It is all, it seems, in the tweaks. So said Aidan O’Brien, Ireland’s master-trainer supreme, before his tough filly Magical defeated Ghaiyyath, the world’s highest-rated horse, in the Irish Champion Stakes on Saturday. He wouldn’t have run her against the relentless galloper who had beaten Magical the month before, he insisted, if he hadn’t felt there was something he could tweak to make the difference. If ever there was a man in racing who shouldn’t have any regrets it is Aidan O’Brien, but in a fascinating Racing Post interview last week with David Jennings Aidan revealed: ‘Every single race we’re beaten in hurts. The bigger the race the more it hurts. If it doesn’t hurt it doesn’t get into your heart. If it doesn’t get into your heart it means you will never want to make things better.’
Aidan is now nearly as famous as a sire as he is as a trainer. Sons Joseph, 27, and Donnacha, 22, after stellar careers in the saddle, are now becoming serious rivals to him, running their own training establishments. And if there was ever a race that hurt Joseph in his riding days it was Camelot’s St Leger in 2012. Camelot came to the world’s oldest Classic as odds-on favourite that year seeking the elusive Triple Crown after winning the 2000 Guineas and Derby for Aidan and Joseph. But he lost out to 25–1 shot Encke by three quarters of a length. On Saturday Joseph, who had won the race as a jockey on Leading Light, did some painful-memory erasing by training the St Leger winner Galileo Chrome and in doing so became the first to both ride and train a winner of the Leger since the ‘Head Waiter’ Harry Wragg in the 1960s. It was the young trainer’s first English Classic and there will assuredly be more.
In a year when we needed one to cheer us up, the St Leger, over a mile and six furlongs, provided a really thrilling contest. Two furlongs out, seven horses were spread across the track, all with a chance, and the finish involved four of them. That can be a sign of a weak race but this one certainly wasn’t. The four included in third the public’s favourite Pyledriver, the horse they couldn’t sell as a youngster and whose owners had since turned down life-changing offers after his feats at Ascot and York. We had all hoped he would outrun his pedigree in terms of stamina and win for hard-working Lambourn trainer William Muir and his jockey son-in-law Martin Dwyer, but sadly Pyledriver didn’t quite have the gas for the final furlong. What cheered almost everyone about the result, however, was that Galileo Chrome was a first Classic success for the fast-advancing Tom Marquand, the kind of jockey anyone would be happy to have as a son-in-law. Tom shares a home with Hollie Doyle, the female phenomenon of this season who recently rode an eye-catching five-timer at Windsor, and it tells you everything about him that his first words in the elation of victory were an expression of sympathy for Irish jockey Shane Crosse who would have been riding Galileo Chrome had it not been for a positive Covid-19 test two days before. ‘He’ll be sat at home in pieces, no doubt, but I guess that the one thing in racing is that it always comes back around, so no doubt he will have his day.’
Tom should know. Seriously in the reckoning for this year’s jockeys’ championship, in early lockdown days he made a name for himself out in Australia with a couple of Group One wins on William Haggas’s Addeybb. But after riding English King to a truly impressive victory in the Lingfield Derby trial, he lost the ride on him in the Derby when owner Bjorn Nielsen and trainer Ed Walker found Frankie Dettori’s experience was available, a decision Tom accepted with grown-up grace before accepting a ride on Khalifa Sat and finishing second. He was to be reunited with English King for the Leger only for the horse to be rerouted to France and endured a frustrating period with five seconds in 11 rides, including losing the Park Stakes by a short head when it looked as though he was going to nut Frankie on Wichita at the death. ‘Glad mine had a big head,’ said Frankie.
So yes, things do come around but they probably come around faster for young jockeys as professional, as fit and as mentally strong as Tom and Hollie Doyle. Talking to Tom one day in his apprentice days at Bath, I was struck both by his equable temperament and by his solid but uncocky confidence, which will surely help to keep him at the top of his profession. He can talk too: I loved his Doncaster comment after winning on Matthew Flinders: ‘As a big horse he has probably not yet learned where all his toes are.’ With Oisin Murphy also such a handy media professional all will not be lost when Frankie decides one day to hang up his saddle.
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