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Super-sub riders: Understanding the understudy


In a significant week ahead, featuring the King George then Glorious Goodwood, the stimulating sub-plot is that of the jockey-go-round, which sees some new relationships being forged with some of the biggest faces in some of the biggest races. Jamie Lynch looks at the different dimensions involved in the different parnterships.

It was the least euphoric and the most austere, but it’s my favourite post-race reaction of Sir Henry Cecil during the entire Frankel fable, the shot of him in the Ascot stands watching the too-close-for-comfort climax to the 2011 St James’s Palace Stakes, when Cecil’s face betrayed his feelings of relief, of recognition and of reproach, capturing the seriousness of the situation and the seriousness of the horse.

That was the one and only time, from fourteen starts, when Tom Queally was out of harmony with Frankel and the pair were out of sync with the race, perhaps overly-emboldened by their blitzkrieg in the Guineas which had nurtured the notion that Frankel didn’t need to play by conventional rules of what can or can’t be done by a thoroughbred.

Because of Frankel’s abundant ability it was the one he got away with rather than the one that got away, but horse, trainer and rider probably needed that misstep in order to never again put a foot wrong, resulting in an unblemished and unparalleled career that proved the power of an exclusive relationship, the jockey and the juggernaut fusing for an unbreakable unit.

For Frankel and Queally, knowing and growing each other, it was a case of familiarity feeds intent, the way it also was for Sea The Stars and Mick Kinane and, the debut apart, for Justify and Mike Smith, the plug prematurely pulled on Justify’s electric era but one of those for whom the more time that passes the more appreciation there’ll be for his accelerated achievements.

These days of big-money retainers for the top jockeys, on behalf of owners as much as trainers, is for precisely that reason, a team-building exercise designed to oil the wheels of equine development, whereby a regular rider’s input can augment the horse’s output, but there are inevitably times when the link is broken, on grounds of injury, suspension or, sometimes, favour. That’s when a ‘super-sub’ is sought, and this is the week of the super-sub, prompted partly by Frankie Dettori’s ban, but also the simple fact that never in the field of racing history was so much owned by not many to focus on so few.

Here’s the super-sub list from the last five years, determined by jockeys called upon to ride (for the first time) an established Group-class horse, rated 115 or higher on the Timeform scale.

super sub jockey rides Timeform

It’s clear, looking at the index, which includes the percentages for running to form (RTF) and winning in the spelled-out scenario, why Doyle, Atzeni and Buick are the in-frame names for the superior spares. William Buick steps in for the Coolmore-contracted Ryan Moore aboard Crystal Ocean in the King George, Andrea Atzeni is the beneficiary of Dettori’s ill-discipline by sitting atop Gosden’s twin turbos of Stradivarius and Without Parole at Goodwood, while James Doyle fits the ‘best available’ bill for Juddmonte, becoming the fourth different rider of Expert Eye in just seven starts.

Formerly retained by Juddmonte, and presently ingratiating himself with Sir Michael Stoute via his work on Poet’s Word, Doyle had an ‘in’ with Expert Eye, but he’s the go-to guy anyway, as the numbers show.

The advantage of being the world’s best rider, or Ryan Moore as he’s also known, is that he can jump aboard O’Brien’s and Stoute’s (to name but two) heavy-hitters as and when they start to throw the big punches, explaining his high number of ‘super-sub’ rides in the past five years, to do with his position, prestige and pulling power. For James Doyle to be matching him, on 72 classy call-ups, says something about his roving role but more about his art and craft, encompassed by his exhibition at the Curragh on Saturday, not only the poetry in motion of Sea of Class but also the other compositions in his Group-race treble, riding both Marie’s Diamond and Larchmont Lad for the first time.

In these higher-profile cases of new relationships, more often than not, when a door is opened and a different rider is put up, a ‘do not disturb’ sign is also put up, in the simple sense – and simple objective – of not undoing all the good work by one or more other jockeys in getting the horse to a stakes-class standard, and, by definition, a horse of that calibre is usually, by then, fully formed and fully armed. Forewarned is forearmed for the incoming rider.

To that end, the task elementary and even enjoyable for Buick and Atzeni aboard Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius respectively, as both horses are at the peak of their powers, facing courses – and, in Stradivarius’ case, horses – that they’ve conquered before. What’s more, this won’t be the first meeting of Stradivarius and Atzeni, as they’ve previously teamed up twice, successfully so, including in last year’s Goodwood Cup.

It’s the other saddle switches, colliding in the same race, where all the interest and intrigue lays, as the influence of the rider increases when their horses are less robust. Without Parole is a developmental horse and Expert Eye might just be a mental horse.

Such a slanderous comment is, of course, unfair and unjust on Expert Eye, but the wiring isn’t - or at least wasn’t - right somehow and somewhere, because how else do you explain the depressing dip between the pinnacle points of the 2017 Vintage at Goodwood and the 2018 Jersey at Royal Ascot?

The latter, one of the performances of the week, puts Expert Eye, on Timeform terms in Wednesday’s Sussex Stakes, just 1 lb behind Without Parole, who has visibly had his hand held by Dettori through both the Heron Stakes and the St James’s Palace, which he won, all out, by less of a margin than Frankel did in his wobbling way in 2011.

Andrea Atzeni has the highest RTF ratio but the lowest winning percentage out of the super-sub riders in focus, and he has the most pressure from the riding rearrangements; pressure that comes with a favourite, pressure that comes with an unbeaten horse, and pressure that comes from the other horses and jockeys that are painting a pre-race target on his back, including Expert Eye and Doyle.

It’s a matter of forward defensive for Atzeni, the corridor of uncertainty between being not so forward as to enlarge the target but not so defensive as to ask for trouble, while for the supplemented Expert Eye, and his supplemented rider, it feels like a free hit and a big swing of the bat, something that chimes with the all-or-nothing horse and the confidence-swelled rider. This could be Sea of Class mark II.    



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Wednesday 23 January
Martin Harley silk Martin Harley horse in focus sectional
Alan King
Kieran O'Neill silk Kieran O'Neill horse in focus
Ian Williams
David Probert silk David Probert
Alan King
Go to Full Race



1st Jason Hart silk 10. AVENUE OF STARS 9/25.5jf
2nd James Sullivan silk 2. BOBBY JOE LEG 15/28.5
3rd Andrew Mullen silk ns 4. EPEIUS (IRE) 9/25.5jf
J: Jason Hart  
All 13 ran.


1st Nathan Evans silk 5. HARVEST DAY 7/24.5jf
2nd Tony Hamilton silk 2 3. NEWMARKET WARRIOR (IRE) 14/115
3rd P. J. McDonald silk 2. MUDAWWAN (IRE) 11/26.5
J: Nathan Evans  
All 9 ran.


1st P. J. McDonald silk 1. HAVANA ROCKET (IRE) 4/61.66f
2nd Luke Morris silk 4. SOLAR PARK (IRE) 3/14
All 5 ran.


1st Graham Lee silk 3. FENDALE 5/16
2nd Josh Quinn silk ½ 6. BOWSON FRED 9/110
3rd Joe Fanning silk ¾ 7. PRIMO'S COMET 10/34.33
J: Graham Lee  
T: Bryan Smart  
All 8 ran.


1st Luke Morris silk 1. ENCORE D'OR 9/43.25f
2nd Phil Dennis silk nk 3. ORNATE 11/112
J: Luke Morris  
All 7 ran.


1st Joe Fanning silk 6. PINNATA (IRE) 2/13f
2nd P. J. McDonald silk 1. STRAIGHT RIGHT (FR) 9/43.25
3rd Luke Morris silk hd 7. AREEN HEART (FR) 10/111
J: Joe Fanning  
8 ran. NRs: 9 


1st Andrew Mullen silk 3. REY LOOPY (IRE) 9/25.5
2nd Graham Lee silk nk 1. TREVITHICK 5/23.5
T: Ben Haslam  
All 7 ran.


1st Charlie Hammond silk 8. LARA TROT (IRE) 16/117
2nd Ceris Biddle silk ½ 10. TARA WELL (IRE) 7/18
3rd Ross Turner silk 1 6. KATEBIRD (IRE) 14/115
T: Robin Dickin  
All 13 ran.


1st Alistair Rawlinson silk 5. BUSY STREET 6/17
2nd Robert Winston silk ¾ 1. STARGAZER (IRE) 6/52.2f
3rd Phil Dennis silk 3 8. LOUD AND CLEAR 6/17
All 8 ran.
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