A couple of weeks ago, upon hearing that John Ferguson’s career as a jumps trainer was soon to be curtailed, I happened to be looking at some of the associated stats concerning his rapid rise in the role.
By mid-season, Fergie had already got to 70, but like a football manager that announces retirement at some point in the future, he has seemingly become becalmed, although that must be in equal measure because of the impossibly heavy going of recent weeks.
In the early days, Godolphin’s newly-rebranded supremo was content to employ the locally-based claimer Jack Quinlan, eligible to ride in all the bumpers and to take weight off the novice hurdlers. Many of the latter group were former middle- to high-class Flat Darley inhabitants of Mark Johnston, Andre Fabre, John Oxx or Godolphin.
Some would come to novice hurdling with historic Flat ratings of up to even 120-plus and it was amusing to read Racing Post previews on their debuts regularly saying that Ferguson “has a good record with horses of this type”. As Geoff Boycott says of some Test bowling: “My mother could have played that roobish with a stick of rhubarb”. I bet a few trainers, starved of success and access to decent stock, might well have a variation of that concept.
But if the idea was that horses struggling in Group class flat races would have a further use, it was a grand one and as it proved, prescient. Just how the suggestion that many of the present intake would revert to Flat careers with Charlie Appleby will work is more questionable.
Certain high-profile trainers have been canvassed whether they would be prepared to take sections of the about-to-be disbanded team with the caveat that Ferguson’s younger son Alex, a 7lb claiming amateur, would be taken along to ride them. Alex has four wins from 24 rides, all for Bloomfields this season, and is clearly taking this early stage of the career seriously, having also gone through the point-to-point preparation route.
While elder brother James is more frequently seen representing Godolphin on the tracks of the country, saving his father’s energies for more pressing duties in the ever-growing organisation, the younger sibling can expect a busy time in the saddle.
As to trainers who might be happy to participate in the young man’s development, I can think of a few who would be prepared to let Sir Alex Ferguson ride them, just to get animals of anything like the Bloomfields quality in their care!
Of course the name Jack Quinlan is never far from the issue where John Ferguson winners are concerned. Only present incumbent Aidan Coleman with 59 wins and former stable jockey Denis O’Regan (57) exceed Quinlan’s 40, and it was as a result of that latest appraisal of Fergie’s five meteoric seasons living out his early ambition as a trainer, that I realised Jack was on 99 wins.
I called him and found him to be totally unaware of the fact. In grey-haired (or, rather, no-haired) mentor mode, I advised him: “Make sure when you get the next one you tell the press and the TV crowd.”
That winner came at Huntingdon, his local jumps track, on Friday and after he guided Sir Note to a stylish, all-the-way win first time over fences in the Novices’ Handicap Chase, Jack sought out the press corps.
Later he confirmed he’d seen “the French guy who does the racing on Racing UK” – Claude Charlet to you – and also managed to tell the Racing Post man while he was interviewing winning trainer James Eustace that he’d made the milestone.
That said, he added: “Not that it’ll do much good, the Post never mentions me”, and rarely do the Racing UK lot, Jack if you’d really like to know. None of the: “O’Regan sitting like a statue” <on a 1-4 shot no doubt!>, or “Johnson with yet another brilliant winner”, as he guides one more hot favourite past the jamstick, for Jack.
Confident this time, that there’d at least be a secondary headline in the Talk of the Tracks feature on Huntingdon, bearing in mind this was not a late race that the Canary Wharf mob would have excluded as the writer wanted to beat the Friday night A1/A14 traffic, I looked carefully yesterday.
Yes, the Nicky Henderson winner and Cheltenham candidate Buveur D’Air rightly got top billing and Charlie Longsdon’s drought-ending win came second. Contrary to normal practice, the reporter stayed to watch a Harry Fry bumper win in the finale amid the gathering gloom, while a Colin Tizzard/ Tom Scudamore win was used to preview Thistlecrack’s Cheltenham win yesterday.
Not a sign of Jack or even the emerging development of James Eustace into a bit of a trainer for all seasons. No reference in the 20 column inches at all, and it was left to a trainer’s quote at the bottom of the actual race report 82 pages further on before the jockey got a mention, even though the race commentary on track gave him several acknowledgments on the way round.
The Analysis gave all the credit to the horse saying “…hadn’t run in a while but he jumped like a pro on this chasing debut, soon opening up an advantage and never relenting.” At the bottom, in tiny print type under QUOTES, it was left to the trainer who generously said: “All credit to Jack Quinlan. Sir Note can be a bit keen if you try to hold him up, so we just let him make it. I thought he gave him a great ride”.
That would be the frequent type of private comment of the trainers of the 60 non-Ferguson winners he’s collected, 16 of them this season from just 103 rides. Only nine of the 54 individual horses he’s partnered this term emanate from outside his local area and friends of mine have long since said he needs to spread his sphere of activity further from his home base.
A connection has been established on a small scale with Robin Dickin, for whom he’s had a few mounts and rides work fairly regularly. Jack hopes that when the trainer’s horses have light weights to carry – he can do the minimum – he could be asked to deputise for stable jockey Charlie Poste, who prefers to operate at a few pounds heavier.
Still in his early 20’s, can Jack make it? Maybe, but as Fergie winds down, Jack still goes in there twice a week and will do so until the bitter end. “Just because I no longer ride the horses in races, no one can say I’m a quitter!”, he says. That’s the attitude that could get him higher up the scale - eventually.