Sunday Supplement: Racing’s Numbers Game

Richard Hughes, Champion Jockey

Richard Hughes, Champion Jockey

Sunday supplement 

By Tony Stafford 

One week off and the almost inevitable consequence was that I was already into my sausage sandwich at the café before I remembered my responsibilities to your weekend reading.

Many of you might well be tempted, indeed impelled, to shout “stay there and have another cup of tea!” but swallowing the second half of the snack almost whole, I marched back to my machine.

Normally, the process for what passes as inspiration – I rarely move fast enough these days to perspire except in deepest summer – begins as the hours approaching the sound of the alarm go shorter. But no such tremors invaded on an untroubled night’s rest this time.

I’d already read yesterday about the fiasco regarding the non-qualification of the winner The Young Master in Wincanton’s Badger Ales Chase. I think the BHA should disqualify the horse but then make an ex-gratia payment to the owner. I doubt if he planned to confound the authorities. A rap on the knuckles for the trainer should also go along with some self-flagellation by the authorities.

This is the weekend of title celebrations up at Doncaster and while I couldn’t make it, well done to the three Richards, Hughes and Hannon junior and senior. Hannon stepped serenely into the old man’s chair to send out the winners of 198 races between November 10th last year and Saturday, collecting £4,695,019 in prizes and 17 domestic Group-race wins.

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A total of 298 individual horses were sent into action – however many others failed to make the track either through injury or simple unpreparedness. Alone among the top four, John Gosden called on fewer than 200 animals – 179 in his case – as third-placed Mark Johnston 218 and Richard Fahey, fourth utilising 277 boxes, showed once and for all that this is a numbers game.

Only one of the top 13 in the prize money list – Aidan O’Brien – with 50 for ten wins from 81 runs, had fewer than 100 individual horses to represent him. Of the others, Sir Michael Stoute (8th) had the least at 132. Interestingly, the two Godolphins, Saeed bin Suroor, 12th with 133 individuals and Charlie Appleby, one place lower with 169, so a combined 302, would still not quite have caught Fahey if their statistics were combined.

Lower down, seven more stables called on 100 plus, so the intervention in 14th of David Simcock with almost £1.3 million from 97 runners was outstanding. His haul of four Group winners was exceeded only by Hannon, Gosden, O’Brien, Stoute and lower down Charlie Hills, and to that he added several major overseas wins, notably in Grade 1 races at Woodbine, greatly enhancing his cash haul.

He’s clearly the next to make the big step, although whether he’ll want to over-extend might be another matter. Some trainers still like to keep going through the winter, and of them Brian Ellison, who ran 125 horses on the level, has also reached 42 jumping already.

The other remarkable stable is that of Gary Moore, not least because of the achievements of his sons Ryan, Jamie and Joshua, and daughter Hayley. Gary Moore sent out 74 Flat horses for a highly-creditable 47 wins on the Flat and a Sandown double on Saturday brought the tally for his 64 jumpers to 16 for the season with champion two-miler Sire de Grugy set for an imminent return.

Once a journalist – was I? – always a nosy sod but I couldn’t help over-hearing Mrs Jayne Moore talking to Anthony Kemp in the Sandown owners’ room between the stable’s two winners.

She told Anthony, soon no doubt set to don the greasepaint for the village panto once again, that Ryan’s first winner, as an amateur, had been over jumps. That gave me a nice 15 minutes to wallow in the stats which revealed indeed he did on Mersey Beat in a Towcester handicap hurdle on March 15th 2000. That remains his only jump ride ever. Amazingly, Wilson Renwick and Tom Scudamore rode in that same race, from only seven to face the starter. Ryan’s first as a professional followed on June 3, one of six Flat wins that year, principally for his father.

What did surprise me to remind myself that this did not launch a flood, possibly explaining why Ryan, according to his eavesdropped-on mum, wanted to go as an apprentice to Richard Hannon, but “not as a stable lad”. In 2001 he rode 25 individual horses, mainly for dad and ended the year 0-34. Happily it took only tallies of 39 and 59 to intervene before the first ton ten years ago and he has managed that mark ever since even allowing for an injury-ravaged 2003 when he just tipped over the mark at 101.

But the ten years have told us that he is now acknowledged as the world’s best rider. It would, in that context, be hard to imagine his getting into the sort of inadvisable speed duel that his close associate and near-contemporary Richard Hughes involved Toronado at the Breeders’ Cup.

I was actually amazed not to hear too much criticism of the now four-time champion jockey. He worked hard and skilfully to collect his latest title, even astonishingly matching the acknowledged hardest-working jockey, Luke Morris, with 914 rides each in the qualifying period. Morris ended with 59 fewer wins: his principal employer Sir Mark Prescott gave him 290 fewer rides than Hannon found for Hughes, and 27 winners less.

The best result among the jockeys, though, has to be Graham Lee’s third place on 129 winners. From 1996, when he was unsuccessful on each of his 36 rides, he had won two races on the Flat, both restricted to jump jockeys in 2007 and 2008 at Hamilton in May. They were among a total amazingly of just 11 Flat rides in the 13 seasons from 1997 to 2009.

Still to my mind the owner of the best winning Grand National riding performance in terms of Ryan Moore-like poise and calm on Ginger McCain’s last Grand National winner, Amberleigh House, Lee has quickly shown that good riders, like Ryan, can ride anything anywhere.

That National win involved coming from miles back, but still taking a pull before the fourth last. In overnight-sensation mode, he did not ride a single horse on the Flat between then and 2009 until suddenly announcing that he was fed up with falling from and getting hurt on three-mile chasers around Hexham and the like.

The championship figures relate from March to November. Graham’s personal clock also acknowledges the efforts on the all-weather from January 1. In 2012 it was 108, an astonishing instant century. In 2013 it was 127 and this year a gargantuan 151. He has the poise and skill to ride on for many years yet and has only Danny Tudhope in the north as a viable alternative for the big southern-stable rides.

Unlike Graham, I’m now looking to the jumps and the boss has what we hope are three nice new recruits, one each with tyros Warren Greatrex and Dan Skelton and a third sourced and taken care of by old mate Noel Quinlan.

The first of the trio, Adrakhan, by smart French sire Martaline, may be up and running at Bangor on Wednesday, so it will be a case of fingers crossed as the three-year-old never raced on the Flat. Maybe I’ll have a bit more to say next week – if I remember?

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