A year ago Kieren Fallon led the race for the jockeys' title and Jamie Spencer was Aidan O'Brien's No 1. Today, their roles are exactly reversed. At the end of yesterday afternoon Spencer was three winners clear on the championship leaderboard. But Fallon's removal from the domestic game has left the field open not just to his predecessor in the Ballydoyle hot seat, but to everyone else as well, it seems. Nearly halfway through the season, a dozen riders are within a whip-flick of each other, with some fairly unheralded names in the mix.
Actually, it should be Neil Callan who is credited with leading the pack. He has 89 victories to his credit this year, 21 more than nearest pursuer Robert Winston. But, arbitrarily and illogically, the rules of the championship are that it is fought out solely during the turf season. All-weather wins within that timescale - 225 days of the year rather than 365 - count, but those without it do not. Under those bizarre constraints, Frankie Dettori won the crown last year with a lower annual total than the man who handed it over, Fallon.
The heat is now on, literally and figuratively, in the battle for supremacy. But there are those who would like to see some of it taken off, for the sake of the protagonists.
One of the country's leading jockeys' agents, Newmarket-based Shippy Ellis, did not mince words yesterday. "This year's championship is undoubtedly more competitive than usual," he said, "though realistically, in the end there are only going to be a few who can win it.
"We're only in June now, and the burn-out factor will soon kick in. The travelling to two or even three meetings a day and the heat will take their toll. The jockeys start to get dehydrated. It induces not exactly a trance, but certainly light-headedness and it is a worry. The onus is always put on the jockeys to regulate themselves, but it is difficult for someone to turn down the opportunity to earn.
"The bodies running the sport are simply greedy. The authorities should share the responsibilities and take the initiative. What is wrong with declaring a blank day each week and giving everyone a day off?"
Ellis, who has been watching the jockeys' scene for more than 20 years, added: "The creation of banded meetings means that if this championship does get close there will be another opportunity for burn-out and the prize-money is so poor that a rider could find himself out of pocket in search of a winner. There is a good case for not letting the better men - anyone who has ridden, say, 50 winners in a year - to ride at them, which would leave them as a platform for up-and-coming jockeys to attract trainers' attention."
Yesterday afternoon Spencer rode a double at Carlisle and Callan notched a single. Of others in the chasing pack, Richard Hughes and Dettori were on the mark at Salisbury, before joining fellow-contenders Ryan Moore and Seb Sanders at Epsom in the evening. Darryll Holland, who sat the day out to nurse an injured ankle, missed a winner at the Wiltshire track on Coconut Squeak. He hopes to return with five rides at Newcastle today, including one-time Oaks hope Dash To The Top on her belated seasonal debut.
Ellis threw some title thoughts into the hat. "Darryll has got his plane, and is going to try hard. Seb is willing to go anywhere all over the country. Jamie is a possibility. Robert Winston is riding very well indeed and has good contacts, but he wouldn't be the lightest.
"It's hard enough, though, for a freelance. You need a good strike-rate and that usually means someone with the firepower of a big retaining stable."
At the end of June last season Fallon was 17 clear of Dettori, but then the latter's huge Godolphin string began to hit form. One of the jockeys on Ellis's books is the 2000 champion, Kevin Darley, sitting just behind Dettori in the current table and, like him, associated with a powerful stable not yet truly flying, that of Mark Johnston. "His horses have not quite been coming home as they usually do," said Ellis. "He has the numbers and when he gets into top gear Kevin will not be out of it.
"Kieren not being here has resulted in a healthy scenario and opened opportunities," he added. "A dominant figure is in the driving seat; his bad efforts tend to get overlooked and it is always easier to retain a title than to acquire one. All the guys involved this year are excellent jockeys, and there'd only be a few pounds between the top 20."
l Aidan O'Brien's Gypsy King has been the subject of strong support for Sunday's Irish Derby. The Sadler's Wells colt is 5-1 from 10-1 with Irish layers Paddy Power after a flood of money.
FLAT JOCKEYS CHAMPIONSHIP William Hill: evens (from 5-4) L Dettori, 7-4 (from 6-4) JP Spencer, 9-2 (from 4-1) S Sanders, 8-1 RL Moore, R Winston, 12-1 (from 14-1) R Hughes, 14-1 (from 12-1) D Holland, 40-1 J Fortune, 66-1 K Darley.
IRISH DERBY (Curragh, Sunday): William Hill: 8-13 Hurricane Run, 7-2 Walk In The Park, 5-1 Gypsy King, 9-1 Fracas, 12-1 Bahar Shumaal, 20-1 Brahminy Kite, Shalapour, 25-1 Scorpion, 33-1 Helvetio, 50-1 Yehudi. Paddy Power: 8-11 Hurricane Run, 4-1 Walk In the Park, 5-1 Gypsy King, 7-1 Fracas, 12-1 Bahar Shumaal, 16-1 Shalapour, 25-1 Brahminy Kite, Helvetio, Scorpion, 40-1 Yehudi.
HYPERION'S SELECTIONS FOR TODAY'S OTHER MEETING
HAMILTON: 7.00 Next Flight 7.30 Grand Opera 8.00 Pivotal's Princess 8.30 Toshi 9.00 Golden Island 9.30 YashinReuse content