Monday Musings: Jamie Spencer and Fortune’s Fickle Finger

I’ve tried to live by one or maybe two strong maxims in my working life, writes Tony Stafford. Firstly, never refuse a job – something that has proved very easy to adhere to as the offers have dried up – and I almost never did. Secondly, never close a door after people seem to have dumped you, something again I’ve followed with the impressive exception of David Elsworth whose festering years-long dislike was once again reinforced when out of the blue, as they say, he thumped me on the back at the July Course last week.

But then, as you probably know, good old Elsie – I had an Auntie Elsie, a far gentler soul than the brilliant but irascible trainer who once gave poor old Bill Turner a proper thumping – is a law unto himself.

Jockeys can ill afford to close doors, however futile it may be to grin in the presence of former employers who have dispensed with their services. Jamie Spencer, now in his golden years (36) as a rider is the perfect example of the “keep smiling” school, constantly affable in the face of a midsummer schedule that might take in humdrum days like today with six rides shared between Chelmsford and Windsor.

The previous couple of weeks between a Class 6 success for Conor Dore on City of Angkor Wat, one of five June 27 rides at Wolverhampton, and Friday of the July meeting, Jamie turned out 35 times for 20 different trainers, without further success.

There were near misses, most notably on The Grey Gatsby, whom he had ridden in all five 2015 domestic starts for the Kevin Ryan stable. In the Princess of Wales’s Stakes, The Grey Gatsby was dropping from the top level into Group 2 class for the first time since his 2014 victory in the Dante at York, but gallingly for Spencer could not peg back front-running Big Orange, his regular mount around the world last year.

Spencer had been on Bill Gredley/Michael Bell’s stayer when winning the same race a year ago, and teamed up again when fifth in the 2015 Melbourne Cup and then runner-up to Vazirabad in the Dubai Gold Cup in March.

Despite the obvious difficult choices, associations such as Spencer’s with owners Jim and Fitri Hay bring pretty regular big-race mounts for such as David Simcock and Kevin Ryan, who between them provided 13 of the 35 in the period of interest. In that context Spencer has done well to collect 53 wins in the UK this year.

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That tally puts him in a strong position to exceed comfortably his last two seasonal scores of 85 and 74 and probably complete a 12th century. Every year between 2005 and 2013, he reached that figure, usually with ease. His lowest tally was the 103 in 2012; the best a staggering 207 in 2007.

Almost a decade on from that prolific season, he has become more selective, but on the “keep the door ajar” principle, there are days when the commonplace <turns> into the rare, to quote the great American standard, “Stranger in Paradise”.

His cross-Atlantic forays have not always been enjoyable – for instance the day Secret Gesture and Jamie lost the Beverly D at Arlington Park last year thanks to, as he (and many others, Ed.) saw it, some exaggerated acting by original third, Irad Ortiz, Jr., on Stephanie’s Kitten. Secret Gesture was put back to third that day, a case of grand larceny in the home city of Al Capone.

But on Saturday night in New York, Jamie had one of those wonderful days when it all comes together. Aidan O’Brien, for whom Spencer was first jockey in his early 20’s, had two runners in both the Belmont Derby and Oaks. Ryan Moore was busy at Newmarket principally for Air Force Blue’s comeback, so Spencer renewed his association with Epsom Derby also-ran Deauville, whom Fitri Hay shares with the Coolmore partners.

The better-fancied of the Ballydoyle pair was triple winner Long Island Sound, last time third to fast-improving Hawkbill in the Tercentenary Stakes at Royal Ascot. Hawkbill’s subsequent Eclipse Stakes defeat of O’Brien’s The Gurkha pointed Chicago punters in his direction, but he was in the pack as Spencer drove his mount to an emphatic success. The only British-trained challenger, Humphrey Bogart from the Hannon stable, again showed he is a grade or two short of the top.

In the Belmont Oaks, Ballydoyle and Coolmore were represented by Ballydoyle and Coolmore. Again Colm O’Donoghue was on the more fancied Ballydoyle, but after a slow start she was never in contention and trailed home last of 13. Spencer and Coolmore – confused enough yet? – also missed the break, but that’s the Spencer trademark and she stayed on for a creditable third and 50k plus in what used to be proper money.

I mentioned earlier that Spencer’s domestic endeavours have brought 53 wins. These have come from 315 rides at a very acceptable 17 per cent. The wins have provided £515,187 in total prizemoney, worth maybe 40k to the jockey.

The Belmont Derby carried a winner’s prize of £455,000, so added to Coolmore’s place money, Spencer’s two mounts earned half a million. Nice away day!

O’Brien, of course, dominated the early part of the July meeting, collecting Friday’s two big fillies’ races with Roly Poly and Alice Springs. Before the Group 1 Falmouth, I thought Alice Springs looked to be thriving and if I had been caught out by the level of market interest in her at the expense of drifting favourite Usherette, there was no escaping Alice Springs’ authority.

It was only before yesterday’s Prix Jean Prat, where Nemoralia was probably a disappointment to the Jeremy Noseda camp, that I first saw the Coronation Stakes video. On the day itself, I was high-tailing it to Newmarket to watch Ray Tooth’s Dutch Law get narrowly beaten in a competitive if modest handicap, so missed the eye-catching late run of Alice Springs which would surely have brought success if delivered a little earlier.

She clearly has now jumped up into second place in the list of top O’Brien fillies behind the incomparable Minding, and if she rather than the dual Classic winner turns up at Goodwood, she’ll be my Nassau nap.

O’Brien also got to a prizemoney milestone last week, pushing his UK earnings beyond £3m, the seventh time he’s achieved that distinction. Another £800k would push him past his best total from three years ago, but there can be little doubt that even £5m is not an impossible dream.

Dutch Law was at it again at Ascot on Saturday, finding plenty of trouble under the ultra-professional Pat Smullen, with whom, I confess, I’d never previously had more than a nodding acquaintance. The gelding was runner-up behind a nice late-developing Ed Walker three-year-old, Experto Creed, who took advantage of the 12lb we gave him to get home a length and a bit to the good.

Dutch Law flashed though the penultimate furlong, but as Pat said afterwards: “I think he knew before me that we wouldn’t get there”, adding that in behind “he travels like a Group horse, but you are always going to be a hostage to fortune as you have to ride him like that. Really, he’s a bit of a monkey!” Yes, Pat, but he’s our monkey!

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