Holland’s “Family” Reunion Falls Flat

Monday musings

By Tony Stafford

When is a stable jockey not a stable jockey? That’s the question I’m sure will be gnawing at Darryl Holland’s mind tomorrow morning as he tries to celebrate his 44th birthday.

Late last December, after spells riding in South Korea and Mauritius, Holland, who owns a well-appointed yard – his “pension fund” – in Exning, near Newmarket, was telling the press that he was “delighted to be announced as first jockey to Charlie Hills”.

In many ways it was a double homecoming, the itinerant jockey returning from the sport’s far-flung outposts to renew acquaintance with, as he referred to it at the time, “my family”. He’d started out more than a quarter century earlier with Charlie’s father Barry Hills, while his new employer was talking about his delight at securing a jockey of Darryl’s “great experience”.

Charlie has a team of 168 horses under his care and Holland was quickly in action, travelling down to Lambourn a couple of times a week to ride work and getting to know the horses.

Slightly ring-rusty at first, Holland soon got into his stride on the all-weather when he did indeed get most of the stable’s mounts and a sprinkling of winners. His minimum weight this year has been a pretty acceptable 8st 8lb, something a fair proportion of his weighing room colleagues cannot match, but since the turf started the picture has been less rosy.

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In all, he has had 68 rides for his retained stable with six wins. From 51 “outside” rides, he’s won five more races, giving him 11 from 119, probably rather less productive a year than anticipated in the first flush of the announcement.

But it’s the last couple of weeks that prompted my mini research project. Where’s Darryl, I wondered? Charlie Hills has run 39 horses in the fortnight, with three wins shared between Andrea Atzeni, Fran Berry and Jimmy Quinn. Holland has ridden only three non-winners for Charlie during that period, but has kept active with 16 outside rides and two wins, both for Alan Swinbank including Sunday’s 10-1 Doncaster short-head scorer, Zealous.

This week he is booked to ride Sonnet for his main employer at Beverley’s evening meeting tomorrow the night after four bookings at Thirsk this afternoon, none for “the family”. His sole Royal Ascot appointment is with the David Evans-trained John Reel in one of the handicaps later in the week.

With some of the sport’s major owners providing the bulk of the yard’s horses, it must have been anticipated by Holland that such as James Doyle and William Buick (Godolphin-connected rides), Paul Hanagan (Hamdan Al Maktoum) and Frankie Dettori (Al Shabaq) would be levering him off, but I wonder whether the prodigal son would have expected Kennet Valley Thoroughbreds to veto him in favour of Dettori for Magical Memory, Hills’ prime Ascot candidate for Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes.

He certainly would not have expected to sit on the sidelines while a total of 30 other jockeys took Hills mounts in the first half of the season, more than 100 in total escaping his saddle. Jockeys for many owners are often little more than a fashion accessory to impress their pals. Presumably Darryl’s not that fashionable any more. I hope he isn’t too discouraged, but the fact he’s travelling north a lot suggests otherwise.

The last two offerings in here have had a quick resolution. Last Monday was given over to the imminent beginning of Joseph O’Brien as a trainer. Four wins from seven runners on the opening day had by the end of the week stretched to six (three Flat, three NH) with all three of his siblings sharing in the success. Brother Donnacha partnered two and sister Ana one, while amateur Sara won on one of her two bumper rides. Two hurdle wins were handled by professionals.

Typically, the self-effacing Joseph left it to dad Aidan to represent him at Listowel, where Sara won, on Monday, preferring quietly to assess potential jumping talent at the Derby sale. He was there to bid and secure some lots early in the week, but left it to Sara to do some lower-level buying on the last day. That’s a proper family affair.

The previous week’s article majored on Profitable, the Clive Cox-trained and Alan Spence-owned sprinter who had been backed into King’s Stand Stakes favouritism after his victories in the Palace House and Temple Stakes earlier in the spring.

Spence announced on Saturday that he’d completed a deal with Godolphin to buy the colt for stud duties at the end of his racing days, but that the new owners had acceded to a bucket list of associated conditions, principally that he remain running in Spence’s name and that Cox and regular rider Adam Kirby would continue their partnerships with the horse.

By all accounts, the very shrewd Mr Spence covered as many bases as could be covered. The one he could do nothing about was the weather, and the way Michael Dods was beaming, indeed almost crowing, after Easton Angel’s Sandown Listed win on Saturday, Alan must have been relieved to get the job done.

For Dods, hopeful of a turn-around of the Temple Stakes form with Profitable and his Mecca’s Angel at Ascot, was invigorated by the news that an hour’s deluge on Friday night had produced 20 millimetres there. More rain on Saturday and Sunday will have made the projected good to soft ground ambitious. Ascot expects sunshine and showers every day. I don’t think I’ll bother to tell Mrs S in advance of her visit on Wednesday.

Regulars might have noticed that I rarely mention anything outside racing these days, but the behaviour of a not-inconsiderable portion of the support for the England soccer team at Euro 2016 in France has been despicable.

Street fighting, goading ISIS and jeering at the French police offered a humiliatingly embarrassing microcosm of a section of the UK’s population. The culmination of three or four days’ unpleasantness in Marseille was the pitched battle in the stadium.

The Mail reported “Russian thugs” attacking “English fans”. It could easily have been written the other way round as “English thugs’” actions bringing a brutal response from “Russian fans”. I believe that FIFA or UEFA should expel both England and Russia from the tournament having no mind to such trifles as money.

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