On Derby winner Auguste Rodin

The Golden Age of jockeys

Ryan Moore is most racing professionals’ idea of the best jockey in the world

Turf Account

This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I was talking to a friend the other day about Cabinet ministers, as one does. I was arguing the entirely unoriginal point that things were definitely better in The Olden Days. Where are the Healeys, the Lawsons, the Clarkes today? We have a load of pygmies in comparison.

However, my friend was adamant that this was a nonsense point and that in 20 years people would be looking back to today and saying the same thing in making the comparison.

I remain unconvinced. But I’ve been thinking about jockeys — and I do now wonder if he’s got a point. I grew up in the era of Lester Piggott, Pat Eddery, Joe Mercer et al. Even just saying their names brings back the warm glow of a Golden Age. Willie Carson, Greville Starkey, Steve Cauthen. What a roll call!

But whilst I am predisposed to wallow in nostalgia, the idea that there was indeed a Golden Age of jockeys which, by pure coincidence, happens to have coincided with my formative years, is the same failing that every sports fan suffers from. It was always better back in the day.

The thing is, this is as golden an age as there has ever been. Ryan Moore is most racing professionals’ idea of the best jockey in the world at the moment. Please don’t try to tell me that he’s not as good as the 1970s maestros. Like all masters of their craft, he is so outstanding that you rarely even notice it. Everything he does is just as it should be, with no fuss and no drama: perfect placement, perfect judgement of pace, perfect riding style, perfect power finish.

But just sometimes you do get to notice it, and when you do it really is a thing of wonder.

Ryan Moore

Moore is at his best when the stakes are highest. You will never see a better ride than his Breeders’ Cup Turf victory last year on Derby winner Auguste Rodin. Google the race, and watch as Moore almost impossibly steers Auguste Rodin through a gap on the rail to land the one mile four furlong prize by three quarters of a length. As trainer Aidan O’Brien described it:

After three furlongs, the race turned into havoc. Everyone wanted to be on the rail and off the rail and it didn’t work out as everyone thought. Ryan found himself back but, the total brilliant professional he was, he didn’t panic, he let him relax. At the top of the bend he had nowhere to go. He didn’t have any option but to go down the inside. It was an incredible ride.

Fellow jockey Neil Callan was in awe: “Well by God that was the best ride I’ve seen any jockey give a horse. Ryan Moore take a bow. Pure class.” It used to be said that if you had to have a putt holed to save your life, the man to ask was Ken Brown (well, it was said when I was growing up … there’s a theme to this column). If I had to have a jockey ride for my life, Moore would be the man.

Idiotically, some oafs moan that he doesn’t give good interviews. Well no, he’s never going to rival Frankie Dettori in that department (although Dettori is, for all his showmanship, every bit as professional — and brilliant — as Moore). Moore’s interview technique is much like his riding: to the point and without anything unnecessary.

But whilst Moore may be the primus inter pares, the pares are pretty good, too. Oisin Murphy has wonderful hands and as natural a talent as we’ve seen for many years. William Buick has become a master tactician and now has the same big race nous as Moore. And Hollie Doyle has lost the curiosity value of being a successful female jockey and is now simply an exceptionally successful jockey.

But the one other jockey I’d have riding for my life would be Tom Marquand (aka Mr Hollie Doyle). He has a Moore-like ability to be in the right place at the right time and is similarly unflashy. Moore is 40, so he has some years ahead. But Marquand is only 26, and given how good he already is, I think we may be hailing him before too long as one of the all-time greats.

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