Sunday Supplement: Jack on his way back?

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Morning! Sorry, do I look a little bleary-eyed? No? Good, it’s just that we were involved in an all-night Reggae party that wound up around an hour ago at 5 a.m. I’d reset the alarm for eight but thought better of it and came into the office.

The trouble with Reggae is that after a while it gets a little samey. They’d gone to such a lot of trouble, too, erecting a marquee – Mrs S saw it going up the day before – over the postage-stamp garden and employing a DJ.

That ensured that the songs would go back-to-back without any gap and everyone could dance non-stop if they wanted for hour after hour.

Did we dance, you ask? Can’t speak for her ladyship, but I am happy to confess to an occasional trigger movement as I shuffled from side to side. As I implied, the gardens around here are small – we have one that backs on to theirs – and it was sure to be crowded at the party’s high-point, probably around three.

So the organisers very kindly allowed us to stay in the relative roominess of our own premises, but pushed up the volume high enough so that we could enjoy every minute in bed without the inconvenience of a crush over there.

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No sleep, then, and even the normal pre-waking framing of the route of these weekly words were denied me as the racket kept on relentlessly.

I know that my father would have been on the phone to the police, or more likely putting on his outdoor clothes to knock on the door and demand they desist with a heart-felt: “Don’t you know there are people trying to sleep here?”

Dad, of course they know, but like phones which are grafted onto hands nowadays, people walking over crossings with the lights green for drivers while wearing headphones and stepping straight out oblivious, while others walk along the street eating hot food, often with a fork, it’s how it is today. And I hate it all. Insensitivity to others’ comfort is king. As for the police, the last time this crowd had a similar celebration – they belted out Happy Birthday at 3 a.m. – we tried the police and spoke to someone I think somewhere near Heathrow, who suggested talking to the Council. That helped, can you imagine?

Now I remember what I was thinking to talk about. Some jockeys can ride a few winners and get non-stop coverage. They win on a fancied horse and the media can attribute to them almost magical powers. Others hardly credit a mention. That’s been the case with Jack Quinlan ever since he stopped getting the bulk of the John Ferguson rides when Sheikh Mohammed turned the trickle of high-grade Flat performers into his yard near Newmarket into a flood.

In Fergie’s first season at Cowlinge he sent out 24 winners from 78 runners. Jack, then a claimer, rode 20 of them from 58 rides and added seven more, usually from other trainers from the area including his uncle Mick who trained in conjunction with Jack’s father Noel.

Sadly Mick died soon after, Noel taking over the licence, but during early 2015 he packed up too. It would have been a double blow for someone less durable than Jack, especially with the Ferguson opportunities dwindling.

In Ferguson’s second season, which brought 23 wins, Quinlan rode only six of them from 31 rides, being largely supplanted by Denis O’Regan with 16 from 82. O’Regan’s quiet style attracted not just the attention of the Bloomfields trainer but also large numbers within the media, headed by Stuart Machin, who usually could be heard saying something of the order of: “another master-class from O’Regan” as he came late and fast to win.

It was towards the end of the previous campaign that Jack got the most unexpected and as history was to show probably unhelpful comment from none other than John Francome. Mr McCririck’s “greatest jockey” was still in his Channel Four role for the 2012 Festival and after Simonsig’s novice hurdle win was secured when Cotton Mill swerved and ran out at the last under O’Regan, Francome was asked what he would do with Cotton Mill next time. “Put Jack Quinlan back on,” he replied.

He was indeed back on the gelding once the following season when Cotton Mill beat all bar the well-handicapped My Tent or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but such gems were rare indeed. The following season it was nine from 40 compared to 38 from 161 for O’Regan as the team reached 50 successes for the first time.

As Ferguson maximised the benefits of increased support from graduates of such as Godolphin, Mark Johnston, Andre Fabre and John Oxx’s yards, his confidence persuaded him to call on Tony McCoy in ever-increasing regularity as O’Regan was abruptly jettisoned. This time it was 56 wins, but it took 71 individual horses, many of them Pattern-class on the Flat, to get there. McCoy in his final season had 26 wins from 86, Jack five from 29.

For much of the first part of the present season, Ferguson was pressing Paul Nicholls at the top of the charts and leading the way in number of winners. Again there’s been an increase in wins, 68 already from a similar number of horses as last term, although the end of season tally must surely exceed 71. For the record that winning total and greatly increased prize money has come at a handsome 33% strike-rate.

There’s no question it’s a stable going places and with an almost limitless potential supply of staying horses it could even fulfil Sheikh Mohammed’s naturally secondary priority and win a trainer’s championship one day for his main bloodstock advisor. He may not have bothered much about jumping previously, but we should remember that Kribensis and Michael Stoute won the Champion Hurdle for him many years ago.

As for Jack he’s been on just three Ferguson runners, all unsuccessful, as Aidan Coleman has become the latest incumbent, and one that looks set to last, maybe. Coming up fast on the rails though are Sam Twiston-Davies, five from 12, and Fergie’s son Alex (not Sir), who has four from 21 and has the family motivation to do even better.

Jack Quinlan had two rides at Doncaster on Friday and they both won, the first for one-time Newmarket handler Neil King, the other for HQ’s doyen, the wonderful James Eustace. With 12 wins from 81 rides, Jack is ticking over nicely, and anyone who saw the stylish way he presented the pair at the jumps and his power in a finish, it is still possible that he might come to a few more trainers’ notice, even if the pundits continue not to see past their favoured ones.


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