In the words of Coldplay: “Nobody said it was easy, no one ever said it would be this hard,” and those lyrics ring true when it comes to being a jockey. Race-riding is the adventure of a lifetime, but the clocks are always ticking, which brings trouble, and sometimes it takes the support of a trainer to help fix you.
There is no set route to success in the saddle and no one jockey treads the exact same path. Some lucky ones start strongly and remain in fashion for years to come (Oisin Murphy), some start slowly and build gradually to big things (Rachael Blackmore), and then there are those who hit the ground running and are flavour of the week/month or year but go out of fashion as their claim reduces, such as Cam Hardie, who has worked hard ever since and now created a nice niche for himself in the North.
I often find myself feeling a sense of admiration for those in the last category, those who have had a taste of what the big time looks like, but then the success train never quite leaves the station, the ball never quite gets rolling in the way that was predicted in their early years.
I admire those jockeys for their perseverance, their belief that the opportunity will arise, that their chance will come and that their talent remains.
In the 2016/17 season Sheppard had his best season with 29 winners and was high enough up in the conditional jockeys’ table for people to start noticing his name.
However, as we see time and time again, his career didn’t exactly fly from that point and a couple of seasons followed where Sheppard merely ticked along with just a handful of winners.
Yet this season, Stan is enjoying his best campaign by far, not only numerically but with high-profile success too. A Welsh National on Iwilldoit followed by a Betfair Hurdle with Glory And Fortune are just a couple of his recent headline-making rides, but he also steered Lossiemouth to Grade 2 success in December as well as taking the Welsh Champion Hurdle.
The tide has very much turned for Sheppard and part of the reason for that can be put down to the support from trainer Tom Lacey who has provided him with the majority of his winners this season and some of those bigger days.
O’Farrell’s deserved breakthrough
There are many jockeys out there waiting for a similar change in luck after early success and there wouldn’t be many more experienced 5lb claimers riding in the UK than Katie O’Farrell.
Born in Ireland, she worked and rode for Willie Mullins with some success on the bigger stages of Galway and Fairyhouse. Katie then moved over to the UK a few seasons back and was originally based with Paul Nicholls, where she picked up a handful of rides but never rode a winner for the Champion trainer.
However, this season O’Farrell has forged a good partnership with Olly Murphy who utilises her claim to very good effect. Overall, O’Farrell has had 15 rides for Murphy and has steered five of those to victory, meaning that she has a 33% strike-rate when riding for the Warren Chase team where she also rides out a few mornings a week.
O’Farrell comes across as the sort of person any team would be lucky to have their side. The fact she can still claim 5lb but can combine that with the race riding experience gained from time spent with not one but two Champion trainers, on both sides of the Irish Sea, means that she is a valuable commodity in the saddle and Murphy hasn’t missed a trick in using her to good effect.
If O’Farrell carries on the way she is going then this could be her best season yet in terms of numbers. That isn’t saying a vast amount as she doesn’t get an abundance of chances so the figures won’t impress but, as Sheppard has shown, it only takes a trainer to start giving a jockey a few opportunities and their luck can start to change for the better.
Plenty of winners catches the eye…
Over the last 10 years Brett Johnson has trained an average of 6 winners per calendar year on the flat in the UK. However, in 2021 he equaled his best ever year with 13 winners and it looks as though that trend is set to continue upwards into 2022 as he has already notched up four winners from 21 runners and is working at a healthy strike-rate as a result.
On Friday, Johnson saddles three runners at Lingfield and a couple of them have interesting profiles due to departures in trip. Surrey Territories (13:10) is still a maiden but now steps dramatically up in trip – from 7f up to 10f – and Brett has managed to secure Richard Kingscote in the saddle.
But later on in the day Jonnie’s Girl makes her third start in a handicap (16:20) and is dropped down to the 6f from 7f for the first time having been a touch keen early and awkward late on when we last saw her at Wolverhampton.
Grace McEntee picks up the ride and with her 3lb claim combined with a career low mark, that makes her an interesting contender at this new distance for the in-form team.
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