Robin Oakley

Why experience beats flair at Goodwood

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 Faced with a field of 13 two-year-olds in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Fillies Stakes at Goodwood last Saturday a friend and I agreed the best thing for our Placepot was to go with experience. Just three of the fillies had run before and sure enough two of those three, Jakarta and Royal Equerry, came home first and second, separated by just three-quarters of a length, with the previously unraced Jewel of London the same margin away in third. Expect all three to be winning races this season. Abdulla Al Mansoori paid 250,000 guineas for Jewel of London, whose trainer Richard Hannon was in Ireland watching his Rosallion and Haatem finish first and second in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Royal Equerry, owned by the King and Queen, is trained by the seemingly unstoppable Ralph Beckett and it is one of racing’s givens that Jakarta’s trainer Paul Cole, now training with son Oliver, knows exactly how to handle a talented two-year-old. But what interested me too about Jakarta, who withstood challenges from either side after leading all the way, was that his pilot was Benoit de la Sayette.

‘She’s a really game filly,’ said her rider, who had displayed cool judgment on his very first ride for the Cole yard. ‘Every time anything came upsides she just wanted to go on.’ Oliver told me that his father plans for the filly to go to Royal Ascot for the Albany Stakes. For Jakarta’s winning rider, still only 21, a different kind of test is under way. Experience counts for jockeys too. In 2021 Benoit came out top in a thrilling battle for the Champion Apprentice title with Harry Davies. Many good judges rate them both instinctive jockeys born with natural talents to work on. But for top apprentices there is a stage which follows when they lose first the 7lb allowance that made them attractive to a range of trainers, then the 5lb allowance and finally after 75 winners the last 3lb of advantage. Suddenly, as new claiming apprentices come into fashion – last year it was Billy Loughnane – they are out there in a big field riding on level terms with jockeys who have ten or 20 years’ experience to recommend them to owners and trainers.

Benoit says: ‘I had a quiet winter. A lot of us jockeys stayed in Britain to ride but not everybody wants to run their horses in winter beyond those who want to run in maidens or who need to be on the all-weather. You end up just riding for people you were close to.’ In Benoit’s case he has had good support from John and Thady Gosden, for whom he became the first apprentice the senior trainer had taken on, as well as from Kevin Philippart De Foy, David Menuisier and George Scott. But he acknowledges that: ‘When you’ve lost your claim you’ve got to work your socks off to stay where you were.’

He accepts that nothing is likely to change overnight. ‘Most jockeys go through a quiet stage in their career. It’s about building up new connections and one horse can change a career. But it’s not going to be handed to you on a plate: you have to work for it.’ What crossed my mind was whether it is necessarily an advantage for Benoit to be attached to such a top-class yard as the Gosdens. Harry Davies is getting plenty of rides from the advancing yard run by Simon and Ed Crisford. But with Frankie Dettori departing the Gosdens’ yard, they have taken on Kieran Shoemark as their No. 1 jockey, supplemented as Frankie was by the highly respected No 2 Rab Havlin. A yard like the Gosdens’ Clarehaven necessarily includes a high proportion of very expensive horses whose owners are going to want them ridden by an established top jockey rather than someone fresh out of his apprenticeship.

‘It’s not a conventional family, but we love our AI.’

Benoit, it has to be said, hardly let me voice the thought before contesting it. ‘I am a very young guy in a very big yard. When I claimed the Boss gave me a lot of opportunities, he gave me a lot of nice winners including a Lincoln Handicap and a Glorious Goodwood winner. I couldn’t have asked for a better apprenticeship. It’s just a matter of having to make your way back up.’ Good luck to him in doing so and as I write it doesn’t seem to be going too badly with his latest 20 rides including winners at 5-2, 3-1 and 25-1 with another close second at 28-1.

On the same Goodwood card as Jakarta’s victory there was another in the fillies Listed race for Charlie Johnston’s Francophone. When I went to speak to winning jockey Joe Fanning afterwards he asked me: ‘Was Rab [Havlin, the rider of the second-placed Regal Jubilee] catching me?’ When I nodded, he volunteered: ‘I rode a terrible race. I got stuck on the outside and couldn’t get back in.’ I guess you can afford the honesty of experience when you are riding as well as Joe is still doing at the age of 53.