Forget the International Jockeys' Championship: why not the International Senior Jockeys' Championship?
The inspired inclusion of ageing American stars of the saddle Gary Stevens and Mike Smith is the story of this year’s International Jockeys’ Championship (IJC), but the forced withdrawal of young bull Joao Moreira could be the catalyst for something even more spectacular.
Why not go the whole hog and turn back the clock? Forget the forward thinking and progressive marketing of Happy Wednesdays and the Beer Garden. Let's put something on for the oldies.
Moreira was suspended at Happy Valley last night and won’t get the chance to defend his IJC crown he won so spectacularly last year. So, let’s rethink the whole concept and change December 4 at the Valley from the IJC to the ISJC: the International Senior Jockeys’ Championship.
Only jockeys over 45 would be allowed to compete, and the way the veterans have been banging home winner after winner around the world lately, it would be a willing contest.
In most sports reaching the 40 milestone is the beginning of the end, and while many riders may be past their prime, there are a few notable exceptions who keep resisting father time. Hong Kong-based pair Douglas Whyte and Olivier Doleuze are both 41 and remain top five fixtures in the most competitive jockeys’ premiership in the world, while in Europe Frankie Dettori (42) and Johnny Murtagh (43) can still be counted on in a big race.
That quartet miss out on a ISJC start though, they are way too young. Stevens and Smith are first in of course. At 50 and 48 respectively, they combined to win five of the 14 races between them at the recent Breeders’ Cup meeting at Santa Anita, with Stevens taking the feature, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, on Mucho Macho Man.
Replace Christophe Soumillon with proper Frenchman Gerald Mosse (46) – who produced a peach of a ride on Majestic Anthem at Happy Valley last night and was runner-up in last week’s Melbourne Cup, and send an invite to Kieren Fallon (48) too.
Instead of Australian IJC representive Kerrin McEvoy, his 55-year-old countryman Robert Thompson would do a fine job, and actually graced the tracks of Hong Kong once upon a time as stable rider for Neville Begg. A gentleman of the turf and Hunter Valley legend, Thompson has the record for most wins by an Australian jockey, rode a treble during the week at Muswellbrook and is closing in on 4,000 career wins.
Jim Cassidy is also still slaying them down under, the 50–year-old recently recording his 100th Australian Group One race when Zoustar trounced rivals in the Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington.
Of course as age advances, so does the possibility of injury, as Cassidy found out this week. This is where our selection criteria (being old) becomes somewhat problematic. “The Pumper” was forced to forgo rides yesterday at Warwick Farm because of injuries sustained in two celebratory bear hug incidents. First Zoustar’s then-owner Sheriff Iskander put Cassidy in a camel clutch after the win, before Sydney racing media personality Richard Callander finished the job with a wrestling hold of his own. “It started last Saturday with Zoustar, and then ‘Richie’ topped it off,” Cassidy told media, nursing a sore chest.
Injury would also stop the “world’s most winningest jockey” 52-year-old Jorge Ricardo from taking part. Ricardo has been locked in a decades long dual with a fellow ISJC invitee, Canadian Russell Baze (55) to retire with the most career victories. Both Ricardo and Baze have more than 12,000 wins each, but Ricardo is recovering from a recent fall. It’s a pity because Moreira’s absence leaves space for a Brazilian representative.
Also on the wish list but unable to attend due to injury would be 47-year-old Calvin Borel, nicknamed "Calvin Bo-rail" for his penchant for bringing them through along the inside, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and recent inductee into the US Racing Hall of Fame.
Assuming we could get them all in one place and healthy, that’s nine of the 12. We are struggling now given the injury toll, so we have to bend the rules a little and also seek sponsorship from an anti-inflammatory company. Japanese legend Yutake Take goes in at just 44, justified because he looks at least 70.
For the final spots we might be scraping the barrel, and a couple of ‘feel good’ picks are required. The US has the most races per year, and the biggest overall racing population, so it’s no surprise that’s where we found a couple of perfect candidates.
Illinois legend RA “Cowboy” Jones gets a guernsey at 70, although he won’t get as much cooperation at Happy Valley as he seemed to have earlier this year when attempting to become the first jockey to win a race in seven different decades.
Jockeys at Fairmount Park were grilled in July when stewards smelt some fishy tactics in a claiming race “Cowboy” was involved in. Officials suspected riders over a lack of vigor in the closing stages of the lowly US$5,000 event, it seemed rivals were “putting one on” for their old mate, so Cowboy was a “one goer” and even then he couldn’t win.
For the final entrant we will need to over-turn a decision by officials at Suffolk Downs racecourse in East Boston and allow 76-year-old Frank Amonte Sr. a spot. Amonte (don’t forget the senior) is already believed to be the oldest jockey to ride in an official US race, but was denied a licence to return last year when officials deemed him “too dangerous”. His wayward navigation would add an element of unpredictability to proceeding at the tight circuit.
One thing that shouldn’t ever change about the IJC is the inclusion of the top local jockey, and this season it seems almost certain that Keith Yeung Ming-lun will take that coveted position from Matthew Chadwick.
So Yeung would go in ahead of Amante Sr. and the baby-faced, 25-year-old would line up against the most cunning and crafty group of pilots assembled since the Dambusters. Even without age restrictions, the way Stevens and Smith are flying at the moment, they are likely to teach the youngsters a lesson or two at the IJC.