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Track talk with Niall Cronin: Robbie's decision already justified


Jockey Robbie McNamara

Jockey Robbie McNamara

Jockey Robbie McNamara

When Robbie McNamara made the bold decision to turn professional last month it raised many eyebrows and some on the racing circuit suggested that due to his height that it would be a regrettable move.

The bare bones of the story of an amateur, who has often been pushed to do 11st4lbs and sometimes struggled to even do 12st, joining the competitive professional ranks does look like a bizarre career move but I think since he has made the switch his brave decision has been more than justified.

McNamara actually first revealed his plan in The Herald on the eve of the Hennessy Gold Cup last year when he was gearing up to ride Lord Windermere, the subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. The morning after the interview and before the race he broke his collarbone schooling and missed out on the plum Newbury ride and some Dermot Weld hotpots at Christmas and his brave move was well and truly shelved.

In March, he broke his Cheltenham duck, and in some style, partnering two winners at the famous meeting and every year the Limerick native would go to the Cotswolds with an enviable book of rides in the three amateur races and maybe one or two good rides in the professional races also.

So after all of that, would you still be right to wonder how this has been a decision justified?

Well, in a constant struggle with the scales, McNamara's plight wasn't helped by only having one ride a meeting at most and sometimes maybe one ride a week or even a fortnight.

Since the start of the season in May until the end of October McNamara had just over 20 rides and since making his move last month he has already had 21.

Granted, most days McNamara went racing as an amateur he would be near favourite for the race he was riding in and he can't expect to go to Cheltenham with many rides, let alone the book of fancied mounts he had for the last number of years. But there is also an argument to suggest that had McNamara not made the move now, he would struggle to still be riding by Cheltenham.

At least now he can look for at least two or three rides a meeting and while he may not always get them, he hasn't gone too many meetings without a booking since turning and his strict diet has an immediate purpose rather than not knowing when he may need to step up on the scales again.

In his first nine rides he didn't get to within 30-lengths of a winner, but then he came agonisingly close to opening his account in a Grade Two at Cork before last Saturday fulfilling a lifelong ambition of his to ride a winner as a professional when Bothair Clei won at Tramore.

Christmas is renowned for throwing up spare rides and providing rare opportunities for jockeys to team up with trainers that they wouldn't usually and McNamara is sure to be in plenty of demand having ridden in so many bumpers for so many trainers and I don't think you'd get laid a big price about him having a winner somewhere over the festive period.

1Coincidently, McNamara is sponsored by the dedicated horseracing radio station RacingFM which proved a great tool to have while in Hong Kong last weekend and meant I was able to hear all the action from Ireland and England on what was a busy weekend.

Spencer saga ends as expected: back in saddle

From one brave jockey move to another . . .  well kind of.

When Jamie Spencer announced he was retiring from race riding earlier this year an initial feeling of shock circled the racing world, but soon after that cloud dissolved and rather than looking too deep into why he was calling time on his career in the saddle, people were instead betting on when he would be back.

Sunday morning, Irish time, we got our answer. Spencer wouldn't retire at all.

At Sha Tin, it looked like this was to be his last hurrah (for now) and he even admitted that himself.

What happened between him uttering the words "that looks like my last ride" to a lengthy statement being released a few hours later will probably come out in the fullness of time but the main thing is that Jamie Spencer the jockey continues.

Love him or hate him, and a lot of people tend to be one way or the other due to his patience in riding a race, Spencer is much more valuable to the sport in the public glare riding winners than he is in a management role for Qatar Racing.

You have to imagine it didn't take long for him to realise that the prospect of driving home from riding work and readying a horse for Andrea Atzeni to win on while Atzeni, the man that replaced him, was driving to the races, wasn't an attractive career change.

It probably just took longer for him to admit that and figure out the best junction to take the U-turn.

With a big shake-up in retained riders this year, opportunities will be aplenty for Spencer and, thankfully, he realised that.