There was little danger of Paul Moloney getting ideas above his station yesterday. The man who made his big breakthrough at Newbury three days previously arrived for one ride in the selling hurdle, was soon tailed off and eventually pulled up, covered in filth. Afterwards, however, there was no mistaking his emancipation as he cast his mind back two years to another, much more dispiriting afternoon here.
"I had ridden four winners in five months," he said. "I came to the last hurdle, McCoy a length up. I had to go long, the horse put down, we fell. I'll never forget walking back up and there was Evan Williams, running on to the track. Any other trainer would have been having a go. But he just kept exclaiming: 'How long before I give you a winner!' And he told me not to worry, that it would happen soon."
Moloney finished his tea. "Before I fell in with Evan, I was like that," he said. He held out his hand and crushed the polystyrene beaker. "But he picked me up off the floor."
In the distance, the Welsh mountains were plunging behind another black squall. In an astounding season for stables beyond the border - significant contributions having also come from Peter Bowen and Alison Thorpe - the success of State Of Play in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury confirmed Williams as the fiery new dragon among jumps trainers. In turn he emphasises that Moloney is no less qualified to join the elite.
Others who share that opinion include Jamie Spencer, a champion on the Flat who shared adolescent digs with Moloney. Spencer has always seen something of Ruby Walsh or Norman Williamson in his friend, while John Francome himself was effusive about the way he rode State Of Play.
At 28, it seems as though Moloney is finally building upon the foundations laid in his Co Tipperary boyhood - hunting and, like Francome, riding showjumpers. "To me, showjumping is a better grounding even than pony-racing," Moloney said. "It's brilliant for seeing a stride. A lot of jockeys that start off in racing, all they want to do is pull up their leathers and sit pretty. There are a few naturals that can do that, but not many, and Michael Hourigan would always tell me you have to get your seat right first. Even now that I ride short, I still think it's all about sitting tight to the horse and having your legs in a good position."
Moloney was soon spotted by Christy Roche and went on to share the amateurs' championship - no dilettante achievement in Ireland - with Philip Fenton. The wily Roche taught him much about race strategy, but then Moloney broke his pelvis. Even though he went on to win Grade One races on Moscow Flyer and Merry Gale, he gradually sensed stagnation. Spencer implored him to come to England.
"I knew that I wouldn't earn a penny at first," he said. "But in the long run it was worth trying. And things were picking up steadily, I rode 27 winners in my first season here, and then Ferdy Murphy offered me a job with 100 horses to ride in the north. But I decided to stay south. A month later I broke my leg, and by the time I came back, I was a nobody."
From the wilderness, he rang Williams and asked if he could come and ride out. And it did not take long for each to recognise what the other could offer. "Forget State Of Play," Moloney said. "At every level, Evan gets his horses so fit, and yet keeps them so sweet mentally. Horses that seemed finished when they arrived, they've been winning week in, week out."
Moloney also cherishes the support he has received from Henrietta Knight and Carl Llewellyn, and now has the novel problem of trying to keep a surfeit of patrons happy. "But even when things had gone wrong, I never lost self-belief," he said. "I was still positive. I was in the gym five nights a week. If I got the chance, I wanted to be ready. If a horse was ever good enough, I hoped that I would be too."
On Saturday, Moloney has turned down the chance to ride in the William Hill Tingle Creek Chase to stay loyal to Williams, who needs him at Chepstow. That looks a prudent decision in every respect, with Kauto Star now formally confirmed an intended runner in the Sandown race. The sponsors make him the 4-7 favourite, with Voy Por Ustedes at 7-2.
Nap: Bedlam Boy
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