There could hardly have been a greater contrast in the careers of the two jockeys who fought out the finish of the Flat season's final feature, the November Handicap, at Doncaster yesterday. On 50-1 shot Royal Cavalier was apprentice Paul Quinn, three months without a winner; on 7-1 joint favourite Mesmeric was Kieren Fallon, newly crowned champion for the fourth time. Yet it was the tiny, unknown youngster who somehow found the mental and physical reserves for a full two furlongs to help his mount repel one the strongest men the sport has produced.
Royal Cavalier prevailed by a head, with Golden Wells and Red Carnation breathing down their necks. Quinn, just 4ft 11in tall, stood high in the stirrups as he passed the post, punching the air with unashamed delight. "I thought Kieren's horse was bigger and stronger," he said after easily the biggest win of his career, "but mine had no weight and he kept finding that little bit more. I thought he had a good each-way chance and I tried to ride him with confidence."
It was a first victory in the historic race for 77-year-old trainer Reg Hollinshead, whose Rugeley, Staffordshire, stable has been the launchpad for, among others, the man who surrendered his title back to Fallon, Kevin Darley.
Although Fallon missed out in the main event, he extended his lead over Darley to eight when he rode his 166th winner of the domestic season on Conquestadora in the previous race. Both riders deserve the utmost credit for their efforts in the saddle this year – Fallon for his extraordinary comeback from the arm injury that wrecked his hopes last year and Darley for proving that his title had by no means been won merely by default.
"Hats off to Kieren," said Darley, "anyone who has seen the scar on his shoulder would realise just what he has achieved. The man in the street would have had to lie down for a year or two."
The apprentice title was a closer-run thing with Chris Catlin, a 19-year-old from Barnet, holding on by one victory from Keith Dalgleish. Catlin has some fair boots to fill, as five of the top six in the senior table are former young champions: Darley himself in 1978, Pat Eddery (1971), Richard Quinn (1984), Darryll Holland (1991) and Frankie Dettori (1989).
The jump season has been bubbling under for some weeks and yesterday, for the second Saturday in succession, a potentially top-class young horse emerged from the pack. A week after the Irish chaser Sackville laid down his credentials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, four-year-old hurdler Azertyuiop produced a performance at Wincanton that also had connections dreaming of Cheltenham. The French-bred, trained by Paul Nicholls, gave weight and a decisive beating to three rivals in the Elite Handicap Hurdle.
Azertyuiop, who takes his name from the top line of a keyboard in his native land, made every yard in the two-mile, Grade Two contest under a canny ride from Timmy Murphy. "It wasn't necessarily the plan to make all," said Nicholls, "but Timmy did the best thing by putting it to them. There would have been no point in dawdling, as he needed a proper race – he has taken a lot of getting fit and there is a fair bit of improvement in him."
In time, the gelding may prove as noble a colourbearer over fences for his owner, John Hales, as was One Man but this effort ensured that he will be sticking to the smaller obstacles in the immediate future. Nicholls said: "We've already schooled him over fences, but he'll go to the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham next month to see if he's good enough for the Champion."
Azertyuiop's six-year-old stablemate, Montifault, the second of three winners for Nicholls and Murphy at their local track, was particularly impressive with an all-the-way demolition of the opposition in the Badger Brewery Handicap Chase and is now bound for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury next month.
Ireland's best senior chaser, Florida Pearl, could finish only third on his seasonal debut in the James Nicholson Champion Chase at Down Royal. The nine-year-old, placed in the last two Gold Cups at Cheltenham, loomed threateningly behind leader Foxchapel King, winner of the Munster National last month, on the home turn but faded tamely on the run down the straight. "He just ran out of gas," said his trainer, Willie Mullins, "and the winner was match-fit."
Time was when November Handicap day used to be the denouement of proceedings on the Flat; now, since the addition of all-weather tracks to the sport's repertoire, the season runs for a twelve-month. Oddly, the jockeys' championships are the only ones decided between the arbitrary dates from the opening of the turf season at the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster in March until its end back on Town Moor, but this arrangement – decided by the riders themselves – suits the top men, most of whom prefer to take up lucrative opportunities abroad rather than slog it out round Southwell, Lingfield and Wolverhampton in the cold.
One of those who prefers to winter in the sun is Dettori, who completed a tremendous international double for Godolphin yesterday. A few hours after Hatha Anna, under local man Paddy Payne, had given the Dubai-based team their first Australian success in the Group Two Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington, Dettori rode Kutub to victory in the Singapore Gold Cup at Kranji.Reuse content