By Hugh Taylor
Going into the 2006 season, Kerrin was well established in this country, and my phone was ringing regularly. This in itself brought a new challenge though.
From the start, Simon Crisford had emphasised to me that I should be selective about the rides I took, and Kerrin had reinforced this in our discussions. In general terms, agents are well motivated to take a ride offered to them if their jockey doesn’t have one in that particular race – riding fees are an important part of most riders’ income barring the very top jockeys, and moreover the agent gets a cut of each riding fee.
Kerrin was a salaried Godolphin employee and was paying me a monthly retainer, so neither of those factors applied. My job was to keep him ticking over when Godolphin didn’t have any runners, the idea being that I should concentrate on horses with reasonable chances.
Of course, it’s easy enough to do this by being selective in terms of which rides you ring up for, but making decisions about rides when trainers rang you was a rather more delicate situation.
Generally, most trainers who rang up for Kerrin were doing so because they thought the horse had a chance and wanted a good rider. However, there were occasions when I was offered rides that I knew I’d find hard to justify to Kerrin (and he did sometimes ask me why I’d taken a particular ride).
I’d like to think I’m a fairly tactful person, and sometimes I had a ready reason for turning down rides such as Kerrin needing to leave early to catch a return train or get to a meeting.
When those avenues weren’t available, though, I must admit I found it difficult explaining to trainers that no, I didn’t want him to ride their horse. Some trainers understood the situation, but one or two weren’t happy at times, though to be fair there was only one occasion where a trainer was downright unpleasant about the situation (I’m not going to name him as he’s now deceased).
I’m sure there were a small number of trainers who thought I was plain awkward, and there were some occasions when I got it badly wrong. On one occasion, I’d checked with Kerrin if he was happy to go to Brighton to ride one each for John Dunlop and Clive Brittain, and he said yes, but not to take too many rides. The Dunlop horse started favourite in the valuable Brighton Challenge Cup and the Brittain horse had a standout chance in the maiden (the latter won).
On the morning of declarations, I had a couple of calls asking about Kerrin’s availability in a class 6 event on the Brighton card. I thought both would be at least 25-1 chances, couldn’t make a case for them, so said I wasn’t taking any more rides for him on that card. After declarations, another trainer rang up having just lost his jockey for the horse I liked most in the race (he started favourite and finished second).
I accepted the ride and then had two very aggrieved trainers back on the phone within about ten minutes asking why I’d told them I wasn’t taking any more rides at the meeting…served me right of course and this was a good example of my ineptitude at times.
In fairness, though, this sort of thing didn’t happen too much, and having talked not only to one or two other agents, but also to some trainers, I probably got off quite lightly in terms of how often I managed to upset people.
Some “smaller” trainers spoke wearily of being messed about by agents; you’d sometimes get a call from an exasperated trainer a few minutes before declarations when an agent had informed him his jockey would be going to a different meeting - sometimes the BHA Racing Admin website provided a bit of a giveaway, as you’d see a jockey booked for a ride or two at, say, Haydock when he had 6 rides booked at Sandown the same afternoon.
Quite often in these cases, of course, agents were just trying to do their best for their teams of riders, and being able to offer one or more other jockeys when there was a late switch (planned or otherwise) was one advantage I didn’t have. That doesn’t diminish my admiration for those who manage to juggle a large team of jockeys whilst keeping both their employers and trainers happy, though.
2006 saw a significant change in Godolphin’s approach. Gone were the battalions of 2yos – indeed, Godolphin’s first 2yo winner came with their second individual runner in late September.
That said, the concentration on older horses worked in terms of strike rate – Saeed Bin Suroor had a 28% strike rate, and Kerrin’s record was even better, riding 17 winners from just 54 rides for Godolphin. With Shamardal and Dubawi both retired to stud, however, the team lacked a real flagship horse however, and although Godolphin landed a few Group One events in Europe (notably twice from Librettist in France), they drew a blank at the top level domestically for the first time since the founding year of 1993.
Required for Godolphin away from Newmarket on the two Guineas days, Kerrin got off the mark for the season when riding a 33-1 winner for Gay Kelleway at Goodwood, he followed up with a double at Wolverhampton a couple of days later, and then a treble at Yarmouth.
One of the three winners at Yarmouth came for Sir Michael Stoute. Kerrin had ridden work on Stoute’s Distinction in his preparation for the Melbourne Cup, and had clearly created a good impression, and as the year went on, he started to get more rides for the stable.
Kerrin was having to rely heavily on outside rides during the early stages of the season – between mid-May and early July he had just two rides for Godolphin over a 45-day period. Fortunately, we were able to keep ticking over, with increasing numbers of trainers offering him rides, and two winners and a third in handicaps at Epsom on Derby day kept him in the spotlight.
A week later, he was scheduled to ride for Godolphin at Newbury, but his intended mounts were withdrawn on the morning of declarations – this was very unusual, as the running plans given to me by Simon Crisford usually proved very reliable.
I didn’t normally ring up for rides when they were already jocked up on the BHA website, but Bulwark and Pintle were both set to run at Haydock on the day of the Newbury meeting. I knew their respective trainers would want to know that Kerrin had unexpectedly become available, and he was duly booked for both. Pintle didn’t stay the extended 1m trip in her race, but Bulwark won, taking Kerrin’s record to five wins from six rides on him, at a time when he was 0-10 for other jockeys.
Bulwark ended up too high in the weights after that win and wasn’t up to the task when tried in Pattern company, but he had achieved plenty for a horse often described as “quirky” (a comment that I think tended to irritate Amanda Perrett, who had overseen his rise from a rating of 68 to 105). His only subsequent Flat win came when springing a surprise in the Chester Cup for Ian Williams, but he had done a lot to advertise Kerrin’s skills.
Kerrin’s relationship with John Dunlop had started to develop, and he was getting on some of the yard’s more interesting horses. When he rode Scarlet Runner on her debut at Newmarket, I was at pains to point out to Kerrin that the stable’s 2yos usually needed their first run quite a lot and that we were just looking for glimmers of promise.
I was pleased when he rang me that night to say he thought she showed something despite finishing only eighth, and she was duly much sharper when Kerrin made all on her at Windsor. She had a quick turnaround when sent to Royal Ascot to contest the Albany Stakes, but ran a cracking race to finish third, and bigger days lay ahead for her.
Godolphin had nothing for Kerrin at Royal Ascot, but I managed to pick up at least three rides for him every day, and although no winners came from them, six managed to finish in the first four, and I think he felt an active participant in the showpiece meeting.
One pleasing development this year was that he was starting to get a few more rides from Northern trainers. On previous trips north of the Trent we had tended to pick up outside rides only from Newmarket trainers, but on Northumberland Plate day at Newcastle, when he rode Bulwark (who finished 9th of 20 in the big race), six of his seven rides were provided by Northern trainers.
Although Saeed Bin Suroor was starting to have more runners, there were no second strings for us at the July meeting. However, one of his biggest wins was to come that week, and from my point of view one of the least expected.
Clive Brittain’s Rajeem was a filly that Kerrin had ridden into fifth at odds of 150-1 in the Coronation Stakes. That run seemed to be dismissed as a bit of a fluke in some quarters, but I still wanted to try and get Kerrin on her again in the Group One Falmouth Stakes.
Initially, the owner opted for Seb Sanders, understandably as he had won on her before. However, when Seb was rerouted to Catterick to ride for his boss Sir Mark Prescott, I was back on the phone and we were given the ride.
I had no great expectations for the filly; she was rated 96 and facing Group One winners such as Soviet Song, Peeress and Nannina, and her 50-1 SP didn’t look especially generous on all known form. However, Kerrin was allowed to set his own pace and had enough in reserve to be comfortably on top at the line, and Clive Brittain memorably danced with joy around the winner’s enclosure.
A couple of days later Kerrin rode for Andre Fabre in the Grand Prix de Paris, and although his mount Gravitas finished only seventh, it was another encouraging booking. Later in the month he landed a couple of Group Three events, the first on the now-reformed (but still headstrong) Echo Of Light, and the second on Scarlet Runner, who fulfilled all her earlier promise when winning the Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot.
I didn’t often text or phone Kerrin when I booked a ride unless it was an unusually important one, but I made an exception when he was given the ride on Well Hidden for the Queen in a maiden at Newmarket. She duly won, forming part of a treble for Kerrin, and was another in the steady growth of rides for Sir Michael Stoute.
Cherry Mix then won a Group One event at Cologne with plenty to spare for Kerrin. In truth this was probably no more than a Group Three-calibre contest, but it was still good to land another such race for his employers.
The following day, I looked at the five-day entries for Saturday, and faced a dilemma. There were two quite good cards on paper at Newmarket and Newbury, and I would have liked to have sent Kerrin there, but the Newbury card had attracted very small fields, and I couldn’t see many obvious opportunities either there or at Newmarket.
On the same day, Ripon were staging the Great St Wilfrid Handicap, their feature race of the year. One of the entries was a Clive Brittain-trained horse called Excusez Moi. Kerrin had ridden him seven times already without success; he was a talented horse, often running creditably in big handicaps, but it’s fair to say he wasn’t Kerrin’s favourite ride, not always straightforward in the stalls and the type where everything would have to drop right for him to win.
Kerrin wasn’t exactly bouncing with enthusiasm when I suggested a trip up to Ripon to ride this horse once again, and matters weren’t helped when Simon Crisford decided to use a 7lb claimer rather than Kerrin on Godolphin’s 90-rated Act Friendly in a class 3 handicap on the same Ripon card (Simon clearly felt the horse was badly handicapped and he was proved right, as the horse trailed in well beaten).
I was keen for Kerrin to head north, though, because Excusez Moi had run a cracking race on his sole previous start at Ripon when first home on the unfavoured side, and when I told Kerrin it was probably our best chance of getting on a winner that day, ever the professional, he agreed to go.
I remember feeling a real burden of responsibility that day, sending my jockey on a round trip of over six hours for effectively one ride (he did pick up a late spare) on a slightly dubious horse. Things got worse as heavy rain, which hadn’t been forecast, arrived at Ripon in the late morning and stayed all day, changing the ground to heavy.
Excusez Moi had never run on testing ground, but seemed to relish it, skipped over the tricky undulations at Ripon, and had matters in control for most of the final furlong.
A couple of hours later I received a happy phone call from Kerrin, who was having a celebratory drink in a nearby pub, and life felt good. It was only a class 2 handicap (albeit quite a valuable one), and wouldn’t remotely feature in Kerrin’s career highlights I’m sure, but it might have been the most rewarding moment of my stumbling attempts at being an agent. 14 years later, there’s still a photo of that race on my office wall.
At York’s Ebor meeting, Kerrin’s most anticipated ride was Scarlet Runner, who was sent off favourite for the Lowther Stakes, but proved unsuited by the soft ground and finished only fifth.
However, Kerrin did have one good winner at the meeting. Affable Swede Mikael Magnusson, a successful businessman who had set up his own yard at Lambourn, didn’t have many runners, but those he did have needed to be taken seriously, as they were invariably well-bred, and he had one or two decent prospects.
Mikael was a big fan of Kerrin and steered us towards his better horses, but the standout was a horse called Smart Enough He had won in good style at the July meeting, and he thrashed his rivals in a big handicap at York.
Kerrin was raving about him afterwards, saying he was as well-balanced a horse as he had ridden, and he ran another big race when fifth in the Cambridgeshire off a mark of 105, not quite getting home over the extended trip. Unfortunately he had a slight setback the following year and never quite reached the heights we expected subsequently, though he was runner-up in a Listed race at Haydock and won a Swedish Listed event.
In September Kerrin rode a double in the Ascot mud on progressive sprinter Al Qasi for Peter Chapple-Hyam and Acts Of Grace for John Dunlop in a Group Three fillies’ event. There was also a really satisfying win in a Newmarket Listed event on Degas Art; on the far-side course of the Rowley Mile, we felt the far rail was the place to be on the prevailing soft ground, a theory that had almost brought us a 50-1 Group One win at the same meeting a year earlier on James Given’s Summitville - and Kerrin stuck to that rail and won cosily on Degas Art whilst the remainder of the field raced up the centre of the track.
The most significant development in the closing weeks, though was that the trickle of rides for Sir Michael Stoute turned into a mini-flurry. Kerrin had clearly worked his way up the pecking order with the stable, and though Ryan Moore was very much first choice with the yard, we picked up some really nice rides in the closing weeks.
Kerrin had a run of six wins from seven rides for Stoute in the late autumn, and it wasn’t a case of short-priced runners with obvious chances - none of the winners started favourite, or at shorter odds than 9-2.
Confirmation of this progression came when, at the big end-of-season meeting at Newmarket, Kerrin rode three horses for Stoute - Shorthand, who finished fourth in the Group Two Rockfel Stakes, as well as 20-1 Champion Stakes runner-up Rob Roy and Adagio, who ran well considering his inexperience when not beaten far in seventh in the Dewhurst.
75 winners was again a figure we were happy with considering most of them had come from outside Kerrin’s retaining stable, and with a foothold in one of the most powerful stables in the country, as well as a growing number of stables supporting Kerrin (he had ridden for 101 different trainers this year), things looked bright for 2007.