Racing: Seeds of a flourishing talent in young Beech

Many apprentice riders display signs of sorcery, but the latest novice has shown a magical touch.
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EVEN AMID the blizzard of quotes and snippets generated by Monday's 10 race meetings, one line stood out. Gary Moore, as smart a trainer as any holding a licence, watched Tony Beech, a 7lb claimer, steer his Stoppes Brow to victory in the last race at Epsom, and promptly told anyone who would listen that the 18-year-old rider was "an iceman".

Moore knew only too well that Stoppes Brow can be a difficult partner for even the most senior jockey. He needs to be held up, preferably with plenty of cover, and then brought with a late run, often past rivals who are starting to tire and wander. The punters on the Downs did not fancy Beech's chances of getting it right, and Stoppes Brow drifted from 4-1 to 11-2. A few minutes later, they were poorer, but wiser.

Those backers who had already marked Beech down as a young man to follow, on the other hand, travelled home in first class. Stoppes Brow completed a 38-1 double for his jockey, and his only other ride that day, an 8-1 chance, finished second. Punters love nothing more than to latch on to a top rider of the future when he is still getting allowances, and then spend the next 10 years boring everyone with the details. "Dettori?", they say. "Yeah, I used to back him with 7lb in hand. Maguire too, and McCoy. Licence to print money, it was."

Beech could well prove to be the next name on the list, or, just as likely, join the longer tally of riders who shone briefly when they had half a stone in hand of their rivals, but were snuffed out as their claim withered away. In Michael Bell, though, he does at least have a boss who has guided several other young riders into the senior ranks.

"He came to me last year from the apprentice school," Bell said yesterday, "and he's gradually got stronger. He's always been quite level-headed, and he's very enthusiastic. He's a good kid, but he's got a lot to learn and we mustn't get carried away."

With 11 winners to his name already, it will be a matter of weeks before Beech passes 15, and his claim is cut to 5lb. "I want to pace him a bit until the end of this year," Bell said. "Obviously he's going to be much in demand, but there's nothing worse than an apprentice who rattles through his claim, because they haven't got the experience. I've told his agent to make sure he gets on a few who can't win, so that he gets a bit of practice. It's pushing the heads off ones like that which gets the strength up."

Beech grew up in Bishop's Stortford, hardly a racing hotbed, in a family with no connection to the sport. He was naturally light, though, and enjoyed riding ponies as a child, so when his mother saw an item about the British Racing School on the television, she suggested he give it a go.

"I wasn't too keen at first," Beech said yesterday, "but then I thought, I've got to do something, so I went and I enjoyed it, and as soon as I got into a yard, I fell in love with it. The School taught me the basics, and Michael Bell is really good with apprentices."

Richard Mullen, one of Beech's recent predecessors, lost his claim at Brighton two days ago, and Beech is hoping to follow his lead by spending the winter months in America. "I don't know when or where I'm going, but I'm looking forward to it," he said. "It should make me a lot stronger, because over there they tend to ride out about eight lots every day, you just get off one horse and get on the next."

Before that, there are several big races in which Beech's low riding weight and generous claim should secure him a ride with a chance. "I'll hope to get some bottom-weights in good races like the Cambridgeshire," he says. "They're the ones you've got to win if people are going to notice you, and getting known is half the battle."

In fact, it is more like three-quarters of the battle, but Tony Beech has made a better start than most. There are not many 18-year-olds, after all, who acquire a nickname. As far as shrewder punters are concerned, the Iceman cometh.