A full book of rides at Ayr yesterday yielded a tasty double for Graham Lee, and keeps the Irishman on the cusp of the title race.
To be fair, the man from Galway is unlikely to reach the summit, despite the injury to Moore and pending retirement of Hughes. Firepower favours De Sousa, Buick, Hanagan and Doyle, though Lee is certainly racking up the mounts in pursuit of winners.
On Friday four rides at Haydock were followed by four at Hamilton. On Saturday five at Ripon yielded a win and two seconds before a trip back to Haydock for a winner from his only mount. Sunday was no day of rest, though five rides at Redcar failed to produce a single winner.
It’s a demanding and hectic schedule, though Lee is no doubt pleased to be spending more time in the saddle and less on the turf. His decision to change codes in 2012 followed a crunching fall at Southwell which left him with a dislocated hip.
In truth he’d always been a flat jockey in waiting. Keeping weight on had been a problem for Lee and the sensible move to switch had become more an issue of pride than common sense. A fear of being seen as a ‘bottler’ probably kept him over the jumps two or three years longer than necessary.
He had tried the flat before when having 36 rides without success in 1996. Many of them were for Mary Reveley in North Yorkshire who he’d joined at the age of 18. The trouble was that he hated the flat in those days and was desperate to make it as a jump jockey.
He joined Howard Johnson on a permanent basis in 2002, after leaving Malcolm Jefferson’s yard. It was a period of his riding career that will live long in the memory, not only for him, but for all fans of National Hunt racing. In 2004 he achieved the dream of all jump jockeys when riding Ginger McCain’s Amberleigh House to victory in the Grand National. He then completed a famous double when steering Grey Abbey to victory in the Scottish equivalent.
A year later he had arguably his greatest week in the saddle when winning three Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. Arcalis, No Refuge and the wonderful Inglis Drever were the trio of Howard Johnson winners on the greatest jump racing stage.
Great times continued when stable jockey to Ferdy Murphy in the Yorkshire village of West Witton. Graded success came his way on-board the likes of Another Promise, Aces Four, Hot Weld and the classy Kalahari King.
But that was then, and this is now. At 39, Lee is riding as well as ever and has the passion and determination to be around for a good while longer. His intensity as a sportsman is well known. Lee spent a couple of months lodging with AP McCoy back in 2001, and soon realised the amount of work necessary to make a mark at the highest level.
After his Grand National winning season of 2004 he sought help from sports scientist Chris Barnes, then working with Middlesbrough Football Club. Barnes worked on Lee’s upper body strength and nutritional intake, transforming his overall fitness. The pair worked together again when the jockey changed codes. Lee’s exercise routine needed subtle changes to help him lose a little weight whilst maintaining strength and stamina. Vitamin supplements were retained to boost his immune system with healthy snacks through the day to retain energy levels.
Lee has now become a much sought after jockey for the big occasion. His vast experience in the saddle along with the acquired patience gained from years riding over the jumps were seen to great effect at Royal Ascot in June. His Group 1 success in the Gold Cup aboard Trip To Paris showed what a classy pilot he has become. As the pack moved off the rail at the two furlong pole, Lee made the crucial decision to switch his mount inside, leaving a glorious path to victory.
Not simply confined to the northern circuit, expect further big wins over the summer at the major meetings for Graham Lee. The jockey that once hated flat racing is certainly making a decent fist of it.