Catching Up with David Probert: 22nd May 2019

The season is really ramping up now and I've been keeping very busy. I'm on 49 winners for 2019 just now and am obviously keen to tick off the 50 as soon as possible. It didn't happen at Wolves on Tuesday but I've some decent chances in the coming days so hopefully we'll be looking towards 100 before the weekend!

Perhaps the nicest one I've ridden since I last spoke to you is Raise You, a three-year-old Lope De Vega colt out of a Galileo mare. He won by six lengths in a Newbury maiden on his first run this season - and that form has worked out well with the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th all winning next time.

I got to sit on him on Saturday in a Listed race over ten furlongs at Newmarket. It's a very long straight mile and a quarter there, and Raise You likes to get on with things in front. He was a little keen early on which, because we weren't sure about the trip, probably wasn't ideal. But he saw it out really nicely and was well on top at the line. He's a free going sort so I tried to find a little space and get him to relax, which he did do. He's progressing really fast and might have a tilt at the French Derby next where he'll hopefully get his favoured soft ground. Who knows, perhaps he'll be able to dictate a steady gallop and lead all the way.

We also had a nice two-year-old winner the other day at Salisbury. Symbolize is by Starspangledbanner and he surprised us there with how forward he was. He'll probably go straight to Royal Ascot now, with the Coventry more likely than the Norfolk at this stage. There were solid whispers before the race for the second and third so he could be quite special.

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed I've been riding a few for Henry Candy recently. Our acquaintance actually goes back to 2014 when I rode for Henry a fair bit. And, since the unfortunate retirement of Fran Berry, Mr Candy has been using me once more. We've already teamed up for a couple of winners and I hope there are plenty more where they came from. He's a great man to ride for, never rushes his horses and knows exactly what he's got, so I'm lucky to be involved there again.

Riding The Tracks: Epsom

With the Oaks and Derby, as well as the Dash and all the rest of the Derby meeting races coming up in a couple of weeks, here are a few thoughts on riding the unique track at Epsom.

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The five furlong course is straight and downhill for the first three-and-a-half furlongs, but it's actually deceptively testing in the finish as the turf rises back up again in the last furlong. A high draw is an advantage in big fields as it enables you to get a position close to the stands rail where both the camber and the undulations are slightly less severe. As well as a fast horse you need a lucky one, and it's certainly an exciting trip to ride with things changing very quickly in the dying strides.

Six furlong races start on the crown of the home turn and if you're drawn inside you can sometimes get boxed in with nowhere to go. Ideally I'd like a middle draw as that gives the most options for how to ride the race depending on how things are panning out in front of me. If I've got a horse with gate speed, I'll use that to get him into a position and a nice rhythm, trying to keep him balanced on the downhill run into the straight. Plenty lug down the camber in the last half mile which again can make life difficult if you're holed up on the far rail.

Seven is probably the easiest trip to ride at Epsom. It's pretty straightforward, you can get yourself a position and - as with most ranges here - they get racing early enough. At seven, there's room to find a stride, get your horse on the right lead and it's probably a pretty fair test. In six and seven furlong races if you can get the fractions right on the front it does pay.

The longer races all start in the back straight and there's quite a climb there which can sap your energy if you get racing early on. When you get to the top of the hill, at about the six pole, you need to make sure you fill your horse up, get him balanced and on the right lead, so that when you're running back down the hill you're ready to quicken off the turn and into the straight, making sure that your horse doesn't hang down the camber.

On softer ground you'll generally see the jockeys make a beeline for the stands' rail. It's a little higher up there, and therefore tends to be drier than other parts of the track as the rain drains down the camber. When it's wet it can be a plus if you're drawn high because when the field passes the three and starts running downhill everyone is jostling for the favoured strip; those in the high stalls with good track position can get first dibs on that rail and a clear run through.

Overall it's a course that takes a bit of knowing, and you sometimes need to be lucky in terms of getting the run of things.

I hope there is something of use in these thoughts when you're next looking at an Epsom race!

Thanks for reading,

David Probert


David Probert: The Flat Season Begins…

In his latest blog, top jockey David Probert is excited by the start of the turf season, and discusses the 500 club, long days and favourite tracks, as well as offering pilots' eye insights into riding Windsor and Chester...


The 500 club

It's been a few weeks since I last checked in and, during that time, the flat turf season has kicked into life. I've been lucky enough to ride a couple of grass winners already, including a nice handicap winner at Newbury; and I recently discovered that I'm currently on 499 UK turf winners. Like a cricketer at the crease on 99, I'm keen to get on and boot home that 500th grass winner as soon as possible and I've a few chances this weekend across Sandown, Haydock, Doncaster and Salisbury. Fingers crossed we're looking for the next 500 after that.


Long days

As you can probably tell from that number of fixtures over the weekend, we're into the evening racing season now. These days, with so many floodlit fixtures, it's not such a change of regimen to being two fixtures a day. But they're still long days and there are plenty of them between now and September.

A typical day means I'm awake around 6am, though it can be as early as four in the morning if I'm riding work in Newmarket. Generally I'm riding out closer to home so get a bit of a lie in..!

After riding work, I'll have a couple of hours spare (depending on where my afternoon rides are) so I'll get something to eat and work through the form of my horses and the races they're running in.

Then if I've got evening rides it's straight into the car and on to the next track. Some days I can leave before six in the morning and not get home until after 10pm; that's obviously tough but it goes with the territory. If you don't love it, you can't really do it.


Favourite tracks

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I've been lucky enough to have a really good winter and spring on the all weather, including a winner last night at Wolverhampton. Dunstall Park might just be my favourite all weather track, but I'm looking forward to more grass action through the late spring and into the summer.

My favourite tracks are probably Chester and Chepstow. Although they're clearly very different in terms of constitution, they both have one thing in common, which is that they're tricky to ride. You need to keep your horse balanced down the hill at Chepstow in the early part of straight track races and can't do too much too soon if you want to get home up the climb to the line.

At Chester, gate speed and post position are needed regardless of jockey ability but, after that, it's a little more nuanced than some make out. More on that below. I was lucky enough to be top rider at Chester last season, and will hopefully have plenty more winners there this term.

I also love riding Ascot: the turf there is the best in the country. It really does feel like riding on a green carpet (not that I've ever ridden on a green carpet!). And I've been quite lucky at Goodwood, another tricky track, too.

But, to be honest, my favourite track is usually the one where I've just ridden a winner!


Riding The Tracks: Chester

Chester is a very tight 'bullring' of a track. On fast ground, horses with early speed exiting inside stalls have a big advantage, especially over five and five-and-a-half furlongs. For whatever reason, the speed doesn't seem to hold up as well over six - maybe horses get racing too early and tire in the last furlong - but over seven that pace advantage is there again. The ten furlong start, in a chute at the top of the home straight, is the fairest as all riders have a chance to take the position they want.

Over longer trips it's still a plus to be handy as a rule, but that pure gate speed is not quite such a necessity.

The pace and draw biases are much less relevant on softer ground. When it's wet, plenty of races fall apart with horses tiring significantly in the straight. You might also find more jockeys coming towards the stands side when the going is soft, whereas on quicker turf the far rail is usually the place to be.

Over longer trips I like to try to make my move about half way down the back 'straight' - it's more a dogleg than a straight - about half a mile from home. From there it's a case of getting my horse balanced and on the right lead before the charge for the line from the top of the lane.


Riding The Tracks: Windsor

Windsor is a quirky track. Five and six furlong races are run on the straight, with longer races all taking in a loop which concludes about half a mile from home on the straight course.

On fast ground over five furlongs, a high draw is beneficial; being able to front run at the minimum can make a horse with an easy lead hard to pass, like at most tracks. In fact, you sometimes get hard luck stories with horses clamouring for a run but finding nowhere to go.

Over six, they often over-race and the speed fails to get home. It still pays to be handy but not necessarily right on the pace, unless you can control the fractions without too much contention.

Because of the tight turn from soon after the start until the half way point in mile races, being close to the speed is again a positive. A low draw accentuates that pace edge. At longer distances there is usually time for jockeys to find their position and ride more of a race.

I hope there are some useful pointers in there, and thanks as always for reading. Speak soon, and good luck.

- David Probert

Catching Up With David Probert: 20th March 2019

Hi, it's David here again. How was Cheltenham for you?

After a busy start to the year, I've had a few days off to recharge the batteries before the start of the flat turf season a week on Saturday. I actually managed to get in a bit of golf while visiting my family in Wales, playing at the Celtic Manor resort. I play off 16, which I suppose is reasonable, and I really enjoyed going round that championship course. I'd like to get better but just don't have enough time. That's my excuse anyway!

All Weather Season winding down, Flat Turf Season getting going

It's back to the grind now, though, looking to kick on from the 30 winners for the year I currently have. I can't catch Adam Kirby in the all-weather jockeys' title race but will try my best to hang on to second. I have 50 winners there, as the all weather season started on 23rd October and ends on 19th April (Good Friday, All Weather Finals Day).

With Easter being so late this year, the turf season starts about three weeks before Finals Day. It starts at Doncaster with the Lincoln, and I am hoping to be riding Owen Burrows' Mizaah. He was an incredibly easy winner at Chelmsford in a fair handicap when last seen and has had his winter break since then. I sat on him the other day and he might not just be quite ready in time. Still, we'll see.

There's also Andrew Balding's Zwayyan though I'm not sure if he'll want to using an apprentice so he can claim the weight allowance.

Failing that, I'm hoping Rampant Lion might sneak into the Lincoln, but he needs quite a few to come out in order to get a run so it's more likely he'll go in the Spring Mile consolation race. He's been progressive this winter and would have his chance off a light weight.

I was riding work at Andrew's this morning. He's got loads of horses in now, so that's good, and we were able to ride on the grass gallop today, which is also a positive. We're starting to step up the work now and it's time to roll on. Obviously, riding out before the season has started is a very exciting time where anything is possible, and we're all really excited about the year ahead. Last year's two-year-olds seem a lot stronger and have hopefully trained on.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2019

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For me, as I say, I'm very excited for 2019. I've had probably my best start to a year. I already have plenty of winners behind me, so I'm not trying to chase from scratch having been riding abroad as I have in recent years. The winter has also enabled me to make a few extra connections, where I've ridden for people for the first time, and hopefully that will bode well for the coming months.

I've got a few numerical targets in terms of number of winners but my main aim is to ride in more Group races and get a few more Group race winners. Horseplay was a Group 2 winner for me last year, and Tip Two Win ran that super race to be second in the 2000 Guineas. Hopefully I'll keep the ride on him this season: he's strengthened up since last year, where his form maybe tapered a little after being on the go pretty much all winter; and I hope he'll be a very good horse at around a mile.

Neil Allan, my agent, is doing a brilliant job for me and giving me lots of opportunities. Our job now is to try to get some quality mixed in with the number of rides, which is tricky when so many owners use retained riders. Still, I'll keep my head down, carry on doing my best and riding as many winners as I can, and we'll see what happens after that.

Riding Two-Year-Olds

One of the features of the early part of the turf season are two-year-old races. Clearly when I'm on a baby, especially on its first racecourse visit, I do things a little differently from when I'm riding an older handicapper. It's so important to give a juvenile a good experience of racing; it would be mainly hands and heels, with one or two flicks behind the saddle if you've a chance to win the race. It's all about that positive experience first time out and making sure they progress from it. Unfortunately, you see some of these two-year-olds, they get a hard race first time and that's it, it turns them sour to the game.

I think most trainers are keen for their babies to have a good experience and to progress from that. When I'm riding in a two-year-old race, I want to get my lad switched off on the way to the start; normally if there's a horse that's run before, the first-timers will follow that one down to post. I was always told to tell the colts and ask the fillies: what I mean by that is that the boys perhaps need to know who's boss a bit more, whereas I'd let a filly lead me as long as she wasn't being too errant.

Then we hope for a quiet time going into the stalls and an even break. After that, I'll try to get my lad settled in amongst horses and try to get him to finish off his race so that he's learned something from it.

As you can imagine, there's a lot that can go wrong for a young horse and plenty of them step forward a ton from first to second run. A horse can get worked up on the way to the start, or can miss the break, or can pull too hard and use its energy; but next time out there's a good chance it will have learned from that experience.

For all of the above, often a two-year-old just jumps and runs until its petrol gauge hits zero. But the ones that do it all very professionally that first day, you know you've probably got a classy horse in those cases.

My Rides This Weekend

Changing tack, I'm back in the saddle on Friday and have a few promising rides between then and Monday. I'm on Tony Carroll's Prominna at Lingfield over five furlongs. He's got a nice inside draw and they'll hopefully go a good lick before coming back to him. Tony's putting cheek pieces on for the first time which might just perk him up a little. He was second last time when he reared up as the stalls opened, so we're looking to go one better if he breaks better and the race pans out for us.

Bequest runs at Lingfield on Saturday over a mile. She's run a couple of nice races over six furlongs and could show up well over this longer trip. And then I'm away to Kempton for the evening meeting where Crossing The Line looks to have a fair chance. She'd been very consistent before trying to make all last time and, while it might be a hot little race, she goes there with solid prospects. I also ride Gabriel Laura who leapt forward from first to second start to be a close second over seven at the track; the extra furlong should suit and I hope she'll go close.

I'm looking forward to Nice To Sea of Olly Murphy's on Monday. He's been pretty unlucky the last twice, one way and another, and hopefully it'll be third time lucky for us this time.

That's all for now - speak again in a couple of weeks.

- David Probert

Catching Up With David Probert: 26th February 2019

In this episode of Catching Up, geegeez-sponsored jockey David Probert offers a few thoughts on some hot topics in the sport - dealing with losing runs, sectional timing, and the prize money issue - as well as giving us the inside track on riding Wolverhampton.


Either side of the equine flu break I went a couple of weeks without a winner. Those spells when you're not riding winners are difficult. The key is to keep your head still in the game, and try not to make any mistakes. When you're going good guns, confidence is sky high, but when it gets knocked and you're on a losing streak it's important to still have faith in yourself and keep doing everything as you would do normally.

I think a massive part of it these days is social media: you get people who don't know much about racing and they just hurl abuse at you. It's so easy for them to tag you in a post and it ends up damaging your morale, no matter how much you know that it's probably pocket talk. There's often no awareness of the things which happen in race riding, and people don't really put themselves in your situation.

When you're having a difficult run it doesn't help when you look on the Racing Post statistics and their 'cold list'. I think that's the worst thing ever. The guys in the weighing room know what's happening, because everyone keeps an eye on each other. But it can be tough. The PJA [Professional Jockeys' Association] have put something in place now where if a rider is struggling mentally they can talk to someone and get a bit of help. But it's difficult for somebody to come out and say, "yes, it's affecting me, I need help". So maybe they need to sit down with everyone on a one to one basis and establish if there's any problems.

It's actually quite hard to see somebody standing up and admitting that they're affected because in this job you have to stay pretty strong. You can't show weakness or you'll lose your place. I was always told that there's always someone else to replace you, and that's stuck with me. And as harsh as that sounds, it's true. So it's a case of keeping yourself switched on and keeping positive.

Jockeys tend to just keep their heads down and get on with their own thing, and that's true for me too, so I wouldn't really know if anyone had a problem. That hardness is quite institutionalised: it's a dog eat dog game, no doubt.


A Quick Line on the Prize Money Issue

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The prize money situation at ARC racecourses is something that needs to be resolved. All of us in the weighing room are strongly in favour of the boycott that took place at the weekend. We know that they're worried about what might happen with bookie closures and what that means for their revenue, but it hasn't happened yet and they're cutting purses. If you're taking a horse from one side of the country to the other, unless you win you're probably not even going to cover your costs, which can't be right. It needs to be sorted.


Sectional Timing

I'm a fan of sectional timing. It's always good to see what's finished well in the last couple of furlongs. I use the information when it's available to understand which horses are capable of finishing strongly, and if I'm riding something else I obviously need to think about how I can maybe draw the sting a little bit by perhaps helping to ensure the fast finisher doesn't get everything its own way!

It's obviously very dependent on what the pace is in the race, but I'm always looking at which horses are going to finish strongly if they get the chance such that I can put myself in the best position to beat them on the day.

We're a long way behind most of other major racing nations with this sort of thing and I think it's quite important that sectional timing is introduced to the game. Considering we have plenty of the best racing in the world, we do seem to be quite a long way behind the times from a data point of view.


Riding The Tracks: Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton is a flat oval, about a mile around, and it's a pretty fair track. It doesn't especially favour front-runners or hold up horses and there's generally no track bias in terms of the inside rail or wider. There are some things to think about at different distances, though.

At the minimum, five furlongs, you can go too quick, so it's not just a case of jump, handbrake off and try to last home; you need to ride a bit more of a race than that. If you don't hold on to something I don't think you'll get home generally. A low draw is an advantage as there's only a short run to the first turn and you don't want to get fanned three or four wide there.

There's a longer run to the turn over six, which means you've got more chance to get across from the wider stalls. The seven is a different game: it starts in a chute on the crown of a bend and, rather like the mile at Chelmsford, if you're drawn low you're in danger of getting squeezed for room a bit as the middle to wide drawn horses break across you. You need to be quickly away from an inside post or you'll normally find yourself in a position from where it's pretty much checkmate. If I'm drawn outside over seven I like to go forward and sit handy into and through that first turn.

Pace wise, they tend to go pretty hard from the gates over seven in order to grab a position, and then normally you can get a breather down the back straight, before kicking again from the three or the two. Races can often be quite stop-start at this distance.

Then there are two distances at around nine furlongs, one just a little bit shorter and one a bit longer. The shorter trip starts quite close to the stable bend; you need to be quick into the turn to get a position then, especially if there are a lot of runners. Obviously with the extended nine you've got a little bit more time to get in if you're drawn wider. Both are pretty fair trips really. One thing to be aware of, especially with inexperienced horses, is that sometimes they like to have a look at the stable bend there, so a rider has to be ready for that and get his horse on the right lead, successfully navigate that turn and then ride a race from there on.

The mile and a half starts quite close to the first turn, so you again can get caught out wide as everyone shuffles for a position into the bend. It's not until we turn into the home straight for the first time that everyone finds their own space and gets into a rhythm. Riders will then get a breather into their horses going into the bottom turn, unless there's loads of pace in the race with horses taking each other on at the front. Otherwise, from there it's generally fair enough to all.

Plenty of races there seem to have been pretty tactical lately and, when that's the case, the slow early pace means you ideally want a horse with a bit of a gear change. But it does vary from race to race. You can get away with making the running round there, and at the same time you can come from off the pace as well. It's probably the fairest of the all weather tracks in that regard.

David Probert is the winningmost jockey at Wolverhampton in the last year

David Probert is the winningmost jockey at Wolverhampton in the last year

Catching Up With David Probert: 13th February 2019

Another fortnight has passed and the headlines have recently been dominated by the equine influenza drama. I've actually had the flu myself so I suppose you could say I'm one of the few who wasn't impacted too much by the break from racing. I'm back in the saddle this evening with five rides at Kempton, and I've a few chances to hopefully get another winner on the board.

Tonight's Rides

5.45 Miss Crick - I've never ridden her before, but she looks an interesting ride. She's got decent form over hurdles - rated 126 - and was second last time to a progressive horse that I rode. The race looks winnable and if she can repeat her hurdle form, get handy and make it a real test she should have a good chance. If she can't quite go the early pace then they'll probably be going fast enough and we know she'll stay, so I'm hopeful.

6.15 Chloellie - She's a little superstar. I've won four on her now, including her last three races here at Kempton, and the track and trip look ideal. She's got plenty of weight and isn't the biggest, but she's very brave and has a real turn of foot - ideal for the track. She never wins by much so I guess it's quite hard for the handicapper to fully assess her level and she's another good chance on the night.

7.45 Moon Of Baroda - He's not had many runs and won quite well last time. I was quite impressed with him there: it was a stop/start sort of race and Charlie [Hills, trainer] wanted to drop him in because we weren't sure he'd stay two miles around Wolverhampton. He moved into the race easily down the back and as we turned in he was able to quicken away up the inside and put the race to bed quite nicely. He was entitled to need his first run for five months the time before and I think he's a horse that is definitely improving. The fact that he's in a grade lower this time won't hurt his chance either.

I don't know much about my other two rides yet, but will obviously be studying the videos later!


My Eyecatchers

As usual, I've been lucky enough to sit on a few nice horses since last we spoke, including these...

Highland Acclaim - I've known this lad a long time, since he was at Andrew Balding's back in 2013. He's been rated as highly as 103 and is a different horse around Epsom, where he just seems to be so balanced and really enjoy the test there. But he's showing some great form on the all weather at the age of eight as well, winning the last twice and bidding for a hat-trick on Friday. He'll have a chance again if he can stay close to the pace. Not bad considering he was 0 from 23 on the all weather before those two wins!

Cirque Royal - Ended up in a bit of a match with his stable mate, who had the benefit of a prior run. Charlie [Appleby, trainer] said to me he thought this horse wanted a mile and a half - we raced at 9 1/2 furlongs here - and that he'd probably be very green. He was quite coltish on the way to post, which wouldn't have helped. Charlie said to take a lead and that he doesn't do anything quickly, so I wanted to get him rolling before the turn in. The winner had too much class for me that day, but we were miles clear of the rest and he'll progress nicely as the season goes on. It shouldn't be too long before he gets his head in front.

Wings Of Time - Another horse I rode for Charlie Appleby, I wanted to try to keep everything straightforward with him but it ended up being a messy race. He missed the break and then we had to sit and wait on the inside as another horse hemmed me in down the back. I had to use a fair bit of him there so I didn't want to get after him in the straight. I wouldn't say he was idling close home but he was always doing enough, and I'd say he won a shade cosily under hands and heels. Given that they went pretty slowly - I think the time was seven seconds slower than standard - it was quite a nice performance to get it done in the circumstances.

Minoria - Rae Guest's filly was second at the end of January over seven furlongs. That was only her third start, and she was slow away so I had to drop her in and try to make my ground up. It never really opened up for me, but she ran on well to be second and I think she'll improve again for a further step up in trip: she'll probably run over a mile next time. I was surprised she won over six furlongs, because this day she never really travelled for me until the tail end of the race. I'd imagine there's more to come from her.


Riding The Tracks: Chelmsford

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A flat one mile oval with even proportions: quarter mile straights and bends. The track has just been riding a little inconsistently in recent times, and I think they're still using pretty much the same surface as they were ten years ago. Maybe they've added a bit of wax but not much and it might just be in need of re-laying. That would likely sort things out.

It's been proving fairly difficult to win from off the pace and the kickback is quite severe. They put great prize money on and try to do things right, but the inconsistency of the track is a little bit frustrating. I'm not saying you can't win from off the pace, because you can: if they go very quick you can weave your way through.

And they normally go a good gallop at Chelmsford - you rarely get a slowly run race round there. If I had a horse that needed a quick six furlongs or seven furlongs I'd take them to Chelmsford.

At five furlongs, it's pretty much point and shoot: try to get close to or on the lead in the furlong before the turn, hold a position through the turn and then kick into the straight. Very few horses come from the second half of the field over five here.

The same is true up to a point over six and seven, though they can sometimes go too hard and set it up for a midfield stalker or occasionally a deeper closer. The problem over seven is that you normally have about 14 runners, so you're likely to get people drawn fourteen down to ten trying to go forward so you get a right good gallop into that first bend.

Also down the back, just before the four furlong pole, there's like a little path which is kind of raised up and you can sometimes see a horse when it encounters that it will switch leads a couple of times which makes it quite tricky for a horse sometimes to get balanced around that top bend.

Draw wise, you can get away with being drawn out wide as long as you have tactical, or early, speed. The only disadvantage is over five because you're almost straight into that turn.

The mile races start in a dogleg chute on the turn after the winning post, and those drawn lowest can sometimes get squeezed up as the field cuts a tangent onto the arc of the bend on the main track. It's similar to the seven furlong chute at Wolverhampton: you've got about half a furlong before things open up as you hit the turn.

At longer distances it's pretty fair, though it can get a bit scrimmage-y going into the first turn at a mile and a quarter, but other than that it's pretty fair. That said, being in the first half of the field is a positive at any trip around Chelmsford.

There isn't really any part across the track more favoured than the rest. You will often see jockeys swinging wide into the home turn but that's more tactical race riding than looking for a quick strip. You can certainly win up the rail anyway.


Riding The Tracks: Southwell AW

Southwell is a unique track, mainly because of the deep fibresand surface they have there. Generally it pays to be aggressive and go forward from the outset. It's a real horses for courses track, not many horses act around there, and the ones that do seem to do very well.

I tend to think you need a horse with a lot of speed and one capable of winning over a furlong further than it's racing over. If you want to take your time around Southwell, you're probably better off conceding a few lengths on the bends and down the back straight to stay out of the kickback, which is fierce. The wide trip is compensated by the inside generally riding quite slow, so you're not losing as much ground as logically it might seem like.

The kickback is pretty tough. When I'm riding there I carry a pair of stockings and wear one as a mask. And three pairs of goggles!

The five furlong straight track doesn't seem to have a positional bias left to right. Instead I think if anything it's a pace bias, but usually it's simply the fittest, quickest horse wins on the day.

I don't think I've ever ridden a horse there which has travelled from the start to the finish. You're either flat out to get and keep the lead, or you're flat out playing catch up.

I prefer being drawn outside, especially if I have one that needs to take a lead off something. I'd rather be three or four horses wide than on the rail, and just stay out of the kickback as much as possible. It's so thick sometimes it's almost like being behind a gritter. Trying to get your horse to breathe is the main thing. Plenty of them can't handle the kickback and it interferes with the pattern of their breathing.

At longer trips there's more of an even gallop. Obviously it's hard to maintain a frenetic tempo for a longer period of time, so races tend to be run a bit more sensibly and with more consistent results. I've had a bit of luck at Southwell actually, especially at longer trips.

That's all for this blog. Speak to you again soon, good luck.

- David Probert


Catching up with David Probert: 30th January 2019

In the second of jockey David Probert's geegeez blogs, he highlights some interesting horses to follow, talks us through the intricacies of Lingfield's all weather track, and offers some views on the whip debate.

Update on the last fortnight

It's been a really good start to the year for me, with 14 winners on the board in January already. My agent, Neil Allan, is doing a fantastic job and I'm riding for a lot of trainers and owners just now, which is great. The next few weeks might be a bit slower on the entries front, what with the sales being on, so we'll just have to see how we go. Considering I didn't start back in the UK until March last year, every winner I can get between now and then is a bonus.

I've ridden nine winners since we spoke a fortnight ago, and a few of them might be quite handy types to follow.

Target Zone of David Elsworth's won nicely at Kempton over a mile and is one to keep on side. He was still very green at Lingfield the time before, but that race has worked out well with the winner, fourth and sixth all winning next time as well as this lad. He carried his head a little bit high but he's still growing and he was pretty straightforward at Kempton. He looks an interesting one for the season.

Mr Elsworth is going very well at the moment, and another of his I managed to win on was Songkran for the King Power team. He said before the race that Songkran might just need the run, and we were drawn wide as well which didn't help. I was able to sit around halfway back but didn't have the best of runs through the field either. In spite of getting stopped two or three times, he still managed to put the race to bed quite nicely. I'm not sure what he beat but he's got a change of gear and he won decisively. He'll definitely come forward for that run and he should be another one to look forward to in the spring.

Rectory Road also ran in that hot Lingfield novice, finishing sixth when Target Zone was second. He was too keen there and I don't think he really came down the hill, things just didn't seem to go his way. But he had surprised us the first day when he won by six lengths at Kempton, and we were thinking, "jeez, what have we got here?". So this time the plan was to get him amongst horses and to switch off and relax, which he did, and he jumped into the race at the quarter mile pole and took me to the front near enough on the bridle. He's progressing quite nicely, he's athletic - well put together, and he's taken his racing in his stride too. As a dual winner, he'd have to carry a double penalty in novice company, so it is probably more likely he'll go either handicapping or they'll try and find something a bit higher grade for him next. Not sure what the plan is yet.

I also rode a few interesting non-winners, including Ron Hodges' sprinting debutant, Bequest. Ron said that this horse had been working with some of his better horses and he was hopeful of a big run. The horse was quite forward-going on the way to the start, so I thought we'd hit the gates and sit handy; but that plan was scuppered when he was slow away. He was quite keen at the back of the field, too, but he finished his race really well and I think he'll win soon, no problem. He wasn't quite switched on mentally there but he ought to be spot on next time and is definitely one to look out for. I hope to be riding him when he wins!

Probably the most frustrating ride of the last fortnight was Cosmeapolitan. He got caught in some traffic when I wanted to make my move, and I ended up getting fanned very wide and a little unbalanced coming into the short straight at Lingfield. I had to wait for him to straighten up and he's run to the line like the winner, but half a stride too late. I was kicking myself really because the plan was to be handy - I knew the pace was going to be slack - but we missed the break and I had to bide my time at the back. He'll probably go to the Classic on All Weather Finals day if he gets in: he might need to win again between now and then first, though. He's a lovely horse and he loves that all weather, especially at Lingfield.

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Seeusoon is a horse who came on a lot from his debut, and we were thinking he might just need it again but he was a lot more professional at Kempton, eventually finishing a decent fourth. He's another who will be winning races soon, and a mile and a half is his trip.

At a lower level, Tilsworth Sammy made his handicap debut in a two mile event at Lingfield. He's been tried over a range of distances and the longer trip there seemed to suit. They went very hard early on and I couldn't really get in touch until the second half of the race; this two miles was still sharp enough and if we can just find a race over two and a half miles, it'll be ideal! On a more serious note if he can learn to jump and travel early on, he'll have a great chance of getting off the mark.

And One Liner also gave it a good go earlier in the week. He's no superstar but I'm surprised he hasn't won yet. He finished really well there and can pick up a little race with a bit more luck in the run. He certainly didn't seem to miss the hood and tongue tie, which were removed this time.


What about the whip?

There's been a lot of talk about the whip in recent weeks. When they introduced the rules as they are now, they actually had a variant first that wasn't good. Loads of jockeys were getting days off and the authorities reacted quickly. I think the way they are now is actually pretty good. But if we have situations where jockeys - inexperienced riders maybe - are hitting their horse ten or fifteen times, that's not ideal and they're going to have to come up with some stiffer penalties to address things.

The way people are talking now I just can't see us carrying the whip in ten years time. I think we definitely need to at least have the whip for corrective purposes. I rode over in Oslo where jockeys aren't even allowed to carry a whip, and it's actually really quite dangerous because you've got no real control over your horse. Sometimes you just need a little flick to help a horse switch from an outside lead to an inside lead.

In terms of the rules, I do think it is unfair when you've kept within the rules and someone else hasn't and you've got beaten a short head. I think that's very unfair because, you know, I could have gone above the permitted level and probably won the race.

I think we definitely need to carry the whip and I think banning it, in terms of encouraging a horse to go forward, will be terrible for racing. I think most jockeys would struggle to adjust to such rules, through second nature as much as anything else. It's a difficult one, and I'm mixed minded on it. Whatever they decide to do, I imagine there will be ructions as a result!


Riding The Tracks: Lingfield AW

We talked about Kempton last time (see this article), and today it's the turn of Lingfield. It's probably the most idiosyncratic of the all weather tracks because of the hill. It's pretty level from the mile and a quarter start and down the back, but from the four furlong to the two furlong poles you're running down that hill. Some horses don't handle the hill which makes it a tricky track to ride; many of the jockeys will start to make their move at about the three - halfway down the hill, on the home bend - trying to get some of their rivals off balance. That's where you'll see most of the manoeuvres, jostling for position, trying to either get an inside run or slingshot off the bend if a little wider.

In five and six furlong handicaps, you want to be handy, and perhaps ideally with a middle draw to cut the corner a little. That gives you the most options. They're both tricky starts, the five in a little chute on the crown of the bend, and the six just before the bend on the main track. Inside draws need to be very quick away and edge right a bit to get a position, because if you don't you'll be in a pocket and it'll be hard. The six furlong trip is a bit more forgiving because you've got half a furlong or so before the bend, but you still need to jump and get a position quickly.

But over longer trips, certainly beyond a mile, it's very hard to make the running and win. I try and sit third or fourth, and one off the rail. If you're on the rail you can get boxed in as horses vie for positions and then you have to wait for them to pass before making your run. It's certainly a tricky track and one where you need to be in the right place at the right time.

Lane wise, it's pretty fair in the straight: I've seen horses coming up the rail to win, and horses fanning wide and winning, so there doesn't seem to be any advantage to one or other path in the last quarter. And the kickback is mild, probably the least of all the all weather circuits.

That's all for today. I hope you enjoyed reading, and catch up in a couple of weeks!

- David

Catching up with David Probert

Since May 2016, top jockey David Probert has been sporting the livery on racetracks around the country. And today, in the first of a fortnightly series, he shares his thoughts on a variety of racing subjects, from long days to long haul, keeping sane to Kempton sand, and plenty more besides. Let's get started...

2018: Special Agent and India

Before the 2018 flat season, I changed agents to Neil Allan and he's done a fantastic job for me. He's very much on the ball, if there's any spare rides he's always right on it snapping them up. And he gets on with the trainers so well, which is a massive plus in racing. As a result he's opened up so many new doors and I've been riding for so many more trainers, and I hope that can continue in 2019.

This time last year I was in India, riding around Chennai, Madras, and Kolkata. It was an experience, to say the least! I learned a fair bit, it's a totally different work ethic: I was sitting on the horses seven days a week. They only race Thursday and Sunday in Mumbai, and the trainer I was riding for, Pesi Shroff, he's basically the main trainer in Mumbai and he's probably got around 60 horses in training. He'd always have horses entered up in Group 1 races throughout the racing calendar there.

Sadly, the year I was out there he probably didn't have as many good horses as he usually does. It still worked out pretty well. I managed to ride a Group 1 winner over there, Manifold, in the Indian Oaks. The standard is competitive but it's not quite at the level here in the UK: you've probably got a Group 1 horse if you're rated the equivalent of 90 here. So yes, it wasn't a Group 1 in the UK, but a Group 1's a Group 1!

I've been offered the chance to go back this year for the two day Derby Festival at the beginning of February, but the problem is the visa. Trying to sort out the paperwork to get over there is just a nightmare. But still, if I can get everything sorted out, I may go back for that two day period.

2018: Centurion

Last year, because I was in India and Qatar, I didn't get back riding in Britain until March, so I was delighted to finish the season with 102 winners. It was a slightly slow start for the first couple of weeks but riding the 50/1 winner of the Spring Mile at Doncaster (High Acclaim, trained by Roger Teal) got the ball rolling for me. That opened up a lot of doors for me, and I ended up getting some nice rides throughout the summer, and it just kept ticking along through the autumn and into the winter. 102 winners to finish off the year was a massive achievement for me.

A Day in the life...

On a typical day, from Spring onwards, I'd be in to ride work at Andrew Balding's from 6.30am, but at the moment the two-year-olds are only just coming in, so it's pretty quiet. First thing would be Racing Post when I get up, mark off my rides, go through the form and see what chance I've got for the day. Then, depending on where I am I get in the car and drive between one and two hours to the racecourse. When I get to the track I check for any further non-runners and take a slightly longer look at the form where time allows.

When I'm looking at the form, the first thing I'll look for is where I'm drawn. Then I'll check to see where the pace is in the race, then look to see what the horse's trip has been in his last few starts - whether it's been the same or different - and then I'd check to see what mark it last won off. The idea is to see how it was ridden when it was last in a bit of form and look to ride it similarly.

In the main season, with afternoon and evening meetings, I'll be out from about 6.30am and sometimes finishing off about 10.30pm depending on where I'm riding. And we can be doing six of those a week, depending on how many rides I can get and where.


Staying Hungry

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Neil keeps me as busy as I want to be, but it can be pretty frustrating, especially when you're riding a series of losers. If you're going racing for six or seven rides and they all lose, it doesn't put your mind in a great place. But once you do get that winner it completely changes: you just want more and more and more. So the hunger is there! I had a double at Wolverhampton the other day, and it puts your head in a great spot; I can't wait to go racing again and try to get our head back in front.

There are so many highs and lows. Each horse is different, some are very relaxed, others really keen, so it's a different challenge each time you go out there. That keeps your mind in check to some degree, thinking about the next one. If it doesn't work out, that's racing. If I have six rides and none of them win, I've got to look forward: it's then about the next six.

But there's more to it than just the riding. It's very important to keep the owners and trainers happy. As long as they're happy that you've done everything within your powers to do as well as you can then you can't do any more.

2019: "One down, 149 to go..."

When I got my first winner this year, on Temur Khan at Southwell (3rd January), I was speaking to Neil and he said, "only 149 winners to go", so he's obviously looking for another fifty! But, realistically, I'll take every day as it comes. As long as the rides keep coming and the winners keep coming I'll try for 50, then I'll try for 100, and if we're still going then I definitely won't be stopping.

The first thing is to stay healthy, and if I can do that, and if I can keep my owners and trainers happy, then everything is possible.

Riding the tracks: Kempton

Generally speaking, it's a straightforward track. But the five furlong and mile and a quarter races are both run on the tight inside bend, and the impact of the draw is most pronounced there: you definitely benefit from a low draw and being close to the pace, because you're on the turn a fair bit and you need to keep your horse balanced before a home straight of less than two furlongs. It's very difficult to come from off the pace at those two distances.

Kempton All Weather Course Map

If you're drawn wide on the inner loop, you need a horse with gate speed in order to get the best break you possibly can. Obviously in novice or non-handicap races there may be inexperienced or slow horses inside you, but in handicaps it's difficult to overcome a wide draw. The best bet then is to try to drop in halfway and hope that they go too quick up front so you can pick them up. It's worth marking up horses that win or run well from wide draws in handicaps at Kempton.

On the outer loop you can normally ride more of a race: you can be drawn outside, drop in, and it seems like you can win from off the pace there at the minute. Whether it's because of the lack of rain and maybe that's making it a little slower, I don't know, but it seems fairer just now. Also on the outer loop, jockeys tend to stay two or three lanes off the inside rail going past the cutaway because it seems a bit quicker further out, and horses just seem to finish a bit better there.

One other thing to note, with Kempton being the only right-handed track is that some horses act better there than at the other all weather courses most likely due to a preference for racing in that direction.

The kickback has improved recently. As with all of the all weather tracks, the more rain we have it tightens up quite well, but sometimes if they harrow it quite deep it can be fairly gruelling in behind. Overall though, it's one of the better tracks for the kickback.

Three interesting horses

It's been a quiet enough start, quality wise, to 2019. But three nice horses I've ridden are...

Flaming Marvel: James Fanshawe-trained, he won over a mile and a half, and he's definitely improving. He quickened well off a slow pace, especially as we wanted to drop him in as he's quite a keen going horse. He got the job done quite nicely in the end even though he only won a neck. I think he'll improve and in time he'll definitely stay further as well. Come the summer we'll probably see him over two miles. Even though he's five now he's only had six runs and I'm sure there is more to come from him.

Blood Eagle: Everything went wrong for him at Chelmsford the other day. A mile and a quarter was probably sharp enough round there too. He was slowly away, ran in snatches, got trapped on heels a couple of times. But he's a horse who's going to improve a lot for that first experience and a mile and a half will be his trip. He's finished his race off quite nicely even though he was too green to make any sort of impact on the front end.

His home work had been pretty good and we were expecting him to run well the other day; I imagine he'll probably run again quite soon before backing off him while he has a little break ahead of the turf season. He's an exciting horse, by Sea The Stars, who holds a Derby entry and he's definitely a nice horse to follow for the season.

Blame Culture: George Margarson trains this one. He'd been a little coltish and had been running over longer trips previously, and he was stepping back to seven furlongs on his first start after a gelding operation. George told me that his home work had been good since being gelded - that his mind had probably been on other things before that! - and that he was expecting a big run.

He half missed the break and he's been quite keen in the past, so I just tried to get him settled and into a rhythm down the back. The race was pretty messy with quite a bit of pace on early and a few moderate horses in front of me in midfield and they all dropped back into me. One of them gave my lad a bit of a bump, so it wasn't straightforward, but Blame Culture was still able to pick up in the straight and put that race to bed quite nicely. Seven furlongs was sharp enough for him and we'll probably see him over a mile next time. Hopefully I'll keep the ride!

That's all for this time, I hope you like it. Look forward to speaking to you again in a fortnight.

- David Probert was speaking to Matt Bisogno

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