An age-old racing question is what percentage of performance is down to the horse and what percentage the rider, and the accepted, ambiguous answer is 90% horse and 10% rider. Whatever the number, or indeed the nuances, the fact is it’s a merger and not a monopoly and therefore the power is in the partnership.
More often than not the fusion is functional, the two working as one, though occasionally not working at all, but every now and then there are sparks in the synthesis from the electricity of the perfect harmony between horse and rider. And that’s the subject of this short-list: those dynamic duos.
In the art and craft of race-riding, the craft can be measurable to a large extent in successes, standards and strike-rates, but this topic deals more in the art of one and the heart of two, and the greatness generated by classic combinations, the times when horse and jockey are a match made in heaven.
On Saturday evening, on Stateside on Sky Sports Racing from 4pm, amid the live action from America, Alex Hammond and Jason Weaver will be taking a deeper dive into this phenomenon, with your interactive help, so get involved with the great combos that spring to your mind so we can compile the ultimate list and trigger some magical memories along the way, but, to get the ball rolling, keeping to Flat racing for this edition.
Here are ten of my top twosomes and why.
SINNDAR & JOHNNY MURTAGH
In this collaborative collection, the reason it works is because the horse brings out the best in the rider, or vice versa, but what makes this one such a mega mix is that Sinndar and Murtagh grew together, spectacularly so, over two seasons, and their understanding made them unbeatable.
It’s subtle but significant that we saw a slightly different version of Sinndar in the Irish version compared to the Derby at Epsom and a different one again in the autumn for the Arc, and Murtagh was reactive to his revolution and pro-active in each race, knowing when to chase down Sakhee at Epsom and when to go for home at Longchamp.
Individually they were illustrious, but united they were unstoppable.
KYLLACHY & JAMIE SPENCER
If you were to show one race to illustrate the synergy of horse and rider, in overcoming adversity, then the 2002 Nunthorpe would be it. To cook up that plan in the first place, of switching in behind from stall 15, over one of the fastest funnels of speed in the country, took complete faith by Spencer, in himself and in Kyllachy, but it’s because he had such faith in himself and the horse that the denoument was so dazzling and dramatic, burnt into the memory of anyone who watched it.
But it wasn’t just one brushstroke, instead consider the bigger picture, because Kyllachy was officially rated only 104 before the season he teamed up with Spencer, the pair made for each other, joining forces to get up to 120 with four wins along the way, culminating with that showstopper at York, the very definition of poetry in motion in the art of jockeyship.
SEA THE STARS & MICK KINANE
I think that to really appreciate how good Mick Kinane was for Sea The Stars, you’ve got to remember what Ballydoyle threw at them through 2007. Aidan O’Brien saddled the second, third, fourth and fifth in that year’s Derby, and then used them in combinations to try to unsettle and upset this classiest of combos.
Think back to the Juddmonte International where they surrounded Sea The Stars, or the Irish Champion when they posed a very different tactical puzzle, but both times – and indeed every time – Kinane’s cool head enabled the horse to speak for himself.
Don’t get me wrong, Sea The Stars probably would have been a great whoever had ridden him, but having Kinane on his side made it one of the most influential and important seasons in modern racing.
WINX & HUGH BOWMAN
One of the ‘tells’ of a great combo is if you can’t picture the horse without a particular jockey, which is overwhelmingly the case with Bowman and Winx. Bowman was on board for 34 of her 37 wins, including every single one of the 33-race streak which turned her from local heroine into global legend.
And it wasn’t just the streak but the style, that loop-and-swoop trademark trick that injected just enough jeopardy in every race so as not to make it a foregone conclusion. With the risks attached and the pressures involved, that specific stunt is easier said than done, or easier read than won, and to hit the bullseye 33 times in a row – including 25 Group 1s – says almost as much about the rider as the horse, and history will remember them in that inseparable way.
CANFORD CLIFFS & RICHARD HUGHES
It might seem odd in a list of perfect pairings to not include Frankel and Tom Queally, but Frankel is an outlier in any and every comparative list, and by Queally’s admission riding him was always a privilege and never a pressure.
Queally’s one and only misstep aboard Frankel was in the St James’s Palace Stakes, when their pursuit of the pacemaker was too rash, in hindsight, Frankel winning all the same, but they put that right next time out in the 2011 Sussex Stakes when they made short work of Canford Cliffs.
The fact that Canford Cliffs was only 7/4 against Frankel that day is a sharp reminder of his strength and status, and a big factor in getting him there was the magician on board. Canford Cliffs needed Hughes as much as Hughes needed Canford Cliffs, and together they won five Group 1s in a row, confidence transmitted from one to the other, a sight to behold once they were in full flow, a masterclass in technique and timing.
The skill showreel of Richard Hughes is episodic and elongated, but for carving a career and sculpting a star, Canford Cliffs is the big one.
GOLDIKOVA & OLIVIER PESLIER
Enable has won 10 Group 1s, which is crucial context for acknowledging and appreciating the dynamic duo of Goldikova and Peslier, who combined for 14 top-level successes, all around the world. To win one Breeders’ Cup race is an achievement, so to complete an historic hat-trick in the Mile is testament in itself to her talent and their teamwork.
As with most of these amazing alliances, it’s borne out of long-term knowledge, in and of each other, and Peslier rode her on all 27 starts, the secret in making a complicated job look easy at times, because she had her kinks (especially at the stalls) and liked a late delivery.
Goldikova and Peslier: it’s hard to think of one without the other.
FANTASTIC LIGHT & FRANKIE DETTORI
Yes, this is like a fruit machine where we’re holding Frankie and spinning the other reel, any one of which 20 or even 30 horses would constitute a special relationship, with the facts and figures to prove the point, but I always felt that Frankie propelled Fantastic Light to unforeseen heights, which is perhaps the most meaningful measure of a great combo.
John Reid, Darryll Holland, Gary Stevens, Kieren Fallon and Jerry Bailey: all of those had won on Fantastic Light before Frankie Dettori even sat on him in a race, a transformative team-up, because prior to that he’d looked a Group 2 horse at best, and afterwards he became a bona-fide champion, crowned by beating no less than Galileo in a humdinger of an Irish Champion Stakes in 2001.
That was the power of Frankie, and the power of perfect partnerships.
COVER UP & KIEREN FALLON
For a jockey who won 16 British Classics and two Arcs, it might seem strange to pick out a 100-odd rated stayer as a memorable match-up for him, but few if any other horses were a better fit for Fallon’s trademark technique than Cover Up.
The grind-and-find mode of Cover Up was designed for Fallon’s slow-burning, bridle-churning style, and that’s exactly why they hold a remarkable record at winning at three successive Royal Ascot meetings, comprising one Ascot Stakes and two Queen Alexandras.
The middle leg, in 2002, is worth seeking out as a means of illustrating the how and why of Fallon’s one-of-a-kind genre and genius in his pomp.
PREMIO LOCO & GEORGE BAKER
The superpower horses and riders are automatically at the forefront of the mind when considering this category, but the beauty of great combos is that the ‘great’ describes the combo and not necessarily the stakes, and magic mergers can happen at any level: not that Premio Loco operated in the lower leagues, but his story is a stand-out one for how a horse and rider, in harmony, can appreciate and elevate each other.
Together they were successful 14 times, between 2007 and 2013, and what augments their alliance was how they adapted, to age and surroundings as, from specialising in pouncing late, their last two wins were from the front, a sure sign of their evolution over the years, a proper, productive pairing.
MOONLIGHT CLOUD & THIERRY JARNET
Thierry Jarnet is involved in arguably the most explicit example of combos working, or not as the case may be, because when even formidable Frankie didn’t see eye to eye with Treve, Jarnet was recalled and the rest was history. Well, nearly.
All the same, this subject has ‘-ive’ at the end, and I always think that, even more so than Treve, Thierry Jarnet worked wonders on Moonlight Cloud. Their sixth and final Group 1 win remains the second-most gobsmacked I’ve ever been on a racetrack (behind Frankel’s Guineas), when she went from last to first in double-quick time, and because that has always lived with me – and because it had everything to do with Jarnet’s long-standing rapport with her – this classy combo has to sneak into my shortlist.