Racing: Hennessy rider Dunsdon defies doubters

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The Independent Online

There are some famous riders competing in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday and there is also David Dunsdon.

There are some famous riders competing in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday and there is also David Dunsdon.

The 22-year-old business management student takes on the exalted in one of the most competitive handicap chases of the season and does so on some heavy artillery. Joly Bey, the second favourite, is his mount and Dunsdon did not have to resort to chicanery to persuade the chestnut's owner that he was the young man for the job. He is that owner.

It is, on the surface, an agreeable position, but Dunsdon recognises there is a downside. If Joly Bey does win, the horse will probably gain the bulk of the plaudits. If he fails, there will be plenty of punters who will find fault with the human equation in the partnership.

Like the Irish amateur rider JP Magnier (who can now take a break from harsh public scrutiny following the injury to Rhinestone Cowboy) before him, Dunsdon has been swiftly pigeonholed as a young man of privilege on a mission beyond his ability. If the notion pricks him he is not showing it.

"If I get beaten a short-head then people will say that someone like Tony McCoy or Paul Carberry would have won, but that is of no interest to me whatsoever," he said yesterday after a morning spin on Joly Bey. "I don't care what other people think in the slightest. There are far more important things for me to worry about."

Dunsdon pretends indifference to what will be the most searching examination of his short riding life. The ambition for Saturday is not particularly lofty. "It's to stay on," he says.

"I'm not nervous because the bottom line is that this is a few horses running round a field and one of them will happen to get to the line first. There are other things to get nervous about. Once you're on the horse's back and in the race it's fairly irrelevant as long as you're self-motivated, which is quite easy for a Hennessy. Once you're in the race you're primarily doing what you can within that five or six minutes on the horse's back.

"But this is a great opportunity for me when you think about the Vince Slatterys of this world, who work like Trojans and are not gifted a chance like this." Joly Bey, an ex-French gelding, was bought for Dunsdon by his family last year for 240,000 guineas, at the Doncaster Sales.

His father John and uncle, Josh Gifford, signed for the horse and immediately recognised that charges of nepotism would be on the way. Gifford, whose son Nick now trains the seven-year-old, claimed the purchase was for a foreign client. It was a day they bought a horse and sold a red herring. Not even Dunsdon Jnr was in on the act. "It was much to my surprise," he says. "I did know the horse quite well from when he used to race in France for Guillaume Macaire." Despite his protestations of nonchalance, the young jockey has been preparing rigorously for the six minutes. Dunsdon will go to the scales at his lightest weight for some time, 10st 3lb.

"I've been in the gym, running and boxing," he says, "but for the last month it's been a case of maintaining fitness while losing muscle bulk, because muscle weighs more than fat. My muscular skeleton has changed, so I'm nothing like Marvin Hagler or Jonny Wilkinson, but hopefully I'm not like Mr Bean either."

The last-named is a figure plenty are ready to associate him with, despite the fact that Dunsdon was the world champion amateur jockey of 2002. "I am certainly not as sharp as the other jockeys in the race because I don't ride every day, but I have the definite advantage of intimacy with my horse," he says. "I know him better than any other rider will know their horse because I am with him for 150 days of the year. I've also had the opportunity to concentrate on this race and try to understand what my horse is feeling and thinking." David Dunsdon knows what the punters are thinking too.

Hennessy Gold Cup (Newbury, Saturday) Latest betting (Tote): 3-1 Celestial Gold, 11-2 Joly Bey, 13-2 Nil Desperandum, 8-1 Lord Transcend, Ollie Magern, Royal Auclair, 9-1 Ballycassidy,16-1 Frenchman's Creek, Vodka Bleu, 18-1 Gunther McBride, 20-1 others