Ryan Moore on the brink of greatness – Brough Scott

Last week Ryan Moore rode Workforce and So You Think on the racecourse and Carlton House on the gallops – the best older horses in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere and the three year old on whom he could give racing its greatest ever moment next Saturday. But if you want to understand Ryan Moore properly you need to see what he did on Mountrath at Leicester.

Mountrath is the same age as Workforce but his official rating is 64 compared to 128 and the straight seven furlong handicap at always does on Monday bore as much resemblance to the Derby or Arc de Triomphe as a Sunday match on Hackney Marshes to last night’s Champions League final.  Yet for every one of its 83 seconds it really mattered to Ryan Moore. It always does. That’s at the heart of him.

“He didn’t have to go there,” said his father and Mountrath’s trainer Gary Moore on Friday. “It was his only ride at Leicester and he had more important commitments at Windsor that evening. But he was determined to go and I tell you nobody else would have won on it.”

If, understandably, you suspect a bit of paternal exaggeration in that statement, have a look at the video. In it you will find all the elements – the thoughtful approach, cool judgement, perfect technique and the implacable will to win – that are making Ryan Moore not just into a good jockey but a great one. The visored Mountrath was brought over to run solo up the stands rail, fully two furlongs out Ryan had already opted for firm stick-up pursuit of the clear leader, with 200 hundred yards to run he angled across for competition, in the shadow of the post he did a lightning switch of his whip to his left hand and that final crack clinched things right on the line. The most minor of races, but it had been a master class.

So of course was the calm and balanced way he smuggled Workforce through his comeback race at Sandown on Friday evening and the smooth but firm manner in which he made the Australian superstar So You Think lay down a challenge to all comers at the Curragh on Sunday. Ryan’s very presence on the now Aidan O’Brien trained horse’s back was in itself the most extravagant of compliments. The retained rider for the most powerful stable in Britain has this season become the “go to” jockey for their biggest rival across the Irish Sea. Even Lester Piggott never did that – or not usually by prior agreement.

Yet as we rightly relish next Saturday’s prospect of Carlton House serving up a first Derby victory for The Queen and a record equalling sixth for Sir Michael Stoute, we should recognize the feats of the quite extraordinary pilot on the royal horse’s back. We should remember the power and balance with which he drove Workforce clear at Epsom last year and the ultimate big race cool with which he waited on the Longchamp rail before punching decisively through to nail the Arc last December. It was after Epsom that AP McCoy turned to fellow jumps rider Tom Scudamore and said that while Dettori might be the inimitable stylist, it was Moore who was now the beau ideal to which all young riders should aspire. Even if Scudamore once gave him a wound he would never forget.

Wind the clock back to May 15th 2000 and a 16 year old Mr Ryan Moore is riding the 5/4 favourite Wasp Ranger in one of the Bollinger Amateur Riders Series. He was already 9 stone and quite chunky then, muscled up from playing football in which he had captained his school team to win the Under15 Sussex Cup. His first ever race ride (turf trivia question) had come exactly a month earlier on a horse called Mersey Beat in a two mile hurdle at Towcester. It won. So too did No Extras at Newmarket and, just 6 days later, Barbason “given a peach of  ride”, said the Racing Post analysis. So at Newbury he was defending a career record of 100%. Then Scudamore rushed off a 100 yards clear in front on a Martin Pipe special and stayed there. Ryan Moore was absolutely gutted.

But others had already seen plenty. Driving back after Goodwood, Gary Moore confided to his wife Jayne that he thought Ryan would go to the very top of his profession. “I had first begun to think it when he was about 12,” said Gary on Friday. “There was something special about the way he fitted his pony. Then he got very interested in the football but once he went race-riding, you could see it came very easy to him and once he set his mind to something, he was always very, very determined.”

So much so that in the autumn plans for A Levels and University were shelved and the hard graft began. Not that life with the Moores had ever involved much Lotus eating and much of Ryan’s now fabled reticence in front of a microphone or open notebook is for fear of being seen as in any way conceited or complacent about his success. He will still shake his head in wonder at the physical work load to which his father subjects himself and of the organizing ability with which his mother has raised a family of four as well as supporting a racing stable not to mention at one stage running one of the largest livery yards in the south of England.

There was plenty of labour but no winners at all in 2000 and that winter he went on his own to Hong Kong. “It was quite lonely but in some ways it was the making of him,” says Gary, “I told him he didn’t have to do it but while he was out there he really made up his mind that he wanted to go for it and I had already got him apprenticed before I asked Richard Hannon to take him on.” At the same time Gary rang agent Tony Hind who agreed to come and look at Ryan one day at Lingfield. The boy rode two losers but Tony, who did and does manage mounts for Richard Hughes and Jimmy Fortune, liked what he saw.

“It was something like a sixth sense that he had something extra,” said Tony last week. “I watched the replay four times and thought ‘Jeesus.’ I walked across and pulled him out of the weighing room and said ‘OK son, do you want to be champion apprentice next season. Right – you had better come with me.’ As it happened he broke his wrist playing football next year and wasn’t champion until 2003 so I was a season out. There are hundreds of jockeys out there but Ryan is the sort that only comes once in a generation.”

Tony Hind was still a stable lad when he started booking rides for Darryl Holland from the telephone box at Manton pretending to be the stable assistant, but in twenty years with top jockeys he has also taken Royston French to the apprentice title and was soon “driving Gary mental” with news of Ryan’s progress. “Trainers were saying ‘that kid, always suggest him,’” remembers Tony. “He was a walking encyclopaedia and would know about every horse I put him on and beat himself up if he didn’t. One day  when he was still claiming he rode a winner at Sandown, went on to Goodwood where he rode four out of five and all he would say is ‘I don’t know how I got beat on the other one. Make sure you get me on it next time.’ He must have watched the race through again and again. Next time it bolted up.”

Being champion apprentice is all too often a poisoned chalice whose wine weakens rather than inspires. There was nothing weak about the painfully shy young man I first met at his parents’ home in Brighton a week after his 21st birthday in 2004. He had celebrated that milestone with a double at Newbury, his 108th and 109th winners of the season including his first Group winner on Galleota. He was to sneak up on a 25-1 shot a Brighton later that afternoon but he was almost physically allergic to compliments.

“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 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.”

That afternoon I went and stood at the furlong pole to watch young Moore up close. Even then you could sense a rhythm about him the way he picked up and drove the thoroughbred beneath him. You could admire the well balanced orthodoxy of his technique which kept his horses rolling around the contours of the nearest switchback to Epsom. Above all you could sense a steely focus about him reminiscent of the great McCoy who had made such an impression on him when he had come down to school horses at the yard. “Nothing was too much trouble for him,” Ryan had said admiringly, “I would love to be like that.”

A close up look at Windsor on Monday showed Moore has taken much from McCoy. The features are just as focussed as seven years ago at Brighton but the sunshine of his smile breaks more often across the winter of the face. When he told the press last week that he was used to meeting the Queen, he was only telling the truth. When he canters to the start you can see he has met a lot of equine royalty too – over 2,500 rides and more than £15 million won over the last five years in Britain alone. Compared to Brighton there is more power behind the poise, more assurance about taking a position. Four losers followed before a Stoute maiden called Kinyras is loaded into stall 12, overcomes a swerve at the junction before being compelled home with that leg clamped, elbow pumping, rein threading drive which has become his rider’s trademark.

“He is now the complete package,” says a watching John Reid himself a Derby and Arc winning rider. “Other jocks have their specialities, are very good at making the running, dropping them out, pushing up the inner. But he can do it all. He just makes it simple, takes his position and rides the horse not the race. What’s more he is only 27 so there is still plenty of improvement to come as he gets even more experience. And,” John added with a knowing smile, “despite what the press think, he is a very nice feller.”

Which brings us to the one area which has not progressed too smoothly since that first sighting at Brighton. Despite many best endeavours the Ryan Moore relationship with the media is still a wary one. “I did interview after interview at the Newmarket Press call last week,” he told me. “Most of it amounted to 150 different attempts at dressing up the same question of ‘how much pressure’ I am going to feel at Epsom. I did my best but what am I supposed to say to them?”

The trouble is that Ryan Moore doesn’t do bull****. He has absolutely no intention of feeding a headline with an unwary “best horse I have ever ridden” answer and on track feel strongly that his first duty is to concentrate on the race ahead and let his riding doing the talking. The answers, when they come, can have such a grudging quality that some 4 years ago my friend, the racing enthusiast and marvellous sports anchor John Inverdale, asked privately “am I wrong, or is Ryan Moore the most miserable champion in any sport?”

In subsequent years more people have come to appreciate the really fine young man and father whom friends and family know, and indeed on the eve of our royal occasion some of his coverage has been very encouraging. However there are still times when press relationships recall what the great tennis writer Rex Bellamy said about the young Chris Evert. “Miss Evert,” wrote Rex, “may have a heart of gold, but she hides it at the bottom of a very deep shaft.”

After Workforce had won on Thursday Ryan was brought before Nick Luck and the RUK cameras. Elegantly, if a bit obviously, Nick worked the questioning around as to how exciting it must be to ride a horse like Workforce and then indeed one like So You Think. Finally he got round to the “which one would you choose” question which he knew Moore would not answer. Ryan smiled, shook his head and walked off.

Standing close by you could see there was nothing malicious in his manner and it was hardly Sir John Knott storming out of the studio during the Falklands War but for a minute or two there was a flutter of “did you see that” amongst the media coterie and another small backward step had been made on the way forward. My own advice is to keep smiling and never get resentful – however justified – with journalists. After all Ryan’s own grandfather worked on the Daily Mail and his mother (turf trivia – the only trainer’s wife to have a degree in American Literature) was destined for the Stateside media when Gary dragged her off to Plumpton.

But in Derby week we would all be better celebrating what we have in Ryan Moore not what we would like. He is already an eloquently, magnificently accomplished rider. In footballing terms he is Paul Scholes without the “red mist” tackles. At Epsom I have seen Gordon Richards, Lester Piggott, Scobie Breasley, Pat Eddery, Steve Cauthen, and Kieren Fallon. Not the least you can say about the cool young man who will pull on the Queen’s silks next Saturday, is that he is heading amongst that number. 

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