Leger legends relive glory days back in saddle

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The only surprise was that nobody had managed to produce John Singleton, who rode the first St Leger winner here in 1776. Instead, the senior of 16 former jockeys who contested a charity race here yesterday was George Duffield, as trim at 63 as when he won the 1992 Leger on User Friendly. And while the success of Charlie Swan testified to the enduring advantages of youth – at 42, he was younger than all bar one of the "Leger Legends" – the abiding lesson of their calling remains that there's no point growing older, if you don't grow wiser.

It is on precisely that basis, for instance, that Paul Hanagan marked his birthday with a double that extended his lead in the jockeys' championship to 22. His coming of age this season has caught many by surprise, if not his employer and mentor, Richard Fahey, who instead professed himself taken aback that Hanagan should have reached 30. "I saw him saying somewhere that he sees me as a father figure," Fahey said. "But I'm only 44, so how do you work that out?"

The first day of the Ladbrokes St Leger Festival was also a landmark occasion for Graham Bradley, who stood in the parade ring before the charity race and saw a light plane towing a banner: "Happy 50th, Brad." The warmth of his reception, in third place, likewise permitted no doubt as to the undiminished affection of many in his home county. Others, inevitably, were uneasy about his return to the racecourse, even in so wholesome a cause. By now, however, he surely warrants a pardon even from those who did not see his long prohibition, for naive associations during his riding days, as vindictively draconian. This was a day about the passing of time, not the passing of judgement.

As it happens, Swan's success on Miami Gator itself challenged any who remain reluctant to wipe a slate clean. The horse is trained by Elaine Burke, whose husband, Karl, recently served a 12-month ban that arguably completed a disciplinary catharsis – relating to the passing of information – dating back to Bradley's disqualification. Burke intends to wait until next year before seeking a training licence in his own name. "We took a big hit," he admitted. "We've 30 horses, down from 90 or 95 in July last year. I'm under no illusions. It won't be easy, in the present climate. But Elaine has done a great job and we can do no more than try our best."

During his ban, despite being barred from their gates, Burke raised around £10,000 in a charity bike ride between all 60 of Britain's racecourses. Certainly, he offered Swan some seasoned advice, in instructing him to make the running. "We thought some of these jockeys would blow up," he grinned.

The present generation had evidently enjoyed the likes of John Francome returning to their changing room. Hanagan himself was wide-eyed, a touching measure of the lack of pretension that has sustained him through an exhausting summer. His title quest has been more about quantity than quality, but today he gets the chance to trouser a second huge prize on Wootton Bassett, already the winner of a valuable sales race at York and now tackling the £300,000 Weatherbys Insurance Stakes. Galtymore Lad, second at York, is better off at the weights but Fahey hopes his colt can confirm the form. "We made the plan to go for these two races before he had run," he said. "Strictly, he can't beat the other horse, but we'll see. He's improving."

Hanagan completed his double on Myplacelater, who cost David Elsworth just £600. Jamie Spencer, unlucky to be collared in the final stride on Wigmore Hall, had previously excelled on Prohibit in the Scarbrough Stakes. Robert Cowell has discovered the key to this animal over five furlongs and may even have a crack at the Prix de l'Abbaye next.

Spencer had lent his saddle to Swan, a multiple champion over jumps but in his youth apprenticed to Kevin Prendergast on the Flat. The veteran Prendergast once described Swan as the most talented rider he ever supervised. At the time, Swan shared a flat with another apprentice, named Kieren Fallon. On a day of bygone names, and bygone deeds, it was worth remembering that punishment can sometimes exceed the crime. At least Fallon is now free to continue his own, epic tale. Older and wiser, he was down at Epsom, riding a treble for Mark Johnston. Hanagan, you suspect, will not be able to rest on any laurels next year.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Rare Tern (3.35 Epsom) Rallied to win over course and distance last time, probably having more in hand than the handicapper has allowed in raising her 5lb.

Next best

Nathaniel (2.0 Doncaster)

One to watch

Clockmaker (J H M Gosden) took a while to find his feet but is flourishing now, finishing powerfully for fourth in a Kempton handicap last weekend.

Where the money's going

Behkabad, who warms up in the Prix Niel on Sunday, is the new 9-2 favourite from 11-2 with Coral for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Comments