Racing: Grapevine all of a flutter over Durack

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The Independent Online
In the top flight of jump jockeys in Britain, the Irish are dominant. Now the word around the tracks is that their ranks could soon be swelled by yet another fine talent from across the water.

Seamus Durack is only at the start of his riding career in Britain, but already he is famous in Llanspyddid. There, in that Breconshire village, Durack is revered as the man who steered an unsung local mare, named Flutterbud, to victory at Chepstow the other day. The odds were 50-1 and quite a few of the locals had a flutter to tell their grandchildren about.

Racing has its own village and gossip is the main currency. Durack, an amateur from Tipperary, has ridden nine winners so far this season and his performances at Chepstow and elsewhere have got the lace curtains pulled well back.

At 22, he is one of the favourites for the amateur jockeys' championship and has been riding for leading stables like those of Philip Hobbs, Howard Johnson and Venetia Williams. Last Saturday, he rode a 7-1 shot, Secret Gift, to win at Windsor for Jenny Pitman. Backing his mounts this season to a pounds 1 stake is producing a pounds 45 profit.

Flutterbud's trainer, Brian Eckley, is in no doubt that the reputation Durack is rapidly acquiring is deserved: ``I booked Seamus after hearing about him, and then going to a betting shop to watch him ride at Warwick. He keeps a horse collected. He rides low, which I like, yet he's still effective. He has the gift. Horses run for him and I think he'll go to the top.''

Durack is himself from a small place - Cooldevane, near Clogheen, where his father is a doctor. Seamus studied equine science at the University of Limerick, and puts his progress in the saddle down to sheer hard work plus a share of good fortune.

``You need luck in racing and people have helped me get the breaks,'' he says. After an unspectacular record at point-to-point meetings in Ireland, he arrived in England last year with little more than a thorough admiration for top riders. In particular, he names Richard Dunwoody and Tony McCoy, Graham Bradley and Jamie Osborne. ``They're all fine horsemen. They don't just ride, they use their heads. Riding is not just to do with strength. It's a lot to do with attitude, and the jockeys I most admire ride intelligently, real cool.''

His first stop in England was as a stable lad with Philip Hobbs in Somerset. In March this year, it was Hobbs who provided Durack with his first winner - Orswell Lad at Newton Abbot. Soon, the doctor's son moved to Berkshire to link up with the trainer Dai Williams. ``Seamus has an eye for a fence and horses jump so well for him,'' Williams says. ``He plagued the life out of me for some rides and, when he did, he was placed on horses who had never been in the frame before.''

Another astute observer to spot Durack early on was Sporting Life reporter Mick Connaughton, who has been lauding the young man's talent for months.

But perhaps the key figure in his development has been Yogi Breisner, something of an equestrian guru who has made his name in the Berkshire area chiefly by curing horses' jumping problems. Through Jamie Osborne, Durack contacted Breisner and came under his tutelage. Breisner studies his student's race-riding technique on videos and on the Racing Channel.

``I call Yogi after I've been riding and he tells me what he thinks,'' the rider explains. ``Most of all he advises me over the way horses jump. He's very keen on getting a horse mentally switched on and how the jockey can then get the right response from a horse.''

Further guidance comes from Dave Roberts, the agent who also looks after several top professional riders. ``My ambition is to win the amateur title,'' Durack stresses. ``After that I would hope to turn professional.''

How does he account for the dominance of Irish riders on British racecourses? ``Horses are a tradition, a way of life in Ireland,'' he replies.

``The other thing is, if you go to a gymkhana in England, you won't see any boys riding there - there's only girls. It's different where I come from.''