Racing: Cochrane sees his title chance: Richard Edmondson on the rider who is returning to Luca Cumani's yard with the jockeys' championship on his mind

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The Independent Online
THIS TIME last year, only Michael Roberts would have failed to guffaw at suggestions that he would be Britain's champion Flat jockey. The rider with the straight face among the titterers yesterday was Ray Cochrane, who hopes his appointment as stable jockey to Luca Cumani will provide the springboard to a title challenge.

For Cochrane, 35, this is a second session at Bedford House, following an incumbency from 1987- 1989 which brought bountiful totals and Classic winners, but no championship.

As he attempts to knit the duties of a stable jockey around the other mounts that made him the most successful true freelance of last season, the Irishman believes the riders' crown is within his grasp.

'It's nice to have a good stable behind you no matter what you're doing,' he said last night. 'My ambition is to be champion jockey one year and to do that you need a very good team behind you.

'This year I've got a lot of good stables to ride for and it's always nice to have a good base. You've got to capitalise on that and gather in the other little straws around you.'

Cochrane will replace Lanfranco Dettori, the young Italian who sees Hong Kong as the more immediate focus of his career after being made an offer he could not refuse. 'Since Frankie decided to go to Hong Kong, I've been in consultation with my owners, who were supportive of the idea of having a stable jockey,' Cumani said yesterday.

The Newmarket trainer added that he understood Dettori's wish to further his career, while at the same time welcoming Cochrane back into the fold. 'There are no hard feelings with Frankie,' he said. 'He's no longer a kid and he's free to do his own thing.

'They (the owners ) were very happy with the choice of Ray. We have already had three happy years together, during which time he rode 22 Group winners, including six Group Ones and two Derbys (Kahyasi's victories at Epsom and the Curragh in 1988).

'We've got a nice bunch of three-year-olds for him to come back to - some nice four-year- olds too - and, without mentioning any names, I think we can look forward to a successful season.

'As everyone was aware, he left because Frankie was coming up behind him. To go to Guy Harwood's was the right move at the time.'

Cochrane had certainly gone to Pulborough expecting to draw on a deep well of equine resources. But, despite the Group One wins of Cacoethes and Polish Patriot, the jockey soon found that the job was not what he imagined it would be.

'There were too many fingers in the pie there,' he said. 'Steve (Cauthen) was riding Sheikh Mohammed's, Pat (Eddery) was riding Khalid Abdullah's and in the end it was a complete waste of time.

'We had some good times, but there just weren't the number of horses there that originally I thought there would be.'

Cochrane will again be unable to draw on the strength of Sheikh Mohammed's thoroughbreds - the newly appointed Michael Roberts will bear the maroon and white silks of the Arab owner's horses at Bedford House - but he still expects to better the totals of 120 which he recorded in 1988 and 1989 during his first phase with Cumani.

Optimism, indeed, is the last thing to go from a jockey, and yesterday Cochrane was looking forward to the promise of fruitful times once again. 'I'm sure there will be plenty of nice horses for me to ride,' he said. 'It's good to be back.'