Racing Commentary: Fortt challenges stronghold of the elite: A little-known rider makes the most of a weight allowance and coaxes Cogent to victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup

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The Independent Online
A BAD day for those who grade jockeys rather than horses unfolded at Newbury on Saturday as the Hennessy Gold Cup was won by an unheralded rider who sounded as though he was part of an American army encampment. Cogent carried D Fortt, the 20- year-old claimer, to success in the season's most prestigious steeplechase to date.

This was only the 12th victory in the career of Daniel Fortt, the son of an Essex bus driver, and yet another reminder that jockeyship may be a most overrated art in racing.

Fortt's reward for his supposed callowness in the saddle is a 7lb advantage whenever he competes against full professionals. An allowance of three bags of sugar off a half-ton of horse flesh may seem negligible, but the young man himself thinks it quite a head start.

'Seven pounds is a lot of weight,' he said yesterday. 'And I think riding is a lot to do with being given the right chances. Adrian Maguire (the partner of Saturday's runner- up Cahervillahow and many people's idea of this season's champion jockey) was a 7lb claimer once before he got given his chances.'

Weight allowance is generally a compensation for the mistakes of young riders, but Fortt did not fall into the losing holes that many of his ilk create for themselves. He let Cogent guide himself over the obstacles and was not overcome by flailing excitement when the winning opportunity presented itself.

American Flat jockeys consider themselves the best in the business because they streamline on a horse and do little to alter its galloping pattern, and Fortt himself showed no fluster in the closing stages at Newbury. 'I tried to treat it like a normal race,' he said. 'The guv'nor (Andy Turnell, Cogent's trainer) didn't put any pressure on me and told me that I wasn't expected to perform miracles. I just had to do my best.'

For someone who took riding to an esoteric plane during his years in the saddle, Turnell has a dismissive view of riders' contributions. The winner of the Hennessy in 1975 as a jockey on April Seventh, Turnell was perhaps the most distinctive rider of recent years, riding so short that his raised backside gained him the reputation of being the Lester Piggott of jumps.

But, if Turnell is to be believed, the Long Fellow himself would have been just another fellow if he had not had the right vehicle beneath him. 'You just can't do it without the horse,' the trainer said yesterday. 'I think there's more rubbish talked about jockeys than just about anything else in racing. As far as I'm concerned, as long as a jockey doesn't do anything wrong the best horse wins.

'I think there are 20 riders who could be champion jockey if they had the right stable behind them. Riding is like showbiz. You've just got to get your name known.'

Turnell's faith in Fortt emanated from the fact that he knew his young representative was unlikely to fold in the face of the pressures of a big race. 'He's a very cool and calm boy,' he said.

Cogent himself is less easy to rely on as he is prone to shoulder injuries. The gelding was stiff again yesterday morning, but is expected to recover before the end of the week and has a return to Newbury in February at the top of his agenda.

This was the fifth successive year in which a horse just out of novice company had won the Hennessy ('young horses coming on are usually at the bottom of the handicap and some of them are usually useful and with them getting that weight it makes all the difference,' Turnell said) but the previous victors have failed to go on to take high station. Cogent is a 20-1 chance in places for the Gold Cup to change the trend.

The Orchard Stables standard bearer of recent seasons, Katabatic, suffered a quite different fate on Saturday as he fell for only the second time in his distinguished career. The gelding has been around long enough now to earn both a nickname and unfailing devotion from his yard. 'I was very disappointed because 'the Kat' was giving us all the right vibes at home,' Turnell said.

'Simon (McNeill, the jockey) said he was wild going to the gate and even though they went like hell he was having a job to steady him.

'He might go to the Castleford (Chase at Wetherby) next time even though it looks a hot race and we're still not sure about him.' And whatever is in Katabatic's mind in Yorkshire will count for more than the man who is on his back.

(Photograph omitted)

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