There are new years, and there are happy new years. Twelve months ago Daryl Jacob had just been told he'd lost the ride on The Listener, the top-class chaser who had propelled him into the spotlight. Today he will sign off 2009 with the memory of two Grade One victories in as many days this week fresh in his memory and his best seasonal score bang in his sights.
"If you'd said then where I'd be now I'd hardly have believed it," said the young Irishman, "but it just shows how you can turn things around, with the right people around you."
Jacob, 26, is first jockey at the small, progressive Devon stable of Nick Williams, which supplied both Me Voici, winner of the Finale Junior Hurdle at Chepstow on Monday and Reve De Sivola, who took the Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury on Tuesday. And for good measure, Jacob added to his yard's tally on Ere Alfie at Taunton yesterday, his 35th winner of the campaign.
To put that in context, Tony McCoy, at the head of affairs, has notched 146 winners. But Jacob, in only his third season as a weighing-room senior, is level with such as Timmy Murphy and only five short of the 40 he scored when flying high as the third-best conditional of 2006-07. "This time last year things were not going great," he admitted. "I'd had a lot of injuries. I'd hurt my back in a fall at Chepstow, my pelvis was not quite right. Then I lost The Listener after he fell at Leopardstown and with one thing and another I was not riding with any confidence. When that happens, it's a horrible feeling, but you have to just keep tipping away at it, day by day."
There is an Irish blessing that wishes: "May the holes in your net be smaller than the fish in it" and for help with his own darning Jacob, the son of a Co Wexford fisherman, points to not only Williams, his wife Jane and the rest of the close-knit team at Culverhill Farm, near South Molton, but to his colleague and good friend Noel Fehily.
"I owe him a great deal," he said. "We got to know each other when I was a conditional with Paul Keane and now I stay with him when I'm in Lambourn. When I was really down he helped me pick myself up, kept me believing in myself. We'd go to the gym together, he'd look at replays of races and give me advice, or be on the end of the phone. He's been a real good influence."
Jacob started his career as an amateur with Robert and Sally Alner, for whom he first rode The Listener, in the swings-and-roundabouts process himself jocking off Andrew Thornton. The progressive quality of the Williams horses, among them Cheltenham prospects such as Diamond Harry (who is actually Murphy's ride) and Reve De Sivola, has helped square the young man's shoulders.
"When you're riding good ones at home," he said, "and go to the races knowing you're riding horses with chances at whatever level," he said, "it puts the buzz back into your system. And to get back on the Grade One sheet this week was fantastic. Those top-level wins are such a boost to your career, no matter who you are, and two in two days was terrific."
Jacob ends the year on chaser Bradford Boris for Williams this afternoon at Warwick. "It's not just the horses," he added. "Nick and Jane have been brilliant to me and going to work is a pleasure. There's no pressure, they're realistic and don't expect miracles and it's been easy to relax into a nice roll. A year ago I was neither happy nor confident but that was in the past, and it's passed. And it's onwards and upwards to 2010."
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
Quartz de Thaix (1.20 Warwick) Though a step up in trip may ultimately suit him best, seems to have been found an opportunity to get off the mark over fences after his third over course and distance to a potentially smart pair earlier this month.
Always Dixie (1.30 Lingfield) Unexposed after three maiden runs and can, in the last contest of 2009 for juveniles, become the 217th winner of the year, with his last runner, for his record-breaking trainer, Mark Johnston.
One to watch
Karmadice (Mrs S J Smith), a winner of a bumper and over hurdles, is every inch a chaser in looks and, after an encouraging third over fences last month, should be kept on the right side when he takes the handicapping route.
Where the money's going
Big Fella Thanks, sixth in the Grand National in April, is 25-1 from 33-1 with Victor Chandler for next year's Aintree showpiece.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Calculus Affair (1.00 Lingfield).