Monday 18 December 2017

Jockey-go-round still spinning at Ballydoyle

Kieren Fallon's return suggests finding a new No 1 is not a priority, writes Ian McClean

On November 10 last year, a popular racing website reported that "Christophe Soumillon remains the 5/4 favourite with William Hill to become the next retained stable jockey at Ballydoyle, while another Francophile attracting interest is the American-based Julien Leparoux who was cut from 12/1 to 8/1 for the post."

The report continued: "Australian Steven Arnold, who received strong praise from Aidan O'Brien on Wednesday for his rides on the new Ballydoyle import So You Think, was shortened from 20/1 to 12/1 for the coveted job. (Bets void if a new stable jockey isn't announced by the end of 2011. Appointment must be confirmed by a Ballydoyle official statement)."

Six months on and we are in void bet territory. The first two English Classics of 2011 have been and gone, the Derby is less than four weeks away and still the 'Situation Vacant' sign hangs over Ballydoyle. On reflection, there are a number of interesting aspects to the website's report. The first is that the Ballydoyle role is internationally coveted across the three main racing continents, reinforcing what a pre-eminently global operation Coolmore has matured into.

The second is that we are no closer to a stable jockey appointment with the policy appearing, in the absence of an official statement, to centre around the principle of 'best available'. This had appeared to favour Ryan Moore, who paid a visit to Leopardstown to ride Derby hope Recital in the Ballysax a few weeks ago before partnering a number of high-profile Ballydoyle runners at Chester last week. However, it prompted Paul Smith, son of Coolmore partner Derrick, to admit: "It's a privilege to have Ryan but he won't always be free." And just as we thought we might have solved the riddle of the missing jockey, up pops Kieren Fallon for Recital in this afternoon's Derrinstown.

The jockey-go-round presumably is an effort to find the best available jockey for the main Ballydoyle protagonist in the world's most prestigious Classic at Epsom on June 4. With Moore set to partner Derby second favourite Carlton House for his retainer Michael Stoute in York's Dante on Thursday, former incumbent Fallon has been summoned for today's assignment. However, this development may raise the eyebrows of Ed Dunlop, who is expecting Fallon to be on board his Native Khan, Craven winner and third to Frankel in the Guineas, in the Derby.

All of which begs the question: Is the Coolmore policy of failing to appoint a retained jockey a strategic choice or a situational inconvenience? In the absence of any public clarification, you would have to assume -- given the meticulously professional approach of an outfit that doesn't allow even the pebbles go unturned -- that having a transient jockey-share arrangement with figures already committed to other rival yards does not feature in their 'Standards for World Domination' handbook.

Since Aidan O'Brien moved from Piltown to Ballydoyle in 1996/7 the yard has always chosen a stable jockey. There have been five different occupants of the role prior to the present vacancy: Christy Roche, Mick Kinane, Jamie Spencer, Kieren Fallon and Johnny Murtagh. With the exception of Roche (who retired) and in spite of sometimes spectacular results, a cloak of silence has surrounded the departure of all the others.

Whilst allowing that high performance team dynamics in any sport at the highest level have, by definition, a volatile pressure cooker quality to them, the turnover of top jockeys at Ballydoyle puts us in mind of Lady Bracknell's observation that "to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness".

Contrast the Ballydoyle revolving door with their chief rival Godolphin, who have had Frankie Dettori as their appointed rider throughout that entire period, and we can deduce another meaning entirely for the term 'stable jockey'.

One can only admire Coolmore's overall achievement and its combination of pioneering spirit, bloodstock expertise and commercial nous has put it on a footing -- rare for Ireland -- of industry leader on a global scale. It didn't get there by following, it got there by leading and innovating.

Just like Henry Ford panned conventional thinking at the start of the Industrial Revolution when he declared "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said 'A faster horse'!"

Perhaps, then, this is a strategic decision and not a situational blip. However, I cannot believe that the discontinuity and arbitrarity of mixing and matching between the increasing presence of Aidan's son Joseph, domestic stalwarts Colm O'Donoghue and Seamus Heffernan, UK-based Fallon and Moore with obligations to other yards, as well as Jamie Spencer, retained by owner Jim Hays who has significant shares in Cape Blanco and Fame And Glory, is the ideal recipe for optimising results.

Alternatively, it could be that, unlike Zsa Zsa Gabor who said "A girl must marry for love -- and keep on marrying until she finds it", perhaps it's just that Ballydoyle has stopped looking for love.

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