Ryan Moore: 'I'm the lazy one, but I've had more luck'

The Brian Viner Interview: Despite Arc and Derby wins on Workforce, the jockey retains his modesty... just don't ask him to choose between racing and Arsenal
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The Independent Online

In the hallway of Ryan Moore's home just outside Newmarket, there is a marvellous photograph, taken in 2007, of all but three of the living champion Flat jockeys. Moore sits at one end, in the illustrious company of Lester Piggott, Joe Mercer, Pat Eddery, Willie Carson, Steve Cauthen and Frankie Dettori, yet none of those brilliant horsemen ever achieved in 12 months what Moore has since last October, winning at the Breeders' Cup, winning the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and between them, on consecutive days, winning the Oaks and the Derby. At just 27, he already has every right to a place in the pantheon of all-time greats.

As for how it came about, further along the hallway another photograph holds a clue: this one is a picture of his grandfather, Charlie Moore, astride a horse called Senegal. Old Charlie never rode a winner, but when he gave up working as a car salesman, and started a training yard next to Brighton racetrack – supposedly acquiring his first horse in exchange for some car tyres – he can scarcely have imagined that he was founding a dynasty. Yet Charlie's son Gary became a jump jockey and is now a successful trainer; and Gary and wife Jayne begat not just Ryan but also his younger siblings Jamie, Josh and Hayley, all jockeys. Which makes it significant that in a room off the hall stands a handsome child's hobby-horse, a plaything for two-year-old Toby and, in due course, little Sophie, one week old today. A punt on Toby to win the Derby by 2040? There are dafter bets.

That said, it was not until his own late teens that Moore realised that he had what it took to prosper in the saddle. Football was his first sporting love, and he had trials with Brighton & Hove Albion. Indeed, I have been advised by a racing journalist that football – he's an Arsenal nut – might be the way to loosen him up. He has a reputation as a cagey, dour interviewee, although on home turf I find him generous, thoughtful and, though quietly spoken, downright loquacious.

Would he swap his Classic wins for a career with the Arsenal? A silly opening question, but it yields a considered answer. "I don't know, really. I really enjoy what I do, especially the big weekend meetings. But Kempton Park on a Monday, eight rides on bad-quality horses, poor prize-money, with nobody there... I find that upsetting. It's promoting mediocrity. I used to find it easier to get motivated, but now I just try to be professional. I don't think about it until I'm on my way home. Then I think, 'That was just a waste of everyone's time.' Newbury is probably my favourite racecourse, but even there you get really ordinary races. It's a waste. You don't get that [poor footballers playing] at the Emirates or Old Trafford."

Still, there are enough big meetings to make up for the lacklustre ones. Tomorrow, he is due to ride Glass Harmonium in the Champion Stakes down the road at Newmarket, one of the last big races of the season. And next month he hopes for a mount on Breeders' Cup weekend, and a third win in successive years. "It's great to go over there and beat the Americans," he says, with feeling.

A Breeders' Cup, Arc and Derby treble would be quite something, but the Derby win alone, on Sir Michael Stoute's Workforce, has given him a place in the record books. His winning margin of seven lengths has been exceeded before, by another Stoute horse, although not since 1981, before Moore was born. That was the majestic Shergar, but no horse has ever run a faster Derby than Workforce. And then, earlier this month, in an even finer example of that extraordinary symbiosis between powerful thoroughbred and great jockey, Workforce went and carried Moore to a thrilling win in the Arc. It was a performance that handed Stoute his maiden victory in the famous race, and gave Moore even more pleasure than the Derby.

"After Epsom he [Workforce] was made out to be a superstar very quickly. Then it turned out [following a disappointing run as 8-11 favourite in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot] that maybe he wasn't, and they were just as quick to damn him. They'd wanted another Sea The Stars." By "they", Moore means the racing press, with whom he has a fractious relationship. "Some of them were even saying that he wouldn't win another race. But it's very unfair to judge a horse on one race, and it was nice for him to prove he's a really good horse. Winning the Arc gave me a massive buzz. It's a harder race to win than the Derby."

This is about as close as the three-times champion jockey gets to immodesty. He is a humble fellow, and maybe his perceived taciturnity is simply his distaste for the razzmatazz that comes with being a leading sportsman these days. I push him, though, to explain what makes him so good at winning. "I try to do things smoothly and correctly," he says. "I don't like forcing horses to be in a place they don't want to be. It's all about getting a nice rhythm, not complicating things. But I got it wrong with Workforce in the King George."

Had he grown more, he might have followed in his father's stirrups and become a National Hunt man. He's very glad he didn't. "Jump racing is a hard game. My brother [Jamie] is very good at what he does, but he doesn't get as many opportunities. My sister, well, it's different for girls. It might sound sexist but it's not a clever thing to do. If you have a bad fall, girls don't seem to bounce well. I know Nina Carberry's done very well, and Ruby's sister [Katie Walsh], but it's too dangerous, I think."

While all his siblings knew from an early age that they wanted to race, Moore did not consider himself good enough. Nor did his mother, who insisted he get an education. But A levels lasted only one term. "I was taking the odd day off to ride, and knew I couldn't carry on like that, so I gave up. Then my dad sent me to [Wiltshire trainer] Richard Hannon, who was fantastic with me, and I won the Cesarewitch at the end of my first season. You need the right stable behind you, and I was getting to ride in Group races from a young age, learning the whole time."

It was a similar process, I venture, to Jack Wilshere getting in the first team at Arsenal. "Exactly. The amount of stick he [Arsène Wenger] gets for bringing along kids in the correct way, I can't understand it. He won't spend £30m on a player because he knows there's no value in it, and if they don't win anything for five or 10 years then that's the way it's gone, but it's the correct way to do things. I can't see any fault in it. My boss [Stoute] is the same, bringing horses on slowly and gradually getting the best out of them. He knows which horses to keep, which to move on, and usually he gets it right."

This season Stoute will not see his protégé become champion jockey, and though the Derby and the Arc might be considered ample compensation, it hurts. "I just thought I would ride enough winners, but then I broke my wrist. I was probably a bit complacent." Complacency, from a member of the tireless Moore family? He shrugs. "My dad spends all his time working, so does my mum, Jamie's the same. I'm probably the laziest." And yet the most successful? "I've probably had a bit more luck."

The modesty is real, not feigned. It is from others, not Moore himself, that one learns how driven, and how strong and skilful, he is. He prefers to divert the credit for his success, starting with his late grandfather. "I rode a couple of winners in his colours before he died [in 2000], which was nice. He was old-school. He didn't like horses being hit, and some of that rubbed off on me. He'd say, 'Don't get out there and start whacking them... use your brain!'"

Similarly inspirational as he grew up was a jockey his dad often employed, one A P McCoy. "I remember him coming down to Brighton to school with my dad. I was 12, and I remember leading him over the hurdles. He wanted to ride everything in the yard. His work ethic was huge. To do what he does, to go to those small meetings and kick those horses round, it's unbelievable."

Moore asks me whether I think McCoy will be anointed BBC Sports Personality of the Year. I think it will be the golfer Graeme McDowell, I tell him. A sniff: "I don't watch golf. It's probably great when you get into it, but..." He tails off, knowing he never will. "It's not as though the award is that important, is it? But it's all there is. I remember when Frankie rode the seven winners [on a card] in 1996. I was just a kid, but I really wanted him to win. And when he didn't [finishing third behind Damon Hill and Steve Redgrave] I thought a jockey would never win it. But AP should have won years ago."

Like McCoy, Moore is well rewarded for his success. His share of the Arc prize-money alone makes him a wealthy young man. Yet his home, while comfortable, is far from grand. Does he have extravagances? "I got [his partner] Michelle a new car last week. With two kids now I felt she needed it. Other than that I try to be a bit sensible, investments and things. You don't get too long in racing and I've seen too many lads make money and end up sitting in pubs without what they should have. So I take advice, and my mum's great, she points me in the right direction. I'm not bright enough to do it without the right advice."

Not bright enough, too lazy, reliant on luck... even if he believes it himself, he'll never convince the rest of us.

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