Monday, 26 June 2017

A DISCREDITED TITLE



The Flat jockey's championship and the music charts seem to have lost their popularity throughout the same period of time. Remember when you would listen to the chart show on a Sunday night, watch Top of the Pops every Thursday and could reel off the number ones by rote. 

In the year I was born Scobie Breasley won the jockey's championship. From then until 1989 the roll of honour was made up of Lester Piggott,Willie Carson, Pat Eddery, Joe Mercer and Steve Cauthen. Just six jockey's names but all genuine top class riders,some legends all worthy of the esteem they were widely held in.

A fair indicator of who could be considered an indisputable top class jockey would be one with the ability to have held down and been successful in at least one job with an established big yard or owner. That is a contract that would regularly provide genuine classic and big race contenders. All six names comfortably pass the test.

With the advent of All Weather racing in 1989 it all gets a little foggy. The season was extended to the calendar year which increased the opportunities for the grafting journeyman to make their presence felt in the table. Good for them but perhaps not so for the prestige of the championship.

Going by the aforementioned criteria of the championship being won by a rider able to hold down a big job, 1990 to 1999 saw three new names claiming the title. Two of them, Dettori and Fallon thankfully fitted the seal of approval. Michael Roberts perhaps not as the Sheikh Mohamed contract only lasted a single year.

The decade also saw that long drawn out season in 1994 when Dettori and Jason Weaver built up final heady totals of 233 and 200 respectively. This will not happen again and to be honest it was hardly gripping as the result was in the bag some way out and Weaver's aim turned to reaching the double century. Furthermore it began and ended when most fans were in jump season mode.

In the seventeen years from 2000 to the present eight new names have been successful. Taking a cheap shot you could say there are all sorts of gaff track riff raff taking over. The All Weather fixture list has swelled so much during the turf season that even reverting the 'real' jockey's championship to the duration of the turf season still left the door wide open for the off meeting regulars.

Out of the eight names only Ryan Moore passes the test with certainty. The jury is still out on Silvestre de Sousa as he might get another go at a big job after being dispensed with by Godolphin. Richard Hughes (in picture) is a close call. His contract with Khalid Abdullah lasted seven years but not all of the trainers welcomed him on their horses and it was eventually whittled down leaving out some notable handlers.

The Hamdan job is overall below that level quality wise so Jim Crowley will not be considered, neither will Paul Hanagan who never looked fully comfortable moving base and riding on the Southern circuit. Jamie Spencer also falls below the elite and so too Kevin Darley and Seb Sanders.

I suppose you could say that the powers that be and their misguided initiatives have got the champions they deserve. Reminds of when David Duval came out with similar words when the rough at Carnoustie was artificially fortified for the Open Championship and they all moaned and had hissy fits leaving Paul Lawrie to put his name on the trophy 

From 2007  restrictions were placed on the number of meeting a jockey could ride at each week, reducing it to nine. There is no question that well-being issues were a big consideration but it would also be a touch naive to discount as an influencing factor the hope that it would tempt the top two or three big names to go full out for the title.

The most recent change to start the season at the Newmarket Guineas meeting and end it on British Champions Day was no doubt influenced by the increasing globalisation of the sport and a renewed attempt to stoke up interest from the very top by ensuring all riders would be fully available during that period.

This may or may not prove to be an enticement to Moore if not Dettori. The Italian is a enjoying a fruitful spell in the twilight years of his career but is too far behind in the table to challenge this season.  As for whether William Buick, James Doyle and Andrea Atzani now consider themselves in the elite bracket and a bit too precious to be chasing down a title only they will know.

If any of them have had their heads turned by the abridged championship season they will be counting on the industrious De Sousa to pick up an injury or a few suspensions for them to have a chance to chase the Brazilian down.

The jockey's championship has never been the most interesting or important aspect of the sport but there was a time when it added positively to the image, particularly for younger fans. When interest evaporates along with its prestige it is an another reminder that the popularity of the sport is waning.




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