For Tom Queally last Thursday was a very ordinary day, four bread and butter rides at Sandown and Epsom and the long drive home to Newmarket on the M25. Wednesday will be altogether extraordinary. For he will be riding the unbeaten, some say unbeatable, Frankel at Goodwood.
This is as high as horse racing can offer. For when Tom and Frankel drew an astonishing eleven lengths clear of a routed field in the opening race of the Royal Ascot meeting last month, the colt did not just confirm his position as the highest rated thoroughbred on the planet. The normally sensible Timeform operation hailed him as the best horse who had ever lived. Tom Queally has been in the saddle on each of Frankel’s ever more lauded eleven appearances. Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes, the latest leg in the QIPCO British Champion Series, is in danger of being seen not so much as a race as a showtime spectacular.
Not by his jockey. Thursday had been the hottest day of the year and the hardening ground had seen the late withdrawal of one of the horses he was to ride in the afternoon and another in the evening. So by the time he sat and talked outside the Epsom weighing room Tom’s sole employment so far had been to coax a still very green three year old filly into a distant third place in a one mile maiden race up the hill at Sandown. While we spoke a trainer came and booked him for a serial non winner over the full mile and a half of the Derby track in the 8-15. Hot it may have been, smart it was not.
“Yes it’s ordinary racing,” says Tom. “But I am racing every day of the season and only on six days of it will I be on Frankel. He may pay a lot of the bills but you have to keep a grasp on reality. At the end of the day, I am doing a job and whatever calibre of horse comes along there is a job to be done. Frankel may be different but he is not that different. He is still a horse and I would like to think that I do him justice by treating him the same as any other horse. If you let the occasion, or the enormity of the task you take on board get to you, or you treat it any different, that’s when it becomes different. If you treat it the way you would any other horse, or any other task you undertake, I think that’s the way to get the maximum out of it.”
There is a coolness and intelligence about the carefully chosen words that can be slightly intimidating in this tall (for a jockey) pale-faced young man still three months short of his 28th birthday. It’s an effect that does not court popularity and traces to an early problem in his career when his own and his parents’ insistence on him continuing his schooling to higher level rather than going full time with trainer Pat Flynn with whom he had become champion Irish apprentice at just 15. Schooling won but young Queally was seen by some as too clever for his own good. Despite the support, and a 33-1 Group winner, from Aidan O’Brien, just 11 winners in 2003 led him to try his luck in England and in 2004 he was champion apprentice here too.
Even then the rise to the stratosphere of the Frankel saddle took its time. It was not until 2008 that he topped the 100 mark for the season and another year before he rode the first of what are now 17 Group One winners for Henry Cecil, the master trainer of whom he still speaks in well deserved awe. Tom lives near Newmarket in considerable comfort but little ostentation. He is a calm and caring citizen. And he rides Frankel.
“Everything about him was was there at Ascot”, says Tom. “He won by a long way and I thought he would. He is not that big but when you sit on him he has got it all; the gears, the stride, the pace. You saw it at Ascot, I was still sitting pretty, every one was pushing. He is amazing because horses with great ability normally have so much in reserve that they can prick their ears and often mess about when they have their race won. But he has a will to win like no other horse I have ever sat on. He just pours it on at the two furlong marker. He quickens and lengthens in five strides like one of those boxers who hit you with a combination and its all over. The biggest problem I usually have is pulling him up. As I came back at Ascot it was quite frightening to think that something so good could actually get better. He used to be quite fiery but he has grown up so much. If he was a person he would be like one of those real laid back guys but whom you still would not want to say the wrong thing to. He is very sensible now and is a very nice horse to have anything to deal with.”
Back last Thursday and the sun was setting at the end of the straight wher the Derby fiinishes each June. Tom would soon get an awkward looking mare to finally run on and finish an honourable second in a race at the very other end of the scale to what he and Frankel will be pitching at next week. “Yes it’s a job,” he says. “But I admit Frankel is different. He’s fantastic and it would be a lie to say that Wednesday is the same as any other race. Yet you have to try.” But then in almost muscle-memory reaction against hyperbole,Tom Queally curls his lip and says, “Look, I just ride the horse. I am not going to get carried away and make a film star of myself. I would rather slip quietly out the back door of the weighing room and go home.”
To find out more about the QIPCO British Champions Series, Britain’s premier series of Flat Racing, visit www.britishchampionsseries.com