenings, which he loves, and they do seem to bring people together.

Whether we'll be doing them in December, I'm not so sure.