Lordan taking glory trail one step at a time
Two of Flat racing's top riders recently popped up in this corner with a common goal. For all their success, Fran Berry and Eddie Ahern spoke openly of an ongoing desire for the recognition that Group One glory confers on a jockey.
Only a minuscule percentage of their profession ever get to ride in the game's glamour events, fewer still win them. So, for those knocking around the top echelon, that inability to break through the glass ceiling can become a point of frustration.
In Ireland, there are only 12 Group Ones a year, with a further 32 in England. Consider, then, for example, that nine of the top 12 Irish Flat races were won by Coolmore-owned horses in 2008, all of which were ridden by either of two jockeys -- Johnny Murtagh and Seamie Heffernan -- and that another trainer and jockey partnership -- Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning -- accounted for two of the remaining three prizes. You get the picture.
Of course, Berry and Ahern are relatively young men in Flat racing terms, but their sense of longing is understandable, given their talents and ambitions. Granted, Ahern has ridden a Group One winner, but that was all of 11 years ago this weekend.
For want of a better analogy, Group Ones are a bit like GAA All Star awards. At the end of the year, you check to see who has earned one. It's a roll of honour everyone wants to be on but, more so than any All Star 15, rarely features too many new faces.
"What's for ya won't pass ya," says Wayne Lordan, who can now scratch one big chore from his to-do list following Sole Power's 100/1 triumph in last week's Nunthorpe Stakes at York. With 66pc of the year's Group One series in Ireland and England already decided, he is the only freshman to make the draft so far.
While some might point out that it's easy to be philosophical when you're standing on the winner's podium, such an attitude is typical of Co Cork-born Lordan. He is one of the most straightforward, hard-working riders in the business, and an air of contented acceptance has long defined his being. That laid-back tendency will have stood to him last week, when he was forced to pass up the winning Ebor ride on Gordon Elliott's Dirar due to a commitment to David Wachman.
"David had a two-year-old in a maiden in Killarney," Lordan relays matter-of-factly, "so I had to go there. That's the way it goes -- it's all part if it."
Thus, after missing what would have been the biggest win of his career on the Wednesday, Lordan scaled an even higher summit two days later. Having twice won on Eddie Lynam's Notalossonya in July, the 28-year-old was York-bound to ride that filly in a 14-furlong handicap on the last day of the festival.
Lynam had also decided to travel the three-year-old Sole Power for an ambitious tilt at Starspangledbanner and Co in the Nunthorpe. Pat Smullen had ridden the horse in 10 of its 12 races but this time he was the one tethered at Killarney.
Lordan had partnered Sole Power to be fourth at Newmarket on 2,000 Guineas day, so he got the gig again. He would be there for Notalossonya anyway, so it made sense to let him ride both horses. Next thing was, the filly missed the cut for the handicap.
"She got balloted out," Lordan says simply, "but I had nothing special to ride at Killarney so I said I'd stay and ride Sole Power. I'm glad I did."
What's for you won't pass you, then, and few would begrudge the diminutive rider his slice of good fortune. It wasn't before time.
During a professional career that began with an apprenticeship at Thomond O'Mara's in Fethard back in 1998, Lordan has risen steadily through the ranks. He first made an impression as an able lightweight, but didn't necessarily smack of someone who was destined to secure a position with any of the game's major stables.
That can often be a drawback of being particularly slight -- slight by jockeys' standards, even. The preconception goes that the best riders have an innate strength about them. At 5ft 2in and capable of doing minimum weights on a full dinner, Lordan might have been deemed to lack that natural physicality.
Sure enough, when his claim went he endured a couple of quiet years but there was a constancy throughout. O'Mara kept using him, as did Tommy and Fozzy Stack.
Gradually Lordan gathered momentum again, and the association with Wachman that began in 2004 provided the boost his profile needed. In 2005, Lordan managed the first of five consecutive top-10 finishes in the riders' championship.
Stack, Wachman and O'Mara, after all these years, remain his most frequent employers. That tells you something of the stability of character Lordan brings to the table. In the case of Wachman and Stack, two of the most potent outfits in the country, it also tells you plenty of his diplomatic nous.
"Both David and Fozzy are pretty straightforward," he maintains. "They get on well, so that makes my job easier. If there's a clash they let me ride whichever horse I think has the best chance, which is great for me."
In short, unless Coolmore's retained rider, currently Murtagh, pulls rank, Lordan has the pick of Wachman and Stack's bluebloods. But therein lies the rub. While Lordan had been placed in Group Ones before yesterday week, that rank, and occasionally circumstance, had conspired against him.
In the last couple of years he has missed out on three top-level victories when Kieren Fallon and Murtagh took the reins respectively on Myboycharlie and Bushranger. And when Murtagh was suspended for the Moyglare Stakes, tomorrow's Group One, in 2008, so was Lordan. Heffernan ended up steering Again to victory.
Asked if he was beginning to think that fate wouldn't favour him, Lordan offers an honest response.
"Yeah, I suppose whenever you finish second in a Group One, you would be half thinking, 'did I do something wrong?' But you have to think positive as well, so you can't let that type of thing enter your head much.
"If you start doubting yourself, that's when things go wrong. When you get the opportunity, you've just got to give it the best you can and I always hoped it would happen some day."
Needless to say, one swallow doesn't make a summer. When we spoke during the week, Lordan was still waiting on Murtagh to learn of his own schedule for The Curragh tomorrow. That may remain the case for a while yet.
Nonetheless, Lordan's performance aboard Sole Power confirmed to the world at large exactly what he is capable of. At no point during the Nunthorpe did the Edward Lynam-trained gelding look likely to be beaten, but the shock was the extent of the horse's abilities, not the jockey's.
And, for all that it was a milestone for Wayne Lordan, the chances are his best days are still ahead of him. York was a hitching-post on the journey, not a final destination.
"My ambition up to the Nunthorpe was to win a Group One," the rider affirms in that uniquely understated way of his, "now I'm going to concentrate on a second one."