Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Magazine article The Spectator

The Turf: Robin Oakley

Article excerpt

It's a tough old business, this racing. Hayley Turner is the best woman rider we've ever seen in this country. She rode two Group One winners in the space of six weeks in 2011 and is only 32, but she has decided to end the struggle to find enough decent rides and to quit at the end of the season. Former champion Kieren Fallon, the rider of three Derby winners, has disappeared to the US. 'At 50 there was nothing left for him here: it was a case of go abroad or get out,' one of his former rivals told me last week.

Then there is Seb Sanders, who in 2007 shared the Jockeys' Championship with Jamie Spencer. Earlier this month, when Seb rode a horse called Langley Vale at Goodwood, he did so in his stockinged feet, with no boots, explaining that he had arrived too late to take a sauna before racing and had discarded his footwear to help him achieve his allotted weight of 9st 5lb. Jockeys' boots are often paper-thin and while Langley Vale's rider broke no rule such a desperate measure underlined the pressures facing all but the current top tier of jockeys. Before that bootless day Seb, who has nine times ridden more than a century of winners in a season, had reached the winner's enclosure only a dozen times this season, not surprising when he had only secured 140 rides.

What is making it harder for the older or less fashionable riders is that with the likes of Tom Marquand, Jack Garritty, Louis Steward, Cam Hardie, Edward Greatrex, Shane Gray and Sammy Jo Bell we probably have the most outstanding crop of apprentice riders ever coming through the ranks. An apprentice is given a 7lb weight allowance until he or she has ridden 20 winners. It then drops to 5lb until their score reaches 40 winners and then to 3lb until the apprentice has 75 winners on the board: after that they are out on their own competing at level weights with the Ryan Moores and Frankie Dettoris of this world. If you train a horse you reckon has a decent chance in a big handicap but may have been allotted a couple of pounds too many by the handicapper what are you going to do: will you put up a middle-rank jockey with no claim or will you go for a rapidly improving apprentice who can take 7lb, 5lb or 3lb off your horse's back?

Last Saturday, for example, Louis Steward rode the winners of two handicaps at Doncaster. At Chester Jack Garritty rode a double for Richard Fahey and Alan Bailey while his fellow Fahey apprentice Patrick Mathers rode another winner. …

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