The jockey ride was in full swing during the week, and the emotions and pressure of what happened are feelings I certainly don’t miss. News broke on Tuesday evening that Jack Kennedy would retain the run over Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase this afternoon at Down Royal.
It was hardly the shock of the century but, have no illusions, it would still have been a blow for Rachael Blackmore. It was his turn. She won the Albert Bartlett and Irish Daily Mirror Hurdle on him in 2019, she rode him in all three of his starts as a novice hunter and on four of the five occasions he rode last season.
The other was when she chose stablemate A Later in the Gold Cup over Minella Indo. It turned out to be a bad choice, and the spare rides it became for Jack Kennedy. But Rachael had to pick one and hope it was fair because getting back at the one you’re perceived to be deserting is so much harder when he’s winning without you – and earlier this week that was beyond her.
With it came the news that Davy Russell would be relaunching his association with Send Allen this afternoon as well. It was a different ballgame for Rachael. She had only ridden him once, at Punchestown last May, when he had stopped lame, but we had always thought he could still be Davy’s horse.
They had enjoyed an undefeated novice hurdle season together. A neck injury ruled Davy out of his rookie pursuit season when Jack Kennedy took over. Rachael was probably hoping for her success in the silks at Cheveley Park last season and the horse being moved to the yard where she is the lead jockey as a chance to get Send Allen up. There was no back form for her here, but she would still have hoped for a chance.
Yet when she went to bed on Tuesday night, she did so knowing she wouldn’t be straddling two of the stars on the weekend charts – two she could have straddled.
All the success of last spring would not have been a comforter either. The bread eaten is quickly forgotten. Sport is about what’s next, not what’s been, and the politics of the choices a jockey makes will have played into his mind.
On the other hand, Jack and Davy will have gone to bed on Tuesday night thinking that the wheel had turned for them, and the wound of bad luck played on both of them will have been but a distant memory with such a bright future.
In the mind of a jockey anyway, one riding the current Gold Cup favorite and the other riding the potential Gold Cup challenger. Both trained their intended mounts for Henry De Bromhead during the week, and both, it seems, had the good grace of their boss, Gordon Elliott, to ride the rivals to his horses today.
That was, of course, until Thursday morning when Gordon’s owners decided they wanted Gordon’s jockeys, and the ride began again. Jack and Davy have had to give up the rides of two of Henry De Bromhead’s stars to partner with what appear on paper to be weaker rides for the stable that provides them with the majority of their winners.
Like Rachael on Tuesday, there was nothing they could do but shut up and hang their heads. The disappointment the two feel will not be shown, nor their anger, as it is racing politics. Even when you want or want to, you cannot bite the hand that feeds you.
The only currency in this sport is the winners, and if you don’t ride them, you can’t ride the best horses. It’s a chicken and egg situation, but Rachael Blackmore has swapped places with Davy and Jack after two rough nights.
Rachael should have walked into Down Royal today wondering how to watch these superstars win without her, how she would hide her disappointment and what she might have to say to the press in response to awkward questions.
Thursday morning’s reshuffle changed all that: disappointment will have been replaced by nervousness. Today she will come in thinking about winning on those horses and dealing with the pressure that brings.
Both Jack and Davy will have dealt with disappointment in their own way, but I’m glad I’m not a cat jockey, and they’ll go about their business. This afternoon they will step into Down Royal and do their best for those who pushed them to ride rather than those they wanted to ride.
It’s a jockey’s life, and 99% of National Hunt jockeys don’t have contracts or warrants, they only get paid for the work they do.
Loyalty to a construction site, that’s how it works, but in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In racing, the owner will always be king.