Friday, July 20, 2018
My job is to train racehorses, not jockeys, but it's always special when one of our apprentices rides a decent winner - and there are few moments more special than riding your first winner, which is what happened to George Rooke last week.
Last week's column was already up on the website before George made almost every yard of the running to win a 1m4f Chepstow handicap on Kath's Legacy. It was only the third ride of his life and after finishing third in the first two of those races, George is now a winning jockey. Based on what I've seen so far there should be plenty more wins to come.
George joined us a year ago and from the moment he came to the yard he has been a pleasure to know. He hails from Hook in Hampshire, where he took part in show jumping and other equestrian disciplines. A friend of his family got him on a foundation course with the British Racing School, which then approached me and asked if I would be interested in bringing George into the team.
I'm delighted I did. He is a lovely lad and has never given anyone here a moment of trouble. He is only 17 years old, which we were reminded of after one of the barbecues we have for the staff. After it ended we found George in the house playing on an Xbox with our son Harvey. It's easy to forget how young these embryonic jockeys really are.
The great thing about George is he is eager to learn and wants to work hard. That last point is absolutely vital to me. If someone is prepared to put in the graft I'll do my best to give them the chance to be a jockey.
What's also crucial from my point of view is youngsters who come to Weathercock House have to convince me they love horses. I won't stand for anything that makes me think they aren't showing every ounce of care and respect racehorses deserve. I constantly remind them that without horses they would not stand a chance of making a living in racing. For that reason, they absolutely have to treat horses in the correct way.
When George joined us it was quickly obvious to me he could ride well but it was his work ethic that caught my eye. He wanted to arrive half an hour before everyone else and watch what happened at feed time. That impressed me, as did the fact he was willing to ride out on the Sunday morning of his weekend off.
There are plenty of jockeys who are not necessarily brilliant riders but still make their living because they work very hard. They have dedication and that dedication overrides the fact they might not be the most naturally gifted.
In reality, I should not have to teach the young riders too much about the basics of riding. They should automatically be using the simulators that are now available - when I was a kid we had to put a saddle on a bench and practice on that - plus they should make the most of the jockey coaches the sport now provides.
What I can do is offer guidance. I can explain to them why something in a race might not have worked out. It's about knowing when to kick and when not to kick. It's about knowing when to make a move on the inside or the outside. It's about knowing you win the race at the start not the end.
Keeping an apprentice can be expensive, not least because I keep some horses in the yard specifically for them to ride. There are times when an owner can take a horse away if unhappy with the performance of an apprentice, but George has been lucky in that Kath's Legacy's owner, Merv Cox, kindly let him ride her at Windsor two starts ago and then again at Chepstow.
I went to the start with George at Windsor and asked him to say out loud after going three furlongs: "My name is George Rooke."
He came in after the race and told me he had forgotten to do it. That was normal. Most people cannot remember anything that happens in their first ten races. They don't know what they did or why they did it. The reason I therefore wanted George to say his name was so he would be living in the moment and fully aware of everything going on around him. He forgot at Windsor but he remembered at Chepstow.
He gave the mare a lovely ride to win. The only thing he did wrong, and I pointed this out to him afterwards, was after making the running he allowed another horse up his inside. That's something you should never do, although to be fair to George the horse was hanging right and she is also quite strong.
Another impressive thing about George is he works very hard at his fitness. That proved useful at Chepstow, as it is so tiring riding 0-60 horses over a mile and a half. They are slow and get tired, which means you have to do an awful lot of pushing. That's not easy. The lactic acid builds up and it hurts. It also means you can't think about anything else but your tiredness. You see it a lot in amateur riders' races when the jockeys' heads drop.
I always feel sorry for young jockeys who are given their first ride before being really ready for it. That's simply not fair on them. You have to do it when the time is right, and I'm pleased to say George is now the fourth jockey who has got off the mark on a Weathercock House horse after Finley Marsh, Nicola Currie and Stephen Cummins.
It was great to see Finley riding a double this week at Bath, where Nicola also rode a winner. With Stephen proving popular with trainers in Jersey, I'm pleased to say we have an excellent squad of young riders, a team that now also includes George.
Newbury's Saturday highlight, the Weatherbys Super Sprint (3.35), is a wonderful race. I won it twice as a jockey aboard Monsieur Chevalier and Tiggy Wiggy and now I'm trying to win it - admittedly more in hope than confidence - with Kadiz.
The Super Sprint was created by Richard Hannon senior and the late Lord Carnarvon. I love the way it works and I love the sort of stories it throws up.
In 2003 Richard entered Lady Livius, who had finished ninth and eighth in two maidens prior to running at Newbury. He only ran her in the hope of getting some of the entry money back, given they pay down to tenth place, but she went and won under Martin Dwyer at 100-1. That perfectly highlighted how a race like this gives normal owners a real chance of a massive payday. It offers the people who form the backbone of the sport a potential pot of gold.
Kadiz is owned by a good bunch of lads who have become friends and super supporters of the yard.
They've been unlucky not to have yet won a race with Kadiz. She ran well to finish second at Newmarket on debut, after which she was beaten on heavy ground before running second to Come On Leicester, who then went on to take fifth in the Queen Mary. She was subsequently only fourth last time at Brighton, so I admit on form she has a bit to find, but this is always a strange race. The best horse does not always win it and it's often a bit of a lottery, as you can see from some of its past big-priced winners.
I've won it as a jockey making all and I've won it coming from the back. I think with the Super Sprint you sometimes have to throw the form book out the window. If you're not in it you can't win it, so although I wouldn't normally run a horse who was so wrong at the weights I'm happy to break my rule in this race.
Earlier on the card Golden Wolf takes his chance in the first running of the JLT Handicap (2.25), a new £100,000 contest over two miles.
He got left in the stalls at Haydock last time, as a result of which we immediately knew he couldn't win. He didn't run a bad race and he didn't have a hard race, either. Our aim with him has always been to step up to two miles. This is the first time we've done it and we're hoping he has a big chance.
We have been hunting for a Listed race for some time with Paco's Angel but we're now dropping her back into handicap company in Newbury's 1m fillies' handicap (4.45), in which Finley Marsh, who rides her every day at home, takes 5lb off her 10st burden.
I feel she needs to win a race to get her confidence back before returning to Listed company. As I've said before the mental aspect is always overlooked when it comes to racehorses and I do think it's beneficial for their confidence if they can win a race.
Her last run at Pontefract was seriously below par, but for what reason I don't know. I think if she could be competitive at Newbury it would do her the world of good. A straight mile on fast ground is exactly what she needs so we can't complain about the conditions.
Rosamour runs for the Richard Hughes Racing Club in Newmarket's novice auction event (2.15). It looks a competitive race but she finished strongly at Wolverhampton last time and I hope she will do us proud.