NO jockey owes more to the Plumpton groundstaff's herculean efforts to save last Sunday's fixture than Johnny Farrelly. The conditional attached to David Pipe's stable had a rare opportunity to shine -- and he seized it with both hands.
Farrelly's high-profile double, completed by Master Overseer in the Sussex National, came courtesy of a suspension to Pipe's stable jockey, Tom Scudamore. That he now stands two winners away from losing his claim is no mean statement about the Dubliner who wasn't legged into a saddle until he was 16.
"I got into the game late," Farrelly, 25, said yesterday. "I had to learn everything from scratch, so it took me a long time to get into it properly."
He was quick on the uptake. Within six years he was Ireland's champion novice rider in the point-to-point field when he rode a winner over Punchestown's famous banks. Soon after he joined Jonjo O'Neill's stable for seven months, during which he regularly schooled alongside Tony McCoy.
It was the perennial champion who recommended that he took an opening at Pipe's Somerset stable early in 2007.
"AP was fantastic to me," Farrelly recalled. "He is so hungry that rides were hard to come by, but he spoke to me a lot about the opportunities I would get at Mr Pipe's. He was sure it would be a good move."
With 17 winners already secured, Farrelly is only three short of his previous best season. More importantly, he has gained sufficient experience to approach the imminent loss of his riding claim with confidence. He certainly stands taller for filling Scudamore's shoes with such energy and style at Plumpton.
Against that, he still does his daily duties at Pipe's yard, where his chores include mucking out stables. Farrelly said: "It's a great place to work, even though I've had a lot of stick since Sunday -- most of it from Mr Pipe."
Despite his late start, Farrelly is making up for lost time. Pipe has already entrusted him with two Grand National rides, the second of them last April aboard Arteea, whom he broke in when working at Michael Hourigan's yard six years ago. Yet losing his claim will place him at a career crossroads confronted by many an unsuccessful aspirant before him.
The prospect does not concern him. "I think I'm ready for it now," he said. "You get to the stage where you feel you can do the job if you got the rides.
"There are some competitive conditionals with me at Mr Pipe's, but I have also been getting outside rides this season. If I'm not ready now, I never will be."
As a child, Farrelly would watch racing on TV before rushing out to charge around bareback on his pony. "To be a jockey is all I ever wanted," he said. "I love everything about it and I hope that my chance is coming. Now it is up to me to keep working hard enough to make it happen."
© The Times, London