It was no more than another day at the office yesterday for Pat Cosgrave, one of the army of journeymen who keep the humdrum, conveyor belt side of the industry going by riding the also-rans. A last and a second-last in two Class Six races at Great Leighs, home to Newmarket, and back to Essex tomorrow for three more spins round the sand. All very routine and a long way from the glamour of, say, Johnny Murtagh's 17 Group One victories.
Cosgrave, though, now knows what it's like at the top. On Friday the young Ulsterman made the breakthrough when he drove Borderlescott home in the Nunthorpe Stakes at Newmarket. It was his 1,934th ride in Britain since taking the decision to cross the Irish Sea four years ago in search of glory. "It's what makes all the days like today worthwhile," he said yesterday. "It's what everyone wants. Getting on good horses is what you work hard for."
Actually, to say that Cosgrave just makes up the numbers at the back of the field is not entirely fair. Yes, he is out of the frame more often than in it, but then so are all jockeys and his win strike-rate, 13 per cent, is better than most others below the very top tier. In fact, he is heading for his best campaign ever in terms of both quality – that Group One – and quantity, needing only six more wins to surpass last year's 60.
Cosgrave, 26, was Ireland's champion apprentice five years ago, having served time with two of the best of mentors, Kevin Prendergast and Aidan O'Brien. For him, as for others, the greater scope in Britain beckoned.
A spell on the Northern circuit brought the contacts that led to his partnership with Borderlescott, trained by Robin Bastiman at Cowthorpe, near Wetherby. "The one thing you do need in this game is luck," he said, "and you never know at the time how things will work out.
"I had ridden a few for the stable last summer and they were looking for a rider who could commit to a partnership with the horse this year. It was between me and Robert Winston, and he rode him first time out, and won on him. Then – lucky for me, unlucky for him – he was suspended and I got the ride in a Group Two at Haydock."
Fred Archer himself would not have brought Borderlescott home in front of Fleeting Spirit that day, but Winston was back in the saddle next time, when the gelding came in second again in a lesser contest at Salisbury. "After that I was put back on," said Cosgrave. "He just got done at Chester and ran a blinder in the Stewards' Cup. And then there was Newmarket."
The race could not have panned out better, with the South African mare National Colour blazing a lightning trail. "They probably went a bit too quick in front," Cosgrave said, "but my lad nicked a couple of lengths so I just left him to it. He's got so much natural speed that I think he's probably better over five furlongs.
"I always thought I'd be able to pick the leader off and I never even had to go for my stick. And the horse deserved it, he's clever but completely genuine."
Cosgrave, brought up in Co Down, honed his early talents on the pony racing circuit in Ireland before riding his first winner at Dundalk (Perugino Lady, for Prendergast) nine years ago. "I played the Gaelic sports, hurling and football, to a decent level as a teenager," he said, "but I thought I'd be better off financially with a career in racing. I like to keep busy."
His workrate is typical of his profession at this time of year: 41 rides (for his main supplier, Jim Boyle, and 21 other trainers) at 12 meetings in the past two weeks, with two days off. Since the high of Borderlescott, he has had 15 rides without success, but maintains his level view of life. "Only time will tell whether that race will make any real impact," he said, "but I'd like to think that it certainly won't do any harm.
"That day was great – if you don't enjoy days like that you shouldn't be in racing – but I'll just try to keep on kicking in winners and hope that another good horse comes along.
"You've got to have luck on your side. And to ride a first Grade One winner from a stable of 14 horses is unbelievable. I'd had nearly 50 rides for Robin and that was my first winner for him. Not a bad way to do it."