Racing: Holland ready to redeem himself for Champion slip

The rider of the favourite for tomorrow's Ascot centrepiece has matured into one of the most astute jockeys on the circuit
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The Independent Online

Darryll Holland, unlike other jockeys who prefer alternative four-letter words when you ask them about their mistakes, calls you mate.

The Mancunian is happy to discuss his abortive ride on Falbrav in the Irish Champion Stakes three weeks ago, the Group One which slipped away. Some of the sterner critics have suggested that the yellow bow-tie which adorned his colours that day should have been aglow and spinning.

"I've heard them all," he concludes, "but, you know, it was just one of those things. All I can do now is put Leopardstown behind me, mate."

It is perhaps easier for Holland to distance this moment in the course of what has been the 31-year-old's most bountiful season. "Dazzler", the man who always turns up at the racecourse in a crisp suit and tie, would be wearing the emperor's clothes were it not for Kieren Fallon.

Holland is second in the jockeys' championship, closing in on 900 rides, 141 of them winners, and the ones that have counted have been on Falbrav.

The Eclipse and the International Stakes have already been bagged and now tomorrow's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot may give cause to loosen the Group One drawstrings yet again.

Victory in that would cause a general sense of amnesia about the Irish débâcle, though there is little mea culpa in Holland's recollections of Leopardstown. "We had great luck in the Eclipse, where everything went right for us, and it was the same in the International Stakes," he says. "In Ireland, I just didn't get the rub of the green.

"You ride so many horses every week and only once or twice could you say you've been unlucky. It just happened that in that week it was that day and that race.

"But I didn't have any options in the race. I had to go left past High Chaparral. It wasn't a mistake I could have rectified. You can't just barge horses out of the way. They're animals not cars." It does not sound as though you want to be near him on the dual carriageway.

The Irish Champion was a rare blot on the career of a man much respected, if not largely voluble, in the weighing room. Darryll Paul Holland was a juvenile celebrity among his peers, a young man who lost his claim within a year and was in against the big boys early on.

That scenario causes bear pits of its own and Holland acknowledges that some of the decisions he made, many of them out of the saddle, were awry. He feels seasoned enough now to offer advice to the generation that has followed.

"I don't want to sound too old because I've only been going at it for 13 years," he says, "but the standard of jockeyship generally seems a lot higher from when I first started. The lads are really looking after themselves better these days with Isotonic drinks and what have you, so the competition is very high.

"If you start playing jack the lad then you get left behind. The younger lads now have got to concentrate on the riding. You've got to be smart enough to see through some people at an early age before you get set on a different track."

It is no mistake if this sounds like the voice of experience. Holland has greatly thinned down the remora entourage which attached itself to him as a young jockey.

One of the few men who has chinned George Duffield and remained above ground, he is also a much more self-controlled figure. "He's a cool and patient bloke now and his riding very much reflects his character," one of his weighing-room colleagues says. "He's cool and calculating in the saddle, thinks what he's doing all the time.

"He has the killer instinct. He loves winning and gets upset when things go wrong, but he's not one of those jockeys who whinges in a race when things get hairy."

Holland himself credits one particular figure with this ripening maturity, his wife, Jacqueline. "Getting married has been a big part of my life," he says. "I'm building a future and it's not a future just about me, but about the whole family. It all shows me how much I have grown up, but it's not a process I've completed yet."

It has been a different year in many respects. Holland refused to hustle for a foreign contract over the winter in preference for recharging his batteries. He must have felt like the National Grid on his return after several months in Barbados. "There is so much racing these days that you have to go in with a plan, otherwise you're not going to last," he says. "I took the winter off and that meant I was in a much better state of mind. I felt fresh and real good. I still feel good now.

"I've finished in the top five for the last two seasons and the platform seems to be getting better every year. I never went in with the idea that I could be champion jockey but I can almost touch that now. It's exciting."

It has, however, to be contained elation as it is no long-bearded ruler between him and the throne. "Kieren is going fantastically well and, to be fair, I think I've met him at the peak of his powers," Holland says. "He's sorted out the drinking problem that he had, which has helped his personal life and is fantastic for both him and his family. It's showing in his race-riding."

The happy families collide tomorrow when one of Falbrav's main rivals will be the Fallon-ridden Russian Rhythm. Darryll Holland will attempt to bring the heightened qualities he has displayed this season into play. "I'm thinking more," he says. "I've worked on my race-riding and tried to slow it all down. I'm not crashing around as much. I'm thinking about all I am doing." Jockeyship art, in effect, imitating his life.