Applause fades for Swinburn

Greg Wood reports on how this year's Derby-winning rider has been sidelined

Walter Swinburn's Flat season began well enough, with victory on Lammtarra in the Derby at Epsom, but it deteriorated when he lost the ride on the same horse in his subsequent races and ended on a lower note still yesterday when a "Dear Walter" letter dropped on to his mat informing him that Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum no longer wished to retain Swinburn as his first jockey.

The Sheikh's publicity machine insisted that he had not been sacked, but from the jockey's point of view at least, it is a semantic destinction. Swinburn has enjoyed considerable success in Sheikh Maktoum's royal blue and white silks since his contract began in 1992, including Group One victories on Hatoof (1,000 Guineas) and Ezzoud (International Stakes, twice). He had previously partnered other top-class winners for the Sheikh, including Shareef Dancer in the Irish Derby and Shadeed in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

The letter to Swinburn from his former employer, Gainsborough Stud, said: "We do not wish to retain a jockey for the 1996 season. As you are fully aware, Sheikh Maktoum is very much involved with the Godolphin operation and and has given a considerable number of horses to his friends, who as you know make their own arrangements regarding trainers and jockeys."

The letter also states that the Sheikh hopes Swinburn will ride for him whenever possible and thanks him for his past success.

Whether any future bookings will include the mount on Royal Applause, one of this year's best juveniles and a 14-1 chance for next year's 2,000 Guineas, must be doubtful, however. Swinburn will be bitterly disappointed if yesterday's news means he will be denied good rides in major races in which he so often shines.

The jockey himself is not too keen on his reputation as a man for the big occasion, which carries with it an implication that other riders have more application in the day-to-day business of race-riding. What is beyond dispute, though, is Swinburn's coolness when it really matters.

Famously, he overslept on the morning of the 1981 Derby, even though he was due to partner Shergar, the odds-on favourite, at Epsom that afternoon. He ended this year's Flat turf season with 60 winners to his credit, 52 short of his best total, recorded in 1990.

A statement issued by Swinburn last night insisted that his ''very warm and cordial relations'' with the Sheikh and other members of his family would not be affected. He added: "Over the past few years I have had the honour to ride many horses for Sheikh Maktoum Al Maktoum - and I look forward to riding many more in the years to come.''

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