Sport Horse Racing

Monday 21 January 2019

Kirby sights set on more Ascot glory

Adam Kirby riding Connect to win at the Derby meeting at Epsom earlier this month. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Adam Kirby riding Connect to win at the Derby meeting at Epsom earlier this month. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Marcus Armytage

The grass may grow in Adam Kirby's paddocks at Vicarage Farm Stud just outside Newmarket but it certainly does not grow under his feet.

"Not a normal jockey" is one of the ways he describes himself. Partly because grafting is in his genes and partly because being always on the go helps keep his weight down, he never sits down.

"There's always something to do here," he explained. "Strimming, mowing, mending a fence, riding out a few."

For many of his weighing room colleagues at his level the winter is when you improve your golf handicap in Dubai between rides at Meydan. But with his partner Megan, the daughter of trainer David Evans, Kirby, 29, who initially made it on the all-weather circuit before converting that success - and some - to the turf, spent last November to March breaking in 56 horses for Newmarket trainers.

The last time I went to Vicarage Farm six years ago he sold me a horse so you will understand I was a bit wary this time. It turned out to be a huge success from the purchaser's point of view and, while there is a playful bit of the wheeler-dealer in Kirby, he promised he had nothing to sell this time.

Besides a hatful of good rides at Royal Ascot this week, including the favourite Harry Angel in the Diamond Jubilee, he runs the 76-acre farm which his late father, Maurice, a Norwich-based electrician, bought from Frankie Durr when Kirby was four. To him it has always been home.

"Dad was a marvellous man," said Kirby. "He trained greyhounds and bred a few horses which he took more seriously when he moved here. When I was eight we went to look at a farm in France and he took me racing. I've no idea where it was and I'm sure it wasn't licensed because I clearly remember they were cutting the horses' manes with scissors [normally a horse's mane is pulled with a comb] but it flicked a switch. After that trip to the races I knew that's what I wanted to do," he explained. "I started riding properly. From 12 I stopped going to school and rode out every Saturday for James Fanshawe."

At 16 he joined Michael Wigham and had his first ride for Gay Kelleway, which won at Lingfield in October 2004. A year later he joined Clive Cox as his apprentice in Lambourn; they grew together and have now reached the point where the one knows what the other is thinking. It has become one of Flat racing's most enduring partnerships. Apart from Harry Angel, they have also won Royal Ascot Group Ones with Lethal Force, Profitable and My Dream Boat, while Reckless Abandon and, last year, Heartache have won two-year-old sprints there.

"When I went to Clive's he had 40 horses, now he's got a big gig going on up there and a lot of class horses," pointed out Kirby. "If it looks like I do well on sprinters it is because Clive trains good sprinters. It's just how it happened. He gives me a rough idea of what he wants when I'm riding for him but he doesn't bamboozle me with instructions. If I make a mistake - don't we all - I'm big enough and ugly enough to put my hands up."

Kirby met Megan, now the mother of their two children, Charlie, two, and Evie, 11 weeks, when she led him up at Wolverhampton on one of her father's horses.

He will, he admits, be hard pushed to have a better day than the one at Ascot two years ago when Profitable won the King's Stand on the day Charlie was born. "I had to leave Megan and her mother," he recalled with a twinkle. "It was a lovely day - I didn't have to attend the birth, thank God, and I found out about an hour before racing that she'd had him!"

At the races Kirby always has the flushed hue of someone who has just emerged from a long stint in the sauna. "So you'd prefer to spend 40 minutes in a sauna than go for a run?" I asked and he gave me a look suggesting he wished it were only 40 minutes. "I hate running," he said.

But maintaining his weight to ride at 9st is something he regards as just part of the job and he does not get hung up on it. It is more America-North Korea post the Singapore summit rather than the open hostility of before it. "I still eat what I want but just as not as much as I'd like. If you had a strict diet it'd drive you mad - it's just the way I play it. I'll make a Red Bull on ice last me the day at the races."

But it is all worth it to ride horses like Harry Angel. "You ride enough of them, you instantly know the difference between very good, good and indifferent. Some feel like Rolls Royces, some feel like you're trying to clout a Mini Metro along the motorway at 70 mph. You get a proper feel off him. I wouldn't like to compare him with the others but he has a certain spark about him.

"Harry Angel is very fast and can quicken off it. He's a bit ballsy in the gates and the hardest part with him is pulling the blindfold off as they open. You need to be on the ball."

And so I went to make my escape, a cheaper visit than my last. "That grey horse in the stable," he said, referring to his hunter which he maintains will jump a five-bar gate from two strides, by way of goodbye. "Why don't you take him home and try 'im?"


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