Racing: Ryan's patience is rewarded by Route: A stable jockey whose lot is often to play second fiddle is poised to take a Classic bow in Saturday's St Leger

A DECADE ago, an impending ride on a Classic favourite was as much a fact of life for Henry Cecil's stable jockey as winning the riders' title or buying a private jet. It was a job for which champions would grovel, with a profile even higher than the salary.

Yet if you put Willie Ryan, the present incumbent at Warren Place, in an identity parade with half a dozen basketball players, many punters would still struggle to pick him out.

In the mid-Eighties, leading owners began to retain their own riders, and in a yard such as Cecil's, packed with the property of Sheikh Mohammed and Khalid Abdullah, suddenly the stable jockey's lot was to pick up the leftovers.

It is a role, though, which has suited Ryan perfectly. His is a quiet, unassuming talent, which has been allowed to develop almost unnoticed, taking him past the significant barrier of 100 winners in the 1992 season. He was within four of another century last year, a total which included his first British Group One winner, King's Theatre in the Racing Post Trophy.

This term, while Mick Kinane has been winning the King George and the Craven Stakes on King's Theatre, Ryan's efforts have yielded 51 winners and pounds 500,000 in win and place prize money.

On Saturday, finally, Ryan will be the centre of attention on the big occasion (that is, if you exclude his spectacular fall from Foyer during the descent to Tattenham Corner in the Derby). He rides Red Route, the favourite for the St Leger, in pursuit of a first prize of almost pounds 150,000, a sum which would put Cecil within sight of Michael Stoute - who saddles the well-fancied Sacrament - at the top of the trainers' table.

Red Route has been at the head of the market for the final Classic since his five-length beating of older horses in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury, but Ryan shows little sign of pressure as Leger day approaches. 'It's a great race to look forward to,' he said yesterday. 'Red Route has done well since Newbury, he's in great form and I wouldn't want to ride anything else. You can put him anywhere, and I wouldn't be at all afraid of making the pace if necessary.'

The jockey accepts that his role at Warren Place is not one which past stable jockeys would recognise, but is perfectly content with the opportunities which arise. 'It's all part and parcel of the job,' he said. 'With King's Theatre, for example, it was owned by Michael Poland as a juvenile and by Sheikh Mohammed as a three-year-old. I knew what was happening all along and I accepted it.'

There were no surprise absentees to ease Ryan's task at yesterday's five-day stage, but while 11 horses remain in the Leger, the field on Saturday is unlikely to rise above eight. Pearl Kite, Tikkanen, Party Season and Moonax have alternative engagements, and while John Hills declared both Broadway Flyer and Wind In Her Hair, the latter is expected to contest the Park Hill Stakes tomorrow.

Broadway Flyer, however, will go to the Classic carrying strong stable confidence. A 16-1 chance after his running-on third place in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, he is now as low as 6-1, and Hills is pleased with his preparation. 'He's on very good terms with himself,' the trainer said yesterday.

'In retrospect I think we should have forced the pace a bit more on the fast ground at York. The others were able to sit in behind quite comfortably and we played into their hands a bit. On softer ground and with an extra two furlongs, it could be a different story.'

The market was quiet yesterday, though Midnight Legend is now as short as 3-1 (from 7-2) with Coral. John Reid is expected to replace Lanfranco Dettori on Luca Cumani's runner, as the season's leading jockey is committed to ride in Ireland on Leger afternoon.

ST LEGER: Latest ante-post odds - Coral: 9-4 Red Route, 3-1 Midnight Legend, 7-2 Sacrament, 6- 1 Broadway Flyer, 8-1 Double Trigger & Ionio, 33-1 Moonax & Party Season. Ladbrokes: 9-4 Red Route, 3-1 Midnight Legend, 7-2 Sacrament, 7-1 Broadway Flyer, 10-1 Double Trigger & Ionio, 20-1 Moonax & Party Season.

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