Racing: Third man refuses to settle for supporting role

Seb Sanders is about as flamboyant as rice pudding. His skill is the way he can knock skin off one.

Seb Sanders is about as flamboyant as rice pudding. His skill is the way he can knock skin off one.

Born in Tamworth, the son of a plumber, it was not a sequinned start. But Sanders, who will be 34 on Saturday, has grown up to be one of the most powerful men in a racehorse saddle, a quality which has taken him close to flag-planting distance at the summit of the jockeys' championship and could yet wrest the title off another riding strongman, Kieren Fallon.

It was two years ago that Sanders signalled he could be a player at the top level of the numbers game. He finished third to the Irishman. The duel has recommenced this season, with the addition of the emotionally and stylistically quite different Frankie Dettori, who yesterday recorded a double at Newmarket to establish a lead of two over Fallon and 13 over Sanders.

While the title is being portrayed as a fight between the company of two, Sanders endeavours to make it a crowd. He knows he is in position, both now and in the long term, to take advantage of any slip. The difference this season is Sir Mark Prescott, for whom Sanders has become principal rider. Prescott is a supplier of bulk winners, but, persuasively, is considered rather shrewd.

It does not take much to appear an intellectual leviathan of the turf. Prescott has built his reputation as a Rhodes scholar via the complex technique of actually putting his horses in races that suit them, which says more about racing than about the trainer himself.

Nevertheless, if Prescott "rates" a jockey that is enough for most. It is like a great celestial finger emerging to confer respectability. In July, Sanders rode a record monthly total of 44 winners for 22 different trainers. "You get a lot of respect through the [Prescott] job," Sanders says. "It's put me on a higher plane. Even when I took the second job there [six years ago] there was a few more rides. Before, they wouldn't have even given me a second look. Now there's the difference of becoming first jockey.

"Before, I felt I was going by unnnoticed, but people are taking more notice of me simply because of the championship. People are watching. In the past, I could ride two or three winners somewhere, Frankie would fart, and he would get all the headlines."

From the time he was in the British Racing School, Sanders has built his career on stamina and determination. At work at least, he does not do flash, which is just as well as that post is already taken.

With narrow, blue eyes beneath fair, streaked hair and a miner's torso, Sanders looks a man to thrive on hard work. That led to mutually efficient relationships with Bryan McMahon, his first trainer/sponsor, and Prescott, both of whom would consider the Marquis de Sade a bit of a pinko softy.

If Sanders, like another member of the weighing room, attempted an acrobatic return to earth in the winners' enclosure, he might find a bear trap waiting on the way down. "Just because I don't do those things doesn't mean I'm not excited, but there's a time and a place for everything," he says. "Frankie is Frankie and people enjoy him, including the people he works for. My job's a little bit different.

"The way you go about the job is determined by the people you work for, and the people who have employed me have been pretty much old-school trainers. They're not really into flying dismounts. I've still got a print of Bryan's boot on my backside."

The two jockey names which most preoccupy Sanders now belong to Fallon and Dettori. When you ask the third man if he feels any sense of inferiority in comparison to his more celebrated counterparts, there is a decent pause. Sanders wants to get the balance of the answer right.

"I enjoy a nice tight finish," he says eventually. "And I'd fancy my chances upsides anybody. You don't think twice about them when you're in a race. You don't think, 'crikey, it's Kieren there, I'd better push a bit harder'. Kieren's got this great thing when he's coming from behind about whistling and it faces a lot of lads out. Panic stations go off. But, as far as I'm concerned, it's just Kieren riding a horse, riding a race.

"It's competitive, but there's a lot of banter. Frankie rang me the other week and said he was going to bring back a couple of mobsters from Chicago to deal with me. We're all quite good friends, winding each other up, including Kieren, 'the Assassin'. Gary Hind calls me 'Elvis, King of the Hill', because I always seem to do well at Brighton."

Brighton, and other racecourses of less lordly distinction, used to be the tracks we associated with Sanders, the scenes of his number crunching. But with the elevation in profile has come improvement in the quality of his winners. Compton Place's victory in the 1997 July Cup used to stand as a Group One island, but this year there has been Bachelor Duke's Irish 2,000 Guineas and the success of Bahamian Pirate in the Nunthorpe Stakes.

All of this has come at a price, yet it is a cost for which Sanders would ransack the piggy bank. "My weight's been good recently because I haven't even had time to think about eating," he says. "You don't get to see the wife or the baby [Leona, and one-year-old Darcy] and of course you miss all that. And God knows how many car engines I've blown up along the way. It's quite frightening the amount of miles I've done, this year alone.

"But it's amazing how the day is once you've had a winner. That gets you right through the day. If you haven't had a winner you start getting grumpy and irritable and start taking it out on the wrong people. If some poor little apprentice gives you a bump he might get on the wrong end of a rollicking.

"Fortunately, that hasn't been happening too often this season. The idea now is to hang in there, on to their coat-tails, and nick a few more winners. This is what I've put all the hard work in for all my life, to give myself a fighting chance."

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy as ECB finally wield the axe
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas