In his latest blog, top jockey David Probert is excited by the start of the turf season, and discusses the 500 club, long days and favourite tracks, as well as offering pilots’ eye insights into riding Windsor and Chester…
The 500 club
It’s been a few weeks since I last checked in and, during that time, the flat turf season has kicked into life. I’ve been lucky enough to ride a couple of grass winners already, including a nice handicap winner at Newbury; and I recently discovered that I’m currently on 499 UK turf winners. Like a cricketer at the crease on 99, I’m keen to get on and boot home that 500th grass winner as soon as possible and I’ve a few chances this weekend across Sandown, Haydock, Doncaster and Salisbury. Fingers crossed we’re looking for the next 500 after that.
As you can probably tell from that number of fixtures over the weekend, we’re into the evening racing season now. These days, with so many floodlit fixtures, it’s not such a change of regimen to being two fixtures a day. But they’re still long days and there are plenty of them between now and September.
A typical day means I’m awake around 6am, though it can be as early as four in the morning if I’m riding work in Newmarket. Generally I’m riding out closer to home so get a bit of a lie in..!
After riding work, I’ll have a couple of hours spare (depending on where my afternoon rides are) so I’ll get something to eat and work through the form of my horses and the races they’re running in.
Then if I’ve got evening rides it’s straight into the car and on to the next track. Some days I can leave before six in the morning and not get home until after 10pm; that’s obviously tough but it goes with the territory. If you don’t love it, you can’t really do it.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a really good winter and spring on the all weather, including a winner last night at Wolverhampton. Dunstall Park might just be my favourite all weather track, but I’m looking forward to more grass action through the late spring and into the summer.
My favourite tracks are probably Chester and Chepstow. Although they’re clearly very different in terms of constitution, they both have one thing in common, which is that they’re tricky to ride. You need to keep your horse balanced down the hill at Chepstow in the early part of straight track races and can’t do too much too soon if you want to get home up the climb to the line.
At Chester, gate speed and post position are needed regardless of jockey ability but, after that, it’s a little more nuanced than some make out. More on that below. I was lucky enough to be top rider at Chester last season, and will hopefully have plenty more winners there this term.
I also love riding Ascot: the turf there is the best in the country. It really does feel like riding on a green carpet (not that I’ve ever ridden on a green carpet!). And I’ve been quite lucky at Goodwood, another tricky track, too.
But, to be honest, my favourite track is usually the one where I’ve just ridden a winner!
Riding The Tracks: Chester
Chester is a very tight ‘bullring’ of a track. On fast ground, horses with early speed exiting inside stalls have a big advantage, especially over five and five-and-a-half furlongs. For whatever reason, the speed doesn’t seem to hold up as well over six – maybe horses get racing too early and tire in the last furlong – but over seven that pace advantage is there again. The ten furlong start, in a chute at the top of the home straight, is the fairest as all riders have a chance to take the position they want.
Over longer trips it’s still a plus to be handy as a rule, but that pure gate speed is not quite such a necessity.
The pace and draw biases are much less relevant on softer ground. When it’s wet, plenty of races fall apart with horses tiring significantly in the straight. You might also find more jockeys coming towards the stands side when the going is soft, whereas on quicker turf the far rail is usually the place to be.
Over longer trips I like to try to make my move about half way down the back ‘straight’ – it’s more a dogleg than a straight – about half a mile from home. From there it’s a case of getting my horse balanced and on the right lead before the charge for the line from the top of the lane.
Riding The Tracks: Windsor
Windsor is a quirky track. Five and six furlong races are run on the straight, with longer races all taking in a loop which concludes about half a mile from home on the straight course.
On fast ground over five furlongs, a high draw is beneficial; being able to front run at the minimum can make a horse with an easy lead hard to pass, like at most tracks. In fact, you sometimes get hard luck stories with horses clamouring for a run but finding nowhere to go.
Over six, they often over-race and the speed fails to get home. It still pays to be handy but not necessarily right on the pace, unless you can control the fractions without too much contention.
Because of the tight turn from soon after the start until the half way point in mile races, being close to the speed is again a positive. A low draw accentuates that pace edge. At longer distances there is usually time for jockeys to find their position and ride more of a race.
I hope there are some useful pointers in there, and thanks as always for reading. Speak soon, and good luck.
– David Probert