Quinn gains the whip hand in late run for recognition

Greg Wood on the jockey closing in on this year's Flat championship
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It is inevitable that in a game of short-heads and rapid shifts of fortune, some of the players will be remembered not for what they achieved, but for what they did not. Like Richard Quinn, for instance.

Quinn has been one of the best riders in Britain for almost a decade, with more than a hundred winners in season after season, most of them earned the hard way at the major meetings and tracks. He can point to a Classic success too, on Snurge in the 1990 St Leger.

But try a little word-association in the average betting shop, and for every punter who recalls Quinn's delighted grin beneath the comical Leger- winner's cap, another will remember that he lost the ride on Generous just weeks before the colt won the Derby in 1991. Or perhaps the Irish Derby of 1988, when as Quinn and Insan were short-headed by Kahyasi, the rider's whip still lay where he had dropped it, almost a furlong back down the course.

Difficult moments both, and promising careers have run aground on less, stripped of confidence or motivation. Quinn had, after all, partnered Generous from his first gallop through a two-year-old career which concluded with victory in the 1990 Dewhurst Stakes, only for Fahd Salman, his owner, to sign up Alan Munro as his retained jockey with Epsom, the Irish Derby and the King George close at hand.

The easiest route would have been to stumble downhill, but Quinn decided to resume the climb, with such determination that he now stands within sight of the summit. Eleven weeks of the Flat season remain. If Quinn can make up two winners on Pat Eddery in each one, he will celebrate his 35th birthday in December as the new champion jockey of Britain, and as a rider, at last, with nothing left to prove.

"Things like that probably do make you a better person," Quinn said during a rare half-hour without a ride at York's Ebor meeting last week. "But it was all a long time ago and in the last seven years I've averaged 100 winners, including in the year of Generous, so it was no great stumbling block. It was sad to miss out on the Derby, but they have one every year."

It is the relaxed, confident comment of a rider who suddenly finds that he cannot turn a corner without bumping into another success. Last weekend it was the Grand Prix de Deauville on Strategic Choice, who will run next in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Quinn, though, may prefer to ride Riyadian at Longchamp. Already as short as 8-1 for the Arc, the colt will be tried first in the Prix Foy over course and distance on 15 September.

Both horses are trained by Paul Cole, who has been the most significant figure in Quinn's professional life ever since the rider turned up on his doorstep as an apprentice 16 years ago. Munro may have claimed the Fahd Salman silks between 1991 and 1993, but Cole pointedly kept faith with Quinn for the remainder of his string, and though no retaining fee changes hands, the association remains as strong as ever.

"We get on very well in a professional manner," the jockey says, "he has a way he likes his horses to be ridden and that suits me because I ride in that way." Indeed, the Quinn style - tidy, thoughtful, determined - is the same both on and off the track, and his exceptional progress through the 1996 season is not the result of a different approach.

"Going to Hong Kong during the winter may have sharpened me up mentally, because they race very tight over there, but I certainly haven't changed my style," he said. "It's just that all of my yards have been in form from the start of the season, and when you ride more winners you ride with more confidence.

"Obviously this is going to be my best chance of the championship and I'll be all out for it, but I've already achieved more than I set out to as an apprentice. Back then you just want a ride, and then a winner. My first target was 60 winners in a season and I've far surpassed that."

Some might detect in the latter comment an absence of a champion's ruthless sense of purpose, but there can be no shortage of the will to succeed in a jockey who has ridden winners in almost two dozen different countries.

Instead, there is a memory of how far he has travelled and how difficult the passage has sometimes been. However, it is not Generous or Insan - "any time you're beaten a short-head it guts you, but it seemed to happen all the time with him" - who provides Quinn's worst recollection, but an occasion when he was brought down and his mount was killed.

Regardless of whether he becomes the new champion in November, Quinn will return shortly afterwards to Hong Kong, where only the best receive a second invitation. Yet though his talent is appreciated in the unforgiving cauldrons of Happy Valley and Sha Tin, in his own country it may be that only a title will earn similar regard. The fault there, of course, is not his, but ours.