Racing: Swinburn stocks up for his change of career

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The Independent Online

Sheikh Mohammed's reaction, albeit a tongue-in-cheek one, to the news that Walter Swinburn was to take up training was perhaps not exactly what the man who rode the Maktoum family-owned colt Lammtarra to victory in the Derby was hoping to hear. "He looked at me and said 'But jockeys don't make good trainers', and he wasn't the first one to say it to me, in fact," said Swinburn. "And later he did tell me that he'd been joking. But it makes you think, doesn't it?"

It does seem to be a fact that Flat jockeys tend to make less of a success of their second careers than their jumping counterparts. David Nicholls is one exception and in the past Doug Smith made a fair fist of the job, but the likes of Lester Piggott, Sir Gordon Richards and Scobie Breasley made little impact.

Perhaps it is the old-dogs-new-tricks syndrome; Flat riders tend to retire later in life than jump jockeys, or maybe more of the latter have a deep-seated horseman's background. If that is the case, Swinburn, 43, should be OK. Oxford-born of good Irish stock, he gave up the saddle four years ago because of weight problems and has been around horses all his life. He is due to see the Jockey Club's licensing committee in 13 days' time, ahead of taking over the 125-box yard at Tring, Hertfordshire, of his father-in-law, Peter Harris. He has spent the past three seasons there riding out and learning the ropes.

"If you asked me why Flat jockeys can't do training I'd have to say I just don't know," he said. "But I will say that the last few years have been really important. If I'd had the opportunity to take out a training licence as soon as I retired I would really have struggled, for hardly a day goes by when I don't learn something new."

Swinburn, for whom Lammtarra's Epsom success was the third of three Derby victories, was at the Newmarket yearling sales yesterday plying another part of his new trade, the search for future talent among acres of raw material. His former job involved only the end product; although his former boss Sir Michael Stoute appraised him of the difficulties of getting it as far as the shop window, he is only now beginning to appreciate them fully.

"When I first decided to give this a go," he said, "Sir Michael told me that the feat is not so much to win a race, but to get the horse on the track. But when you do, you feel it is a real achievement. Like the other day with a three-year-old filly from our yard, Miss Polaris. She has had so many problems, and the owners have been so good, so patient. She finally had her first run in September, and then won at Pontefract on Monday. And we all just felt so good about it."

Despite being in the happy position of taking over a thriving establishment, Swinburn is under no illusions about his imminent new career. "Everyone has told me how tough it will be and that is is hard work all the way," he said. "But that's rather implying that being a jockey wasn't."

Retirement from the saddle was rather forced upon Swinburn, but the writing had been on the wall after he suffered a horrific fall in Hong Kong in 1996 and took a year's sabbatical 12 months later. "I used to get such a buzz from those big-race wins," he said, "but in the end I can remember riding a Group One winner for Aidan O'Brien in Ireland, and felt just nothing. Then it was time to stop."

The privations of the jockey's life may be judged by the fact that Swinburn, married to Alison and with a happy family, at last feels and looks well. "People keep telling me how well I look, almost surprised," he said. "But they shouldn't be. I'm not overweight, I'm fit and trim. But I'm 11 stone, which is what I should be, not eight stone something."

The success of the Pendley Farm operation has been based on syndicates, openness and a welcome for all, and nothing will change in that department. And although Swinburn and Harris failed to strike in the sale-ring yesterday, in a fiercely competitive market, the yearling season is yet young and the pair stocked up to the tune of 16 in Ireland last week. "Do you know," said Swinburn, as he headed off to the barns to keep looking, "I might not have suspected I would when I started off down the trainer's route, but I'm thoroughly enjoying it all, and I'm pleasantly surprised how much."

* The top lot at yesterday's second session of the Tattersalls October Sale was a 700,000-guinea chestnut son of Derby winner Galileo and Coronation Stakes heroine Balisada, who will be trained by Sir Michael Stoute for Saeed Suhail, owner of Kris Kin and King's Best.

* Salisbury's card tomorrow, transferred from Ascot, has been abandoned due to waterlogging.


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