Royal Ascot: Golden Horde brings rewards for hard labours

The Times, Saturday 20 June

Two lives spent in the harshest of graft fulfilled by a chestnut colt running a few scorching furlongs up the Ascot straight. In the seventy-four and a half seconds it took to win The Commonwealth Cup, Golden Horde delivered what his powerful thoroughbred physique has always promised and what Clive Cox and Adam Kirby have already done at the Royal meeting.

For they are now the first trainer and jockey combination to have won each of Ascot’s three big sprints, having taken the King’s Stand Stakes with Profitable in 2016 and the Diamond Jubilee in 2013 with Golden Horde’s sire, Lethal Force whose box Golden Horde now occupies at Clive Cox’s stables up above Lambourn. Clive and Adam did not get here by mistake and certainly not by silver spoon.

Clive came up from Somerset some 35 years ago, rode 100 winners over jumps and took plenty of falls, most famously at the very first fence when riding the favourite Sacred Path in the 1988 Grand National. After a false start, he eventually came to the training yard John Francome had built called Beechdown just north east of Lambourn. It was there that he was joined by a 15-year-old youth called Adam Kirby and their joint success is proof that while blood may be thicker than water, in racing sweat is much more important than tears.

That especially applies to Adam Kirby who needs hours in the sauna to boil his big frame down to the nine stone Golden Horde had to carry yesterday. Despite privations that can leave his eyes sunk deep behind the cheekbones, Kirby’s work ethic is quite astonishing. He has logged well over a hundred winners in each of the last nine years, in 2014 scoring 192 times from a massive 1200 rides during the campaign.

Yet in top sport, work ethic alone is never enough, and Kirby’s is aligned to one of the greatest and most unorthodox of talents of the present era. Raised with ponies on the 76 acre farm near Newmarket that his father bought from the classic winning jockey Frankie Durr, Adam has adapted his natural affinity with the animals into a method which makes racehorses run their hearts out for him whilst breaking the normal rules of jockeys’ technique.

This was never seen better than when he drove Golden Horde away from the Frankie Dettori ridden American raider Kimari, yesterday.  Here was no neat little package clamped in tight in behind the ears as is the perfect style of his pursuer; this was a powerful dynamism that galvanises the horse’s stride as the rider’s backside bumps up and down in the saddle. It horrifies the purists, but it is precisely what Pat Eddery did. Others should not copy but Adam has that most envied quality in sport – the touch you can’t explain. 

It’s certainly something that works for Clive Cox. “We trust one another and have a very close working relationship,” said the trainer of his jockey, “and I couldn’t wish to work with someone more reliable and honest. When you leg him up, you have a lot of faith and confidence. You know he’s going to sit back and do the right thing and if anything goes wrong, he takes care of the horse.”

Kirby himself reciprocates the compliment and returns to the four-legged powerhouse which make all his and Cox’s labours worthwhile. “It’s a great feeling to get a decent horse,” he says of Golden Horde, “and you owe them the world as it’s very hard to get the special ones. You can’t take anything away from him, he was rock solid. He’s exactly the same as his father Lethal Force — he’s got an exceptionally high cruising speed and he lengthens. He’ll improve again next year like his father did, I’m sure of it.”

Quite how many years Kirby can continue the battle with the scales is another matter but he already has a pre-training set up run with his partner back at Newmarket to which he will return full time when the sweating becomes too much. Go and visit him and you will probably see him out on the tractor, but then that’s where you most often find Clive Cox’s landlord. 

“When Clive first came here, I had built 30 boxes,” said John Francome yesterday of a place at which John aided by his father Norman had done much of the work himself. “Then Clive began to do well, so I built 30 more, now we have 100. He is a good guy because he is a worker.”

Francome’s apparently effortless skill in the saddle and deadly wit at the microphone can never quite conceal the application beneath. “Both those guys are incredibly hard workers,” he says of Clive Cox and Adam Kirby. “I love a grafter.” Takes one to know one. 

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