Flat racing’s finest will all be at Royal Ascot this week. They’ be joined for the first time by a former jump jockey who two years ago was spending the week riding at Newton Abbott, Worcester and Fontwell Park. I’m not thinking here of Graham Lee, who has made a seemingly effortless switch of codes and is now banging in winners on the flat, but of Seamus Durack, who was stuck for something to do when injury forced him to give up riding.
In Friday’s Wolferton Handicap Durack saddles Qaraaba, his first Royal Ascot winner, just 18 months after he started training. He explained how he came to make the change from riding to training. “My hip was giving me a lot of grief and for the last three years I was thinking about what I was going to do. I was probably in too much pain to take a job for somebody else riding out, so I had to look at something different and training was the only think I knew would keep me motivated.”
Durack set his sights high from the start. He said, “I wanted to pick out a horse who could go on and be a proper ‘Saturday horse’ to put me on the map, and even when I bought her (Qaraaba) I had Royal Ascot in mind.”
Horse and trainer have gone on the learning curve together. Of himself, Durack says, “I’ve been training for 18 months now. I came into it straight from riding and it takes a while to find your feet and get used to it. I’ve learnt an awful lot in a short space of time and thank God it’s starting to fall into place.”
When Qaraaba first arrived at Brian Meehan’s old yard in Lambourn where Durack trains she was quite headstrong and needed calming down as Durack explained. “She went to the sales because she’d become unreliable at home. She’d basically lost the plot and had been running off the gallops. Physically he had it but having three runs at two probably over faced her a little. We did have a lot of trouble with her at first and it's taken a long time to get her back on track."
Qaraaba has won three of her four races this season, and has written 25lb in the weights as a result. That's set her up for Friday and Durack is really looking forward to the moment. "She's improving all the time and we've been aiming at Friday's race all along. It's just brilliant because we've planned for this for the past 18 months and it's not often everything comes together."