Darley secures his crown at the double

On a high, now for Down Under as self-effacing rider celebrates first Flat championship in style at Doncaster
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When Kevin Darley wakes up in Melbourne this morning it might, finally, have sunk in that he really is the champion jockey. The self-effacing 40-year-old, who has led the title race since May, has hardly dared believe in recent weeks his name would become the 38th on a roll of honour begun by Nat Flatman in 1846.

When Kevin Darley wakes up in Melbourne this morning it might, finally, have sunk in that he really is the champion jockey. The self-effacing 40-year-old, who has led the title race since May, has hardly dared believe in recent weeks his name would become the 38th on a roll of honour begun by Nat Flatman in 1846.

It was only on Wednesday, when his nearest pursuer Richard Quinn ran out of races, that he permitted himself to breathe easy and yesterday at Doncaster it all became official. Darley rode a double to bring his final score to 152 for the title and 155 for the domestic year; arcanely, the championship includes only races run within the duration of the March to November Turf season.

"I didn't really feel the pressure until the last month or so," said a relieved and delighted Darley. "Then I wanted it so badly I went anywhere and everywhere for a ride and a winner. But when something like this happens you forget the long days and the long drives. I've been running on pure adrenalin."

The man from Wolverhampton, now resident in North Yorkshire, is the first northern-based champion since the apprentice Elijah Wheatley in 1905, a matter of some pride and it was entirely fitting that his glory hunt, which stretched to 981 mounts, should have ended with a victory in the final race on the traditional final day of the turf season at the South Yorkshire track. In the darkening autumnal gloom he was cheered home by the faithful on Andreyev in the Wentworth Stakes. The victory produced a neat top and tail to the season, for Darley had also ridden the first winner available to him- the first race of the Turf season is for apprentice jockeys - Nearly A Fool in the Brocklesby Stakes back on 23 March.

He had to settle for third place on Seren Hill in yesterday's feature, the November Handicap. The mile-and-a-half slog through the mud went to the 14-1 shot Batwing, who was freshened up for the fray with a run over hurdles by trainer Brian Ellison and who consigned Carly's Quest to the runner-up berth for the third successive year.

Darley's next adventure will also be in a handicap, though a rather more valuable one, his first ride in the Melbourne Cup. He went straight from Doncaster to Heathrow yesterday and will renew his acquaintanceship with Far Cry, his partner in Australia's show-stopper on Tuesday. The Martin Pipe-trained gelding, beaten a short-head in the Ascot Gold Cup in June, is one of four British and Irish representatives in the two-miler, the others being Arctic Owl, Lightning Arrow and Enzeli. Far Cry was drawn ten yesterday, the same stall from which last year's winner Rogan Josh emerged, with Enzeli six and Lightning Arrow 14, but Arctic Owl will have to come from the unfavoured widest position at 24.

The only horse from these shores to have succeeded in the Melbourne Cup has been the Irish-trained Vintage Crop seven years ago, but in the past two runnings Persian Punch and Central Park have come close and the latest challenge is the strongest yet.

Far Cry's trainer Martin Pipe is not regretting missing a few days of the jumps season. "The experience so far is making me wonder why I have not done it before," he said, "but of course you have to have the right horse, and it is a long way. But Far Cry is bouncing."

Pipe's stable jockey in his more familiar arena, Tony McCoy, failed in his attempt to beat his own record for the fastest seasonal century with a day to spare. His best-fancied mount, Seebald, blundered away his chance of victory in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton with clumsy leaps at the final two obstacles.

But whatever the achievements of Darley and McCoy, any reception accorded them would pale into insignificance if a 12-year-old gelding named Al Capone can win in France today. The steeplechaser is going for his eighth successive win in one of Auteuil's major contests, the Prix la Haye Jousselin. If he wins, he will break a world record that has stood for 179 years, one he holds jointly with Doctor Syntax, who won the Preson Gold Cup for seven years from 1815.

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