Sunday 30 April 2017

Queally stays on even keel despite his global appeal

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you ... If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same ... Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it."

Rudyard Kipling

Last Sunday week, Tom Queally won his first Classic on Jacqueline Quest. Before the print that gave him the 1000 Guineas verdict by a nose had dried, the stewards had taken it off him again. Guilty of careless riding, Queally was banned for three days.

The following Saturday, the rider suffered an odds-on defeat on the exciting Timepiece, another Henry Cecil-trained filly, in the Oaks trial at Lingfield. Thirty minutes later, he was streaking to success on Cecil's Bullet Train in the Derby Trial.

On Monday, at a mundane Brighton fixture, the 25-year-old Waterford native rode a double, his 19th and 20th winners of the season. Number 19 came on Agapanthus, the first leg of a Barney Curley brace and a wider gamble that cost layers well over €1m.

Two days later, Queally watched from the sidelines as Cecil's Aviate soared into the Oaks picture with a last-gasp victory in the Musidora Stakes. The cause of his loss was another careless riding ban, one that also meant his missing Midday's hugely satisfying reappearance behind Sariska on Thursday. Yesterday, he bounced back with a brilliant Knavesmire double for Cecil.

By any standards, a roller-coaster fortnight. Or so you would think. Through all the ups and downs, Queally has never been less than a picture of serene calm -- even if some were losing their heads and blaming it on him.

disappointment

"There will be highs and lows," he says now, "but you've got to keep an even keel. The Guineas was a big disappointment but, from a jockey's point of view, you can't let disappointments take over or you'll end up going mad. You can't live on past glories and you can't get bogged down by the disappointments -- you just have to move on. It's all about the future."

In true Kipling fashion then, Queally meets triumph and disaster with equal temperance. Right now, his is the Earth. Though it might not always have been thus.

A boy wonder who was crowned champion apprentice in Ireland just days after his 16th birthday 10 years ago, Queally became the centre of a high-profile controversy the following season when his schooling got in the way of his education. There was an unsavoury fallout with his boss of the day, Pat Flynn, as Queally's parents insisted that he finish school before fully committing to riding.

Between the jigs and the reels, by the time he had completed his Leaving Certificate in Dungarvan CBS, the prodigious flame flickered no more. That year, 2002, he finished with just 12 winners, having amassed 28 in his debut season.

Twelve months later, now in the employ of Ballydoyle, the former pony racing star totalled 11. Another teenage sensation gone wrong.

Then Queally relocated to England, and the sensation was reborn -- as quickly as that. Under the tutorship of Curley, he beguiled the racing world once more. At the end of a barnstorming first season, he was -- again -- champion apprentice with 66 winners.

In 2008, Queally rode a century of winners. In 2009, he rode a further nine, including five Group Ones, more than any other British-based jockey. Talk about turning things round.

"From the time I moved to England it has been more or less a gradual climb upwards," he says. "At the end of the day, it's a job, so you can't get too carried away with it one way or another, but I'm fortunate to be doing something I absolutely love. Since I was young, this is all I ever wanted to do, and I'd be happy doing it at any level. But, obviously, it's even better to be at the level I'm at now."

That he would have been happy at any level is a moot point. As he says himself, if he lacked ambition, he would have never left Ireland. He did, however, and he has come of age in spectacular style.

The first of those five Group One triumphs happened by chance, or at least the opportunity did. With Jamie Spencer and Hayley Turner out, Michael Bell put Queally on the un-fancied Art Connoisseur at Royal Ascot, and the duo duly obliged.

Queally went on to take the July Cup on Fleeting Spirit, but the real merit came when his partnership with Cecil found its feet. One of the game's living legends, Cecil has immense faith in Queally. While he has never formally named him as his stable jockey, that is effectively the situation. There are few higher distinctions for a jockey.

Cecil's loyalty received the ultimate justification when his rider produced a barnstorming drive to bring Midday screaming home at the Breeders' Cup in November, one that earned him the Ride of the Year accolade at this year's Lesters Awards. Succeeding -- at the first attempt -- where so many of Europe's marquee names have been found wanting, Queally had gone global.

"Last year was a big year for me," he says, "it was bigger than I ever imagined. I've set myself a mountain to climb in terms of this year, but I'll give it a good shot. And I'm not going to let it affect me either way."

Such dignified acceptance permeates Queally's being, and is surely part of his appeal to the 10-time champion trainer, a man who has seen it all and more, having recently overcome cancer.

attention

When you consider the abnormal amount of attention that Queally attracted as a teenager, that he would emerge with such a rounded outlook can't have been a given.

"When you're young, all you want to do is ride as many winners as you can," he says. "My mum and dad have been around a lot longer than I have, so they could see the pitfalls. And I can see them now too. Although the whole thing cost me a lot of winners, as the years go by, you see the disadvantage some lads are at without an education. Most lads that ride don't finish school, but riding is a short career.

"The funny thing is, if I kept going riding the winners at the rate I was, as a child basically, my claim would have quickly disappeared -- then I might have petered out. In the end, because of all that went on, I still had my claim when I came to England, and that helped me win the apprentice title. Every cloud has a silver lining -- you've just got to ride your way into it."

On a busy day at Newbury this afternoon, the grand master and his trusty young ally take their chance in another Group One with Lord Shanakill, a horse Queally says they are still only learning about. As are we of him, even if he has already been around forever.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport