26 September 2004

A young jockey from Brighton whose career is anything but on the rocks

Trainer Gary Moore and his son Ryan were both raised within sight of the town and the track but they are a lot more solid than Brighton Rock. It is that solidity which Ryan now needs as he aims far further than the end of the pier.

Ryan is the new star on the racing block. Last Saturday he celebrated his 21st birthday by winning the two Group races at Newbury, they were the 108th and 109th successes of only his third winning season as a professional. He is fifth in the jockeys’ table behind Frankie Dettori. He is being hailed as a certain future champion. Yet he absolutely has not risen without trace.

To be exact he derives from a workaday set of stables set just over the road from the top of Brighton racecourse. It is there that Ryan’s father Gary trains, as his father Charlie did before him. If Ryan ever feels self-pity at the demands and privations of his life he has only to think of home. At 8am on Thursday Gary had already been up for three hours and was about to lead a 30-horse string off on what was his second sortie of the morning. In 19 battle-scarred years as a jump jockey Gary rode 150 winners and earned less than his oldest son will have cashed this summer. But complaining doesn’t come in the genes.

Old Charlie never did. He left school at 12, did shifts as a coalman, sang on the pier, flogged second-hand cars, rented the stables off a bemused Brighton Council and regularly produced the best “he’s got worse legs than my kitchen table” quotes in the unsaddling enclosure. After 12 before-dawn-to-after-dusk seasons as a trainer Gary has built up a teeming dual-code operation that has already registered 50 winners this year, including a first success at the Cheltenham Festival. There isn’t much resting on laurels. On Thursday Gary was riding the worst horse in the string.

It was one of those infuriating animals that is quite sensible in a race but throws itself all over the place at exercise. For most people just sitting on it would be a full-time occupation. Somehow Gary manages to sift, select and plan his team as detailed as any trainer and then to talk of his family. They are not just important. They are central.

His mother Lorna still hops bird-like round the stables from 4am. His wife, Jayne, swapped a degree in American Literature for the Moore family carousel and merits a professorship in time and motion. Twelve-year-old Josh is a walking form book and from his exploits with the Southdown Pony Club he is likely to be a jump jockey like his 19-year-old brother Jamie, champion conditional rider last season and due to resume shortly after a horrible fall in August. There is 16-year-old Hayley whose first race was a winner at Brighton this June and who has just rushed to school after riding “first lot”. And then there is Ryan.

“I have always kept interested and watched him,” Gary said as we make our way along the Falmer road towards the forbidding tower that is Roedean Girls’ School. “But to be honest he has done it all himself. He is so dedicated. He doesn’t drink, knows all the form and is very self-critical. Originally he was more interested in football, but once he decided he wanted to ride, he applied himself totally. He is like that.”

Over the next two hours, and another swinging gallop up Gary’s woodchip strip on the outside of the racecourse the message from the Moore team was consistently the same. Back at the welcoming but modest house at the neighbouring estate Jayne points to the picture above the fireplace. It is of Ryan winning on his first race ride. It was at Towcester on May 15, 2000. He was 16 and the race was over hurdles.

“He was 8st 13lb then,” Jayne said, “quite chunky from playing so much football. He was set for sixth form and university but then he won on his next two races and rather got the taste. He did start the A Levels but it just got too difficult and he decided he wanted to give the riding a try.”

To that end Ryan was dispatched to the warm and busy embrace of the Hannon family in Wiltshire where the two Richards, father and son, handle the biggest training stable in the country. It is from there that Ryan now returns, a lean, rather shy, slightly pinched figure having gone without breakfast and yesterday’s evening meal to ensure a comfortable 8st 4lb this afternoon. “You look pale,” Jayne said, as mothers do. Ryan explains he played five-a-side football the night before and had just ridden out two lots so his energy level couldn’t be too low.

You sense a touch of humour behind the serious mien. His Mercedes needs to be dropped at the garage and as we drive to the racetrack he shakes his head at the wonder of it all. “I have just been ridiculously lucky,” he said. “I have had wonderful people looking after me all the time. My dad, Mr Hannon, the other jockeys. Things have gone very well but I have so, so much to learn. All sorts of bits of technique and knowledge and my strength is way short of what I would like it to be. The press go on about being champion one day and all that, but I know my ambition. It is to make myself the very best jockey that I can be. That will need a lot of work. But it is a great opportunity.”

It is a bread-and-butter day at Brighton. Frankie Dettori has bunked off to launch his book in London. Ryan has four unpromising rides but the second is a little two-year-old on whom he bides his time and swoops through to take the burnt out leaders at 25-1. Fellow jocks talk of his application, neat style and growing confidence, but the most important tribute comes from across the town.

It is from Peter Evans, headmaster of Cardinal Newman School which with some 2,000 pupils is the largest Catholic school in the country. “He was somebody you could rely on in class or on the football field,” Evans said. “He was captain of the Under-15s who won the Surrey Cup. He was not a talker but he led. He was quiet but he got on with everyone. There was a determination, an integrity about him.”

Integrity – now there’s a word for our much maligned activity. For Ryan Moore, it is the rock on which a great career can grow.

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