Sunday 25 February 2018

Gifted Curtis makes hay in pastures new

Success in England has rejuvenated former champion apprentice

Ben Curtis
Ben Curtis
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

It might only be the beginning of May, but already one recently exiled former joint-champion apprentice is making a bold pitch to be one of the year's most enduring success stories.

At Thirsk in north Yorkshire on Saturday, Ben Curtis stole the show with a 1,619/1 four-timer.

It brought his running tally for the new turf campaign to 11 wins from 54 rides for a 20pc strike-rate, with his overall haul for 2014 now 23 from 154 for an impressive 15pc ratio.

In eight domestic seasons, Curtis' average success rate was 5pc. Part of the reason that his yield was so low was due his work ethic, which yielded an above-average number of very average mounts.

His tenure at home peaked when he shared the 2010 apprentices' championship with two-time title-holders Joseph O'Brien and Gary Carroll on 39 wins apiece, when neither of his colleagues garnered as many rides. Curtis had 481, with O'Brien's 295 the lowest of the trio.

Only five senior jockeys had more bookings, which is testament to the 24-year-old Kinsale native's enterprise. His initial ascent was a victory for humble endeavour, joining John Oxx after boldly approaching him at the end of 2009.

Of the young tyros who celebrated the unprecedented three-way tie in 2010, though, his situation was always the least secure, for all that he looked to have the qualities required to excel.

O'Brien had the might of Ballydoyle behind him, while Carroll made a smooth transition from Mick Halford's renowned production line to become Ger Lyons' stable jockey.

Curtis maintained his momentum for 2011, signing off with return of 37-454. After that, as a fully-fledged jockey, life inevitably became more difficult.


His willingness to put himself about meant that his number of rides remained proportionately high, but winners were harder found.

With little turnover at the top of the table in Ireland, being champion apprentice confers no special advantage, a point recognised by Curtis in the autumn of 2012.

"I love my job and am determined to remain in Ireland, although I know how competitive an environment it is," he admitted.

"Last year, I was offered a job as first jockey to a stable that is doing well in England, but I was reluctant to just jump ship at the first opportunity."

Roll the clock forward 12 months to last autumn and Curtis is making regular trips to the north of England to ride for Alan Swinbank.

He ended 2013 with just 13 winners at home, but the seven he rode across the water were arguably of considerably more worth to him. Swinbank was smitten.

The Yorkshire handler has used him almost exclusively this year. Curtis initially tried to maintain his Irish links, but, often via his candid use of Twitter, it has become clear his future lies elsewhere.

On Tuesday, he tweeted: "Home for 2 days sorting things out!! Then back to the race for winners Thursday!! #southwell."

His attitude will serve him well on the other side of the Irish Sea, where the proliferation of meetings invariably means that genuinely talented riders who are willing to put in the hard yards eventually get rewarded. In that sense, Curtis is the complete package.

He was back among the winners for Swinbank at Lingfield on Friday. On Saturday, on Lothair, Aramist, Eutropius and Lady Artiste, he showcased a brilliant mix of strength, composure, timing and infectious confidence to bag that sensational four-timer for Swinbank.

Today, Curtis (pictured below) has three rides at Doncaster for Alan McCabe, whom he recently rode a double for at Southwell. Ain't no stopping him now.



Ben Curtis wasn't the only Rebel County native to hit the headlines on the other side of the Irish Sea on Saturday, as fellow Cork native Denis Coakley enjoyed a career-high triumph in the Victoria Cup with Gabriel's Lad.

Coakley is a well-travelled former jump jockey who spent time with the late Gordon Richards in Cumbria as well as gathering valuable experience in Australia and America.

In 1999, he took over the trainer's licence at Keeper's Stables in Berkshire when Lord Huntingdon retired.

Since then, he has operated on a pretty low-key but consistent basis, prior to plundering Ascot's £100,000 handicap with the George Baker-ridden Gabriel's Lad.

The 12/1 shot was his first winner of the year, though the race proved disappointing for the sole Irish-based runner, Burn The Boats – Ger Lyons' five-year-old folded tamely into 20th at the business end.


Aidan O'Brien is expected to rely on the maiden Table Rock in Thursday's Dante Stakes at York, though his chief Derby contenders probably have their preparations completed by now.

That said, Table Rock was beaten only a head on its Curragh bow last October by Ebanoran, first past the post in yesterday's Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial before being demoted for causing interference to Fascinating Rock.

On its reappearance at Limerick last month, Table Rock was well held by Ger Lyons' Third Dimension, which was getting off the mark at the fifth time of asking.

On Saturday, Ballydoyle's attention turned to Lingfield, where the blinkered Mekong River failed to present any threat despite being sent off favourite.

Blue Hussar finished fourth behind the Michael Stoute-trained winner Snow Sky, a winner of just one of its previous five starts. The once-raced Leopardstown victor raced lazily at the rear under Ryan Moore.

Blue Hussar then finished with a flourish behind what was a pretty impressive winner, but it's hard to envisage such a green individual being streetwise enough to land the Premier Classic of the season at Epsom in a month's time.

A similar comment applies to Geoffrey Chaucer following his unsatisfactory third in the Derrinstown, when he got caught in a pocket in the straight under Joseph O'Brien before getting hampered by the wayward Ebanoran.

Australia's position at the head of the Derby market subsequently hardened into 5/4 from 6/4, and that tells its own story.


Ballydoyle's quest for a first Classic of 2014 will move on to Epsom after Giovanni Baldini failed to make any impact in yesterday's French 2,000 Guineas, the Poule d'Essai des Poulains.

The Jonathan Pease-trained favourite Karakontie ran out a neck winner for Stephen Pasquier from Prestige Vendome, and could now be aimed at the Derby.

John Gosden's Muwaary fared best of the raiders in fourth, while none of the non-locals fared as well in the fillies' equivalent, with O'Brien's Wonderfully ninth behind Jean-Claude Rouget's stylish winner Avenir Certain (74/10).


A run-of-the-mill novices' handicap chase at Ludlow yesterday proved that Grand National doesn't have a patent on farcical starting procedures when the race had to be abandoned after the advance flagman failed to notice that the starter was signalling him to call a false start.

The flagman was blissfully unaware of the starter's frantic waving, and the field was eventually convinced to abort after the 12th fence.



Little King Robin and Pivot Bridge won successive hurdles at Killarney yesterday and both could now be aimed at the Galway Hurdle.

Colin Bowe's Little King Robin was well backed into 9/4 favouritism for the mares' hurdle and duly cantered up by 15 lengths under Mark Walsh.

The Ado McGuinness-trained Pivot Bridge had her measure when they clashed at Fairyhouse last month, and he scored for a second time in three starts for David Splaine with a decisive display in the €50,000 Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle at the Kerry venue.

"Before Christmas he was going to go for a selling hurdle but now we are going for the Galway Hurdle," McGuinness quipped of his 9/1 shot, a brother to the 2006 1,000 Guineas heroine Speciosa that cost 185,000gns as a yearling.

In the Malton Chase, Mouse Morris' odds-on favourite Baily Green won readily for David Casey, while the in-form John 'Shark' Hanlon took the handicap chase with Fennis Moll.

Tweet of the weekend


Can't believe this run of luck. Thanks so much for all the congrats. Thanks Team Sheppard. Divine Fortune is one hell of a horse.

– Willie McCarthy, who rode nearly 50 winners prior to moving to America in 2011, acknowledges his well-wishers after the north Cork native won a $150,000 Grade One chase on Jonathan Sheppard's Divine Fortune at Percy Warner Park in Nashville on Saturday.

Numbers game

10m That's what next week's Scoop6 is estimated to be worth in pounds sterling after the Paul Moloney-ridden Ballyglasheen (25/1) foiled the holders of 98 tickets that were riding on the second and third home in Saturday's Swinton Hurdle. The Haydock winner is trained by Evan Williams, who saddled the runner-up Barizan to win the race for Moloney last year, while Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies were responsible for the third, the 10/3 favourite Vibrato Valtat.

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