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
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn