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Racing: Reid suffers outrageous Fortune

THE PRESS Association appeared to be turning from a news agency into an employment agency yesterday, as it became the go-between in long-distance negotiations involving Robert Sangster and his present and future jockeys. There was good news for Jimmy Fortune, who heard that Sangster had finally confirmed a persistent rumour that his name was in the frame to partner the owner's horses next season. At the other end of the line, though, were John Reid, currently Peter Chapple-Hyam's first-call rider, and Peter Shoemark, his agent, who learned of the news not from Sangster, but from the morning papers.

The position of first jockey in the green and royal blue silks is not quite the guarantee of instant wealth and success it once was, and while Sangster is still just about in the Premier League of Flat owners, he is much more White Hart Lane than Highbury. None the less, the chance to ride impeccably-bred horses prepared at perhaps the best-appointed yard in Britain is one which few riders could refuse, and certainly not Fortune, who has been in need of a long-term position since he heard that Jack and Lynda Ramsden, his present employers, will hand in their licence at the end of the year.

This assumes, of course, that the offer actually arrives, but while Sangster has yet to speak to Fortune directly, he apparently intends to do so during the St Leger meeting. In the meantime, Fortune is reading the smoke signals and likes what he sees. "It's a surprise, but very good news," he said yesterday. "It is a very nice job and a great opportunity. I have been working hard and I'm riding well, but there is still a lot of improvement to come."

A spell as stable jockey to the Ramsdens did Kieren Fallon little harm when the time came to move to better things, and there is little Jack Ramsden does not teach his riders about finding the best ground and taking the shortest route. The only imponderable is whether Fortune has the temperament to put it all together at Newmarket and Ascot rather than Carlisle and Catterick, and there is only one way to find out.

Fortune is not a complete stranger to the big occasion, though, having won the Ayr Gold Cup on Joveworth in 1990 (he was the champion apprentice the same year) and again on Coastal Bluff two years ago, the Stewards' Cup in both 1994 and 1996, and the 1997 Chester Cup on Top Cees, for Sangster and the Ramsdens. His best season was 1996, when he rode 83 winners, but he has 78 to his credit this year and, if his luck is in, would expect to reach three figures for the first time.

There will, of course, be a measure of disappointment elsewhere if Fortune signs for Sangster. John Reid has been the first-choice rider at Manton since Peter Chapple-Hyam arrived there in 1991, and has won many big races for the yard, most notably the 1992 Derby on Dr Devious. If nothing else, he might have been expected to receive a call from Sangster before the story hit the papers.

Yet Peter Shoemark, Reid's agent was fairly sanguine about the situation yesterday. "We don't know anything except what has been in the paper so we're just carrying on as normal," Peter Shoemark said. "John's riding at the top of his game, and if one door shuts another one will open. We're in demand with the top trainers [Godolphin and Sir Michael Stoute among them] and he's won over a million quid in prize-money this year, even with Manton having a quiet year by their standards. John has had 71 winners, and only 21 have been for Peter Chapple-Hyam."

One of Reid's more profitable sidelines has been as the second-choice rider for Godolphin after Frankie Dettori, and he may well be needed again this weekend for either Starborough or Allied Forces in the Group Two Celebration Mile at Goodwood, all the more so with Dettori serving a suspension. This can be a variable race, but Saturday's renewal promises to one of the better ones, with 19 acceptors at yesterday's five-day stage including Lovers Knot, the Falmouth Stakes winner, Air Express, a Group One winner at Ascot last year, and Muhtathir, who won the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury 10 days ago.