Since May 2016, top jockey David Probert has been sporting the geegeez.co.uk livery on racetracks around the country. And today, in the first of a fortnightly series, he shares his thoughts on a variety of racing subjects, from long days to long haul, keeping sane to Kempton sand, and plenty more besides. Let’s get started…
2018: Special Agent and India
Before the 2018 flat season, I changed agents to Neil Allan and he’s done a fantastic job for me. He’s very much on the ball, if there’s any spare rides he’s always right on it snapping them up. And he gets on with the trainers so well, which is a massive plus in racing. As a result he’s opened up so many new doors and I’ve been riding for so many more trainers, and I hope that can continue in 2019.
This time last year I was in India, riding around Chennai, Madras, and Kolkata. It was an experience, to say the least! I learned a fair bit, it’s a totally different work ethic: I was sitting on the horses seven days a week. They only race Thursday and Sunday in Mumbai, and the trainer I was riding for, Pesi Shroff, he’s basically the main trainer in Mumbai and he’s probably got around 60 horses in training. He’d always have horses entered up in Group 1 races throughout the racing calendar there.
Sadly, the year I was out there he probably didn’t have as many good horses as he usually does. It still worked out pretty well. I managed to ride a Group 1 winner over there, Manifold, in the Indian Oaks. The standard is competitive but it’s not quite at the level here in the UK: you’ve probably got a Group 1 horse if you’re rated the equivalent of 90 here. So yes, it wasn’t a Group 1 in the UK, but a Group 1’s a Group 1!
I’ve been offered the chance to go back this year for the two day Derby Festival at the beginning of February, but the problem is the visa. Trying to sort out the paperwork to get over there is just a nightmare. But still, if I can get everything sorted out, I may go back for that two day period.
Last year, because I was in India and Qatar, I didn’t get back riding in Britain until March, so I was delighted to finish the season with 102 winners. It was a slightly slow start for the first couple of weeks but riding the 50/1 winner of the Spring Mile at Doncaster (High Acclaim, trained by Roger Teal) got the ball rolling for me. That opened up a lot of doors for me, and I ended up getting some nice rides throughout the summer, and it just kept ticking along through the autumn and into the winter. 102 winners to finish off the year was a massive achievement for me.
A Day in the life…
On a typical day, from Spring onwards, I’d be in to ride work at Andrew Balding’s from 6.30am, but at the moment the two-year-olds are only just coming in, so it’s pretty quiet. First thing would be Racing Post when I get up, mark off my rides, go through the form and see what chance I’ve got for the day. Then, depending on where I am I get in the car and drive between one and two hours to the racecourse. When I get to the track I check for any further non-runners and take a slightly longer look at the form where time allows.
When I’m looking at the form, the first thing I’ll look for is where I’m drawn. Then I’ll check to see where the pace is in the race, then look to see what the horse’s trip has been in his last few starts – whether it’s been the same or different – and then I’d check to see what mark it last won off. The idea is to see how it was ridden when it was last in a bit of form and look to ride it similarly.
In the main season, with afternoon and evening meetings, I’ll be out from about 6.30am and sometimes finishing off about 10.30pm depending on where I’m riding. And we can be doing six of those a week, depending on how many rides I can get and where.
Neil keeps me as busy as I want to be, but it can be pretty frustrating, especially when you’re riding a series of losers. If you’re going racing for six or seven rides and they all lose, it doesn’t put your mind in a great place. But once you do get that winner it completely changes: you just want more and more and more. So the hunger is there! I had a double at Wolverhampton the other day, and it puts your head in a great spot; I can’t wait to go racing again and try to get our head back in front.
There are so many highs and lows. Each horse is different, some are very relaxed, others really keen, so it’s a different challenge each time you go out there. That keeps your mind in check to some degree, thinking about the next one. If it doesn’t work out, that’s racing. If I have six rides and none of them win, I’ve got to look forward: it’s then about the next six.
But there’s more to it than just the riding. It’s very important to keep the owners and trainers happy. As long as they’re happy that you’ve done everything within your powers to do as well as you can then you can’t do any more.
2019: “One down, 149 to go…”
When I got my first winner this year, on Temur Khan at Southwell (3rd January), I was speaking to Neil and he said, “only 149 winners to go”, so he’s obviously looking for another fifty! But, realistically, I’ll take every day as it comes. As long as the rides keep coming and the winners keep coming I’ll try for 50, then I’ll try for 100, and if we’re still going then I definitely won’t be stopping.
The first thing is to stay healthy, and if I can do that, and if I can keep my owners and trainers happy, then everything is possible.
Riding the tracks: Kempton
Generally speaking, it’s a straightforward track. But the five furlong and mile and a quarter races are both run on the tight inside bend, and the impact of the draw is most pronounced there: you definitely benefit from a low draw and being close to the pace, because you’re on the turn a fair bit and you need to keep your horse balanced before a home straight of less than two furlongs. It’s very difficult to come from off the pace at those two distances.
If you’re drawn wide on the inner loop, you need a horse with gate speed in order to get the best break you possibly can. Obviously in novice or non-handicap races there may be inexperienced or slow horses inside you, but in handicaps it’s difficult to overcome a wide draw. The best bet then is to try to drop in halfway and hope that they go too quick up front so you can pick them up. It’s worth marking up horses that win or run well from wide draws in handicaps at Kempton.
On the outer loop you can normally ride more of a race: you can be drawn outside, drop in, and it seems like you can win from off the pace there at the minute. Whether it’s because of the lack of rain and maybe that’s making it a little slower, I don’t know, but it seems fairer just now. Also on the outer loop, jockeys tend to stay two or three lanes off the inside rail going past the cutaway because it seems a bit quicker further out, and horses just seem to finish a bit better there.
One other thing to note, with Kempton being the only right-handed track is that some horses act better there than at the other all weather courses most likely due to a preference for racing in that direction.
The kickback has improved recently. As with all of the all weather tracks, the more rain we have it tightens up quite well, but sometimes if they harrow it quite deep it can be fairly gruelling in behind. Overall though, it’s one of the better tracks for the kickback.
Three interesting horses
It’s been a quiet enough start, quality wise, to 2019. But three nice horses I’ve ridden are…
Flaming Marvel: James Fanshawe-trained, he won over a mile and a half, and he’s definitely improving. He quickened well off a slow pace, especially as we wanted to drop him in as he’s quite a keen going horse. He got the job done quite nicely in the end even though he only won a neck. I think he’ll improve and in time he’ll definitely stay further as well. Come the summer we’ll probably see him over two miles. Even though he’s five now he’s only had six runs and I’m sure there is more to come from him.
Blood Eagle: Everything went wrong for him at Chelmsford the other day. A mile and a quarter was probably sharp enough round there too. He was slowly away, ran in snatches, got trapped on heels a couple of times. But he’s a horse who’s going to improve a lot for that first experience and a mile and a half will be his trip. He’s finished his race off quite nicely even though he was too green to make any sort of impact on the front end.
His home work had been pretty good and we were expecting him to run well the other day; I imagine he’ll probably run again quite soon before backing off him while he has a little break ahead of the turf season. He’s an exciting horse, by Sea The Stars, who holds a Derby entry and he’s definitely a nice horse to follow for the season.
Blame Culture: George Margarson trains this one. He’d been a little coltish and had been running over longer trips previously, and he was stepping back to seven furlongs on his first start after a gelding operation. George told me that his home work had been good since being gelded – that his mind had probably been on other things before that! – and that he was expecting a big run.
He half missed the break and he’s been quite keen in the past, so I just tried to get him settled and into a rhythm down the back. The race was pretty messy with quite a bit of pace on early and a few moderate horses in front of me in midfield and they all dropped back into me. One of them gave my lad a bit of a bump, so it wasn’t straightforward, but Blame Culture was still able to pick up in the straight and put that race to bed quite nicely. Seven furlongs was sharp enough for him and we’ll probably see him over a mile next time. Hopefully I’ll keep the ride!
That’s all for this time, I hope you like it. Look forward to speaking to you again in a fortnight.
– David Probert was speaking to Matt Bisogno