Nico de Boinville continues to ride the crest of a wave after a double at Southwell followed on from his stunning weekend at Cheltenham.
Not only is he being given more opportunities on Nicky Henderson’s star performers, but he partners the Gold Cup winner Coneygree and is getting the ‘leg-up’ on a number of smart types for Henderson’s former assistant Ben Pauling, as was the case yesterday.
His winning ride on Sprinter Sacre on Sunday was clearly a thrilling moment for a jockey who has had a long relationship with the former champion two miler. It is Nico that has worked the mighty gelding over the years only then to pass on the reins to stable jock Barry Geraghty on race-day. He did have one spin on the horse at Sandown in April, though Sprinter was clearly still a distance away from his best.
Sunday was oh so different and clearly an emotional experience to have finally partnered the stable star in a Grade 1 event, with the horse in tip top shape and able to do himself justice.
After the win De Boinville said: “He was fantastic and I was lucky I had the thrill of riding him but even watching him must have been something special. He was jumping and travelling like his old self and he did that well in the end, even kicking clear after the last and putting them to the sword. I haven't got a clue what the plans are - I'm just enjoying the moment.”
After spending such a long time in the shadow of Barry Geraghty, it seems that the tide is finally turning for the 26-year-old, and rightly so. He’s certainly served his apprenticeship on exceptionally talented horses. Riding out the likes of Long Run and Sprinter Sacre in their pomp when still in his early 20’s can only have done wonders for the rider’s confidence.
Not that self-assurance has even appeared an issue for the young jockey. Privately educated, Nico won an Open Scholarship to Bradfield and top marks in three A Levels meant he swept to Newcastle destined for great things. As an actor he had played lead roles in school productions, yet the role he was most desperate to play was that of a professional jockey.
His aunt rode at Badminton and his mother was once part of the British dressage squad. There was always the likelihood that the youngster would be a natural in the saddle. Story has it that he was rising at the trot by the age of two. At nine he became Supreme Champion in the ‘Search for a Star’ class, at the Horse of The Year Show at Wembley. A stint at dressage followed, but the young rider was soon back competing at events and team chases.
In his late teens, during a gap year, De Boinville gained further riding experience with a spell in France working for Richard Gibson. On his return to the UK he was fortunate to get a few rides for his uncle Patrick Chamings and then a couple more for his near neighbour Andrew Balding.
In 2009 he joined Seven Barrows, though progress was slow, and at times the jockey became far from settled. Just a handful of competitive rides in his first few years at the yard had him contemplating heading back to France.
At the time it was his trainer that gave the necessary reassurance. “I said I thought that he was being a bit hasty,” said Henderson. “Of course he was getting frustrated but I had always told him that there could be no promises. And anyway he then got on Petit Robin in a big handicap and kept the ride on him to be second in the Ladbroke at Ascot and fourth in the Betfair at Newbury. From the very beginning you could see he was a natural horseman. He had lovely hands but what was missing was racing experience.”
During those early years at Seven Barrows Barry Geraghty spoke of Nico’s progress and undoubted promise, saying: “I like his attitude when we are schooling together. He is always riding for the horse, not to try and attract attention to himself. He lets the fences come to him and gets the horse to learn to pop. If someone had got excited and put a gun to Sprinter Sacre’s head he could have been a long time learning. Nico was the man who started him.”
Those tough early years of learning his trade, and taking the rare opportunities when they came his way, are now certainly paying dividends. He gave Altior a great ride at Cheltenham and was terrific aboard Bobs Worth at Aintree a few weeks back. Henderson knows that when Geraghty is on duty for JP McManus, he can rely on Nico de Boinville to do the business, under any amount of pressure.
It’s hard to imagine that this winter could top the last, but it just might.