Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ireland's got talent

Richard Forristal runs the rule over the current batch of young Irish jockeys trying desperately to make it to the top

So Mickael Barzalona is the man to fill the void of colour that will be left when Frankie Dettori finally decides to fold his easel.

Dettori might never have been guilty of the premature celebrations that Barzalona indulged in at Epsom last week, but the consummate professional that we know today isn't cut from an altogether different cloth. Maybe it's just Mediterranean flair.

Whatever it is, Barzalona's audacious Derby triumph confirmed him as the next big thing. His newfound status, as well as the sense of his being Dettori's natural heir, was further enhanced by the news that he will assume the suspended Italian's mounts for Godolphin over the final two days of next week's Royal Ascot meeting.

Given Dettori's love affair with the Berkshire venue, the comparisons between the two will only grow if things fall Barzalona's way. More luck to him.

Still, the way the 19-year-old Frenchman has burst on to the scene makes you wonder -- where is the next Irish-born riding sensation likely to spring from?

When Flat racing's finest take the stage at Ascot, will any of our homegrown prodigies be trusted to deliver in the same way that Barzalona is? The short answer is no, certainly not in the showpiece events, but then that's no cause for alarm either.

Barzalona's breathtaking coup on Pour Moi at Epsom was a first for French-born jockeys since Olivier Peslier steered High Rise home in 1998. Of the 12 Derbies in between, nine were partnered by Irish riders.

Then again, that's only half the truth. Johnny Murtagh, Mick Kinane and Kieren Fallon rode eight of those Derby winners. The old order isn't easily dismantled.

And there's good and bad in that. Barzalona's golden opportunity sees him follow Christophe Soumillon and Maxime Guyon as stardust protégés of Andre Fabre.

Soumillon and Guyon have both fallen from grace to varying degrees, so only time will tell if Barzalona's future will be as flamboyant as his past.

The difficulty with the Irish system is that, for all that we produce many of the most skilled practitioners in the world, there are few opportunities for a rider to make the breakthrough to the upper echelon in such a cramped environment.

Turnover at the top, as evidenced by Mick Kinane's retirement at 50, is slow, and facilitating the next generation becomes a very drawn out process.

When Fran Berry rode Pathfork to win the National Stakes last year, he was the first Irish-born rider in eight years to secure a debut Group One at home. That's an incredible statistic.

Of course, the sheer monopoly of power that Ballydoyle exerts has a lot to do with it, but it's also a testament to the enduring quality of professional that does survive here. Nonetheless, the fact remains, as the table below shows, most of our best young talent is forced across the water to further their careers.

Keith Rowe, managing director the Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE) in Kildare, believes that is an accepted reality these days.

"We have a steady stream of youngsters coming through here all the time," he says, "and this is probably as competitive a place as anywhere in the world for a young jockey to get going.

"At a certain juncture, it is almost inevitable, if you're an ambitious young rider and you want to get the opportunities to push yourself, that you will have to go to England. Landing over there in a different environment is not easy, but young Irish riders are held in very high regard.

"Mickael Barzalona is obviously a very precocious young man, but the product that comes out of Ireland is very good, and that's not going to change any time soon."

Joseph O'Brien (18)

The joint-champion apprentice has all the talent and firepower required to excel at the highest level. He displayed his big-race cool by riding his rivals to sleep on Roderic O'Connor in the 2,000 Guineas last month, but his height and weight could yet restrict him.

Gary Carroll (21)

Top of the apprentice pile two years in succession. While Carroll has made a respectable start to life in the fully fledged ranks, he could do with a couple of good horses to ride if he is to establish himself further. His barnstorming steer on Sesenta in the 2009 Ebor proved that he has the right

temperament.

Martin Lane (25)

A native of Kilworth in north Cork, Lane impressed many en route to claiming the British apprentices' title last year. Having joined forces with up-and-coming trainer David Simcock over the past few seasons, the former Frances Crowley employee's star remains on the ascent.

James Sullivan (22)

Sullivan has flourished since joining Mick Easterby's Yorkshire yard in 2009. A native of Westmeath who started out on the Curragh with James Burns after graduating from RACE, he was third behind Lane in last year's apprentices' championship. It will be fascinating to see if he can keep improving.

Kieran O'Neill (24)

Despite last year's Lincolnshire success on Big Robert for Paul Deegan, not to mention a seasonal best return of 12, the Kildare-born five-pound claimer opted to broaden his horizons by joining Richard Hannon in January. With 11 winners up, O'Neill, another RACE graduate, has been an instant hit.

Irish Independent

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