Ryan Moore fired up as ever and eyeing a hat-trick of Derby wins

Sunday Times, 28 June

Ryan Moore’s face, like his intellect, is cut very sharp and his eyes are very clear and very blue. On the track there is a steely glint to them that fits a 36-year-old whose dedication to his craft has lifted it to a new level. Off the track there is often laughter. It was there on Thursday morning when asked about what he would ride in the Derby this Saturday. 

He looked across to the calendar by the window of his large modern kitchen outside Newmarket. “Let’s see when Aidan will decide what he is running,” he says, talking in that quiet and very considered way of his, “I would say it will be about a quarter to one next Thursday.” So much for inside information. 

Whatever is decided is unlikely to faze a man whose pick from last year’s seven O’Brien Derby runners started favourite, led 100 yards out only to be overtaken by four stable mates in the final strides. In the 20 years since Ryan won his first race on his first ride as a 16 year old schoolboy, he has won just about every major race around the globe and yet was to be first found on Thursday stripped off and shovelling horse droppings into a barrow. 

The torso tells its tale. The hard muscles around the shoulders and the tight pack of the stomach are the results not just of the intensity of race-riding but of brutal sessions in the extensively equipped gym in the house above the paddocks. “As I have got older, I have done more,” he says talking of hour-and-a-half daily sessions during lockdown. “It’s very important to keep yourself fit. Over the years I have had injuries (everything from smashed elbows, to cracked hip and broken neck) but they have been high impact, trauma injuries. I have never had a bad back and all that bollocks.”

Over a couple of hours and a green tea, that’s the closest Ryan Moore will come to a self-promoting chest thump. His reserved and, from a promotional point of view, regrettable reticence in public, stems only a little from contrariness. He is a polite, kind, highly intelligent, well grounded, teetotal father of four, but he is also a relentless searcher for exactitude in an extremely inexact world. His genius is not of the mysterious wizardry of Lester Piggott or the inspirational dazzle of Dettori. It is that most famous of definitions – ‘the infinite capacity for taking pains’.

Which leads us to the Derby itself. Workforce and Ruler of the World were triumphs in 2010 and 2013, the Queen’s Carlton House a shattering disappointment when third in 2011.

“Epsom is different but so are other courses and I have always loved riding it,” he says. “There is always the excitement before a big race, but you don’t need to approach it any differently. You are trying to get a horse from the start to the finish in the fastest possible way. The race is different, but the goal is exactly the same. I think experience is important. You know what you need to do. It is a big help knowing,” the voice slows and drops almost to a whisper “for those days.”

Of this particular day he says, “this is just the strangest year ever, for no one really knows. The favourite English King has only run three times, the 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko has never run beyond a mile, and Aidan’s are all progressive.”

“There’s Russian Emperor,” he details of the first of the three O’Brien colts all by super sire Galileo. “He has a lovely pedigree, his dam was a champion in Australia. He won the Hampton Court at Royal Ascot, got there late on. It was solid form.

“Mogul, on the face of it, was disappointing behind Pyledriver at Ascot but it was a funny race and he travelled easily into it and just got tired. Vatican City is a beautiful horse, he has only had the three runs and put in some good work in the last furlong to finish second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. That would be solid form too.”

Ask around and fellow jockeys unite in their admiration but triple Derby winner Johnny Murtagh tempers his with the thought that “sometimes Ryan is too apt to take ‘the brave man’s route’ up the inside.” Told this, Moore’s hatchet face creases into a smile and the voice drops as he relishes the words. “I do like ‘the brave man’s route’”, he says, pauses and then adds with laughing eyes, “which can lead to trouble – and that’s a shame.”

At Epsom on Thursday evening the statue of Lester Piggott looked out across the Downs where nine times he rode to Derby glory. The extraordinary helter-skelter of a course once again cast its spell, and walking its early climb and then down through the great swoop of Tattenham Corner was to reflect how much Piggott would approve of the clear – eyed young man who, like him,  still loves this toughest of tests.

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