David England: seen here riding at Exeter, heads to Sedgefield on Tuesday
PICTURE: Phil Mingo (racingpost.com/photos)
Jockeys hate to give up. It’s their job but it’s more than a job and when the good rides dry up and the poor ones are left many jockeys battle on. It’s what they want to do and there’s always hope; hope of a winner, of a good horse arriving, of a new connection with a yard, of better times to come.
Battling on often means a long drive for a single unfancied ride. It’s a long way from the south to Sedgefield but David England isn’t alone in making such a long journey for one ride. He partners chasing debutant Rock Of Leon for Dan Skelton in the novices’ chase (2.20) while, an hour later, Mark Grant rides Ciceron for Neil King.
There was a time when England’s name was often mentioned. In 2006-07 he’d almost certainly have been champion amateur jumps jockey but after reaching 22 winners he was injured and missed the rest of the season. He’d been on board Imperial Commander when the future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner won on his British debut in a bumper at Cheltenham and returned from injury to win a Grade 2 hurdle at Doncaster on Battlecry, both for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
England back in form
In 2008-09, as a conditional jockey, England’s seasonal total increased again, to 32. Since then, with injury playing its part, it has been a struggle. There have been fewer rides and fewer winners, double figures have eluded him and the once fruitful link with Twiston-Davies’s yard has ended.
In the last fortnight England has won twice at Sedgefield, on Nicki’s Nipper for Sam Drake and on Wellforth for Clare Ellam. Both were the jockey’s sole rides on those days. If Rock Of Leon is to continue England’s Sedgefield run, the five-year-old will need to rediscover his form and overcome another chase debutant, San Benedeto.
Grant came to Britain when his riding career in Ireland faltered. In 2003-04 he rode 27 winners and had 346 rides in Ireland, including Grade 3 successes on Inexorable for David Wachman and, later, a Grade 2 win on Cane Brake for the same trainer.
Here, Grant initially rode mainly for Andy Turnell but in an interrupted 2010-11 season he had a single winner from 89 rides. Two seasons later, supported largely by rides from Jim Old and Jo Hughes, Grant rode 14 winners but it has been a continuing struggle. Today, Ciceron is an unlikely candidate for success.
It barely pays
England and Grant are not alone. Six years ago Rhys Flint was champion conditional jockey with 42 winners and the backing of Philip Hobbs’s powerful stable, for whom he won two Grade 2 events on Fair Along. Yet in 2012 Flint announced that, with weight a problem, he intended to switch to training, initially helping at his father John Flint’s yard.
Before long he was riding again, now principally for Alexandra Dunn, for whom he has his sole ride today on Mystery Drama at Wincanton (4.10). It isn’t easy and unless they have other jobs, even at £161.51 a ride, it barely pays.
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