Tuesday 23 May 2017

Jolly Roger

Journeyman jockey Roger Loughran has a big chance of a fairytale Cheltenham winner in Acapella Bourgeois - even if he will always be remembered by some for a nightmare mistake in 2005

Roger Loughran will hope for a fairytale festival at Cheltenham next week. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile
Roger Loughran will hope for a fairytale festival at Cheltenham next week. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Roger Loughran can do little about the reality that many racing fans will remembered his career primarily because of a monumental balls-up in front of RTE cameras.

It is not fair; such is life. Even now, one is a little reluctant to bring up an incident that ought to be long forgotten, but Central House's defeat at Leopardstown in a Grade One on December 27, 2005 was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Led, ridden and strongly pressed after two out, narrowly headed last, soon regained lead, rider mistook winning post and eased mount, headed close home.

When he returned in pursuit of the 'number 3' spot in the parade ring, which he no doubt hoped would turn into a giant hole to swallow him whole, Central House's trainer and his boss, Dessie Hughes, approached him.

"Don't mind that. These things happen. You'll be alright."

Loughran clocked in at Hughes' Osborne Lodge the following morning, unsure what to expect. "Well," says Dessie, "alright?"

That was Dessie, who gave Loughran a job of a day when he arrived from Christy Roche's on a tractor to move bales of hay.

"From our meeting up in the parade ring after the race until the day he died, he never mentioned it again," Loughran recalls.

Obscurity

Over a decade later, Loughran had faded into relative obscurity. The death of Hughes in late 2014 had meant his role in the running of the stable would be even greater; in truth, as Hughes had been unable to work after getting a second bout of cancer months earlier, Loughran had to step up to the plate long before that.

"The second time he got the cancer, I think he knew that was it. He knew he was in trouble, having fought the first bout and been great for a year," the Meath native recalls.

"At times like that, you show respect: dig deep, pull out. That's what I did, having wondered what would he do. If you'd any respect, you'd get behind his daughter Sandra and his wife Eileen. He was the one that got behind me."

Loughran was nearly more of an assistant trainer than a jockey by the time Hughes had passed on; indeed, in the 2010-11 season he only had one winner. But there was one horse in the stable which, from day one, only he got to ride - at least in their Curragh gallops.

Sandra Hughes, having replaced her father as licensed trainer, sourced Acapella Bourgeois from France and he soon showed immense potential at Osborne Lodge - but for his first eight runs in Ireland, his ally would be one of Jonathan Burke, Ruby Walsh or David Mullins.

The bad luck of one is the good fortune of another and, when Burke sustained another frustratingly frequent injury in December, the owners of Acapella Bourgeois decided that Loughran could steer him at Leopardstown over Christmas.

On that occasion, with the horse again wearing a hood and the ground yielding, Acapella Bourgeois ran respectably in fourth. The hood was taken off afterwards and he followed a Navan maiden win with an incredible 32-length romp from the front in a Grade Two at that track.

Loughran gained almost as much praise for breaking early from the rest of the field as the horse did for a stunning jumping display, especially impressive as he had not schooled since his previous run. Loughran believes the hype, and he will now be riding a leading fancy in the RSA Chase on Wednesday.

"When he came first he was a bit of a handful, free-going, but the penny seems to have dropped jumping fences this year," the 37-year-old says. "Going to Navan the second day I thought he'd win. I didn't really want to make the running but Sandra said to me 'do your own thing' - and that's what I did: he went out and did his own thing.

"He won in a hack canter and his jumping was exceptional, hence the 32 lengths. If he jumped like that the day before he could have won the same distance.

"He got a bad fall in Naas and it took him a while to get over it: he is a horse who thinks about things. I think he's very good."

With rain expected, the ground just may come right for the son of Network - the sire of Sprinter Sacre. Loughran gets ever more bullish the more he talks about the horse, part-owned by Hardy Eustace's owner, Lar Byrne - a nice link to the days when Dessie was boss.

"The key to him probably is soft ground as he can go the gallop on soft or heavy that others could on good; and the way he jumps is a massive help," he says.

"I'll be gutted if he doesn't run but you have to look after the horse and there is always tomorrow. On soft he will run. I think he'll be very hard to pass."

Loughran, who has never ridden a Festival winner and whose main victory was arguably that of Far From Trouble in the 2006 Galway Plate for old boss Christy Roche, has another sporting chance in the form of the Peter Fahey-trained Peregrine Run.

The pair combined in November for a Grade Two win at the track and Loughran believes the horse can acquit himself with credit in either the Albert Bartlett or Coral Cup.

"I rode him work the other day and he's in great shape," he says. "He has track form and I'd be wary of ruling him out."

Likely, though, his hopes of a winner rest on Acapella Bourgeois. Considering Loughran's status as a journeyman, the tough time Sandra had to endure starting out as a trainer and that Dessie was her father, expect the crowd to go wild if he wins.

"Sandra is great," says Loughran. "She does not know everything, as she says, nor do I; nor head man Robert Hennessy - but we all pull together and it's a team effort.

"It's like a football team: you need a panel. We've 40 horses at the minute, I think we have turned the corner and we can get fresh ones into the boxes. Acapella Bourgeois is very important for that."

Loughran is adamant that I mention his sponsor, Tim O'Driscoll, for getting him into pre-training and breaking horses; Danoli's trainer Tom Foley for giving him rides when he was all but forgotten about; and Ruaidhri Tierney, his agent, for turning a moribund career around.

That's Roger Loughran, always praising others and looking at the good side of things. He is a daddy now, as happy as he has ever been, and buzzing to be back in the limelight.

"My little girl puts everything into perspective, of course. Anyone thinking of being a father I'd advise them to drive on!

"I'll travel over with the horse on Sunday and to win over there would be just unbelievable."

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