Accidental Agent

Hugh Taylor looks back on his second season as agent to Kerrin McEvoy, where the Aussie ace took out top races on the likes of Dubawi, Punctilious and Shamardal for Godolphin, and made a formidable partner for key outside rides including Bulwark, Pintle and Warrsan.

  • Thursday 09 April
  • Blog
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By Hugh Taylor

I certainly went into 2005 a lot less apprehensive than I had been the previous year. Kerrin was now established as part of the UK racing scene, and I was a bit less green than I had been when I first started the job.

It had certainly taken me a while to know who to ring and when to ring them. When I started in 2004, not only did I not have much idea of which trainers might be interested in using Kerrin, I also had no idea about their modus operandi in booking jockeys.

Most of the bigger yards had a racing secretary who booked rides, but there were quite significant differences of autonomy granted to the people holding these positions. Some clearly had been given almost complete control of jockey bookings by the trainer; others had to wait until given firm running plans or guidance about which jockey to select. On rarer occasions, the phone would be answered by someone whose racing knowledge was clearly limited, and it wasn’t an encouraging sign to be assured “I’ll let the trainer know that Kevin McElroy (sic) is available”.

I was generally impressed by the quality of people who acted as racing secretaries. Nearly all of the top yards had people who were clearly efficient, had excellent racing knowledge (sometimes you’d find they had been riding out on the horse you were ringing about), and happily, most of them seemed to have excellent communication skills and were friendly and chatty on the phone.

After a while, it became clear when the best time to ring each stable was. A lot of trainers wouldn’t even look at the five-day entries (as the system was then) until the morning after they had been published; some didn’t make real plans until the morning of declarations.

Others, such as Marcus Hosgood, John Dunlop’s long-serving secretary, would have a good idea about running plans very quickly after the entries were published. Especially over the last two or three years of Kerrin’s stay, Dunlop was one of his biggest supporters, more in terms of quality than quantity – although Castle Stables was no longer the 200-horse powerhouse of old, 22% of Kerrin’s ride for the yard came in Pattern races.

I’ve never met Marcus Hosgood, but to speak to he was exactly what you’d imagine of the racing secretary of John Dunlop (or “the trainer”, as Marcus always referred to him) – calm, thoroughly informed, and well spoken, and he was probably my favourite racing secretary to call.

There were some trainers who preferred to do the jockey bookings themselves. Phone calls to Carlburg Stables were invariably answered either by Clive Brittain himself or by his wife Maureen, and again I gradually worked out the best time to ring them – too early and Clive wouldn’t have looked at the race, too late and someone else might have beaten me to the ride. Likewise, most trainers with smaller strings did the jockey bookings themselves.

We were soon up and running in 2005. Kerrin rode a winner on a Godolphin lightweight on 2000 Guineas day at Newmarket, and two days later I’d identified a card that promised to provide some opportunities.

With most of the top jockeys at Kempton and Doncaster, there looked likely to be some openings at Warwick, and so it proved. Amanda Perrett quickly booked him for two, David Loder for another, and we ended up with five rides that looked to have good chances. Three of them won, the most notable of them from a long-term perspective being Bulwark, who had looked a very difficult ride on his previous start, but won nicely for Kerrin in a first-time blinkers and eyeshield combination.

The next couple of weeks were relatively quiet – Kerrin only had one ride for Godolphin in the 20 days following Guineas day, but he then rode four winners in a row for his employers, including a 20-1 Group Two success at Sandown on second string Fight Your Corner.

Fight Your Corner
Fight Your Corner pounces late at Sandown

June started off well with a double at Haydock – I was sorry we were never available to ride one of the winners, John Berry’s Benedict, again, as he was a hugely progressive horse prior to sadly suffering a fatal injury in the rescheduled Lincoln at Redcar the following year.

Kerrin rode a winner and a Listed runner-up for John Gosden at Pontefract, another pleasing development, but in the meantime another major opportunity presented itself. On the eve of the Royal Ascot meeting, which was re-routed to York due to course developments at Ascot, Dettori picked up a six-day ban at Haydock that was to rule him out for the whole of the Royal meeting.

This meant there would definitely be a few nice rides for Kerrin, but the most important by some way would be in the St James’ Palace Stakes on the opening day. Godolphin declared both their flagship 3yos, Dubawi and Shamardal, keeping a close eye on the weather, and made the decision about which was to run just an hour before the race.

Kerrin would obviously have been delighted to have ridden either, but when I spoke to him on the morning of the race his preference was for Shamardal, who was the more straightforward ride of the pair. It was indeed Shamardal who got the nod and won easily, Kerrin dictating throughout; this was just the type of opportunity he had come over for, and there would be more to follow.

Shamardal strides clear of his rivals at York

There were three runners-up, but no more winners at the Royal meeting. However, early in July Dettori broke a collarbone in a fall on Celtic Mill at Sandown.  This meant Kerrin was back in the role as temporary number 1 at Godolphin. He rode a few winners for Godolphin during this spell, but my choice of where to send him was curtailed as a result, and it was a quieter month in terms of outside rides and winners.

I very rarely managed to see Kerrin ride at the racecourse, but an evening meeting at Windsor in early August gave me a chance to do so. However, that day provided a rare setback. On soft ground, the jockeys were heading for the far side of the course in the straight, and riding a heavily-backed Godolphin favourite, the big, powerful colt Echo Of Light, Kerrin found himself helpless as his mount hung badly left at the intersection, running off the track.

Most experienced observers felt there was little Kerrin could have done in the circumstances, but there were a few disgruntled punters on the track that night, and all in all that would have been one of his less enjoyable days on a racecourse.

Kerrin soon put this behind him, however, riding a double for James Bethell at Leicester and then a treble at Newmarket. Then another big opportunity approached.

Dubawi was undoubtedly the most important horse in the Godolphin team that year, even allowing for the presence of his fellow 3yo Shamardal. As a son of the deceased Dubai Millennium, he was of huge importance to the whole Darley set-up.

He was a massively talented horse, but by no means an easy ride. He had swerved alarmingly in both the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and at the Curragh in its Irish equivalent, on contrasting ground, despite being ridden by Dettori. Kerrin was always very cool before races, but it’s fair to say that in the lead-up to riding Dubawi in the Prix Jacques-Le-Marois at Deauville, he would have been more nervous about this ride than most.

However, the Godolphin team got their tactics spot on. Ted Durcan, riding pacemaker Council Member, ensured the race was run at a strong tempo, helping Dubawi to settle. When he hit the front, Dubawi again showed signs of wanting to wander, but with Whipper looming up to challenge, Kerrin stayed cool, kept his hands firmly on the reins rather than reaching for the whip, and kept hold of Dubawi all the way to the line, winning by a length.

Under a hands-and-heels ride, Dubawi beats Whipper at Deauville

Dettori was still out for the Ebor meeting at York, where Kerrin got the better of Kieren Fallon after a good battle to win the Yorkshire Oaks on Punctilious. He had had a very busy schedule leading up to this week, including in a variety of Group races both at home and in Europe, and although he knew it was a valuable and important race, Kerrin didn’t realise the race was a Group One event until Punctilious’s groom exclaimed in the winners’ enclosure how great it was to win a Group One race with her filly.

Punctilious wins the Yorkshire Oaks

There were two horses that by now had become closely associated with Kerrin. He clocked up his fourth win on Pintle at Yarmouth in August, and also landed his fourth win – from four rides - on Bulwark the following month. Bulwark was still proving frustrating for other riders when Kerrin wasn’t available, with Johnny Murtagh, Mick Kinane, Shane Kelly and Richard Quinn all trying and failing to get his head in front since his first win for Kerrin.

September started with a run of seven winners in 13 rides, but the standout was the repeat victory of Warrsan - who Kerrin hadn’t ridden in any of his previous starts that year - in the Group One Grosser Preis Von Baden.

A wide-margin win on the previously-errant Echo Of Light at Doncaster put one of the few bad memories to bed, and Kerrin added trebles at Goodwood and Pontefract. His finishing tally of 84 winners from 440 rides was more than satisfactory, and with 47 of those winners coming from outside rides, I at least felt there was something to show for my attempts at the job this year.

Accidental Agent
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