When we were in England last week, our old pal, Howard Wright, penned a piece on Ryan Moore, the world's most successful jockey in 2014. Moore had cobbled together a staggering 15 Group One victories for eight different trainers in seven different countries on four different continents. It reminded me a little of our new stallion barn encumbant, Linngari, who makes his Stallion Day debut at Summerhill on Sunday 5th July. Linngari was the original globe-trotting racehorse, racking up eight Black type performances in seven different countries on four different continents: sounds like he and Moore had one thing in common: Voyager miles.
Yet for all his achievements, somehow Moore was lacking the celebrity status of a Frankie Dettori or a Gary Stevens. Until this week, that is. By the conclusion of the Royal Ascot Festival, he had compiled a post-war record of 9 individual victories, eclipsing even the formidable likes of Lester Piggot, Detorri himself, Pat Eddery and Johnny Murtagh, and prompting his new employers, Coolmore, to proclaim the reluctant star the best they've ever had. They should know: Piggott, Eddery, Murtagh, they've all worn the Coolmore silks, so it's little wonder that an author of Howard Wright's pre-eminence should've singled him out in an era so heavily populated with top riders.
"The headline slips easily onto the page whenever Ryan Moore achieves what he does best, which is riding winners. Yet the phrase hides a certain irony, for all of the words to describe Moore's personality, "merry" would be a long way from the top of the list. Dedicated, level-headed, professional, determined, perfectionist, ice-cool, even genius, yes; but happy-go-lucky, never.
The reluctance of the three-time British champion jockey, an avid Arsenal supporter who once harboured ambitions to become a footballer, to be regarded as a public figure is well founded. He is not on Twitter or Facebook, although a Twitter account set up in the name of @RyanMooreFans has gathered 1,183 followers, and there is a Facebook entry under the title Ryan Moore (jockey), but it contains the disclaimer "This page is automatically generated based on what users are interested in and is not affiliated with or endorsed by anyone associated with the topic".
Indeed, the Facebook page has been culled from Wikipedia's online entry for Moore, which itself contains just two and a half lines of biography, almost one and a half lines of which are devoted to detailing his father and siblings. The remainder comprises statistics, rounded off by one website reference and two external links -none of which work.
In an age when internet devices and round-the-clock news services have opened ever increasing channels of communications between fans and personalities, Moore's reticience to dance on the public stage has sometimes resulted in an uneasy relationship with the British media, not to mention with those marketing people whose job is to drive horseracing towards a bigger, newer audience. Moore is aware of the criticism, and has his own answer: "It's been said that I should probably spend more time in the media or promotion of the sport, but I can only focus on my own area, and that is in being as good as I can. It's probably a bit selfish really, but you have to be selfish in racing, and in most sports."
Selfish need not extend to being self-centered, though. Moore, 31, a non-smoking teetotaler, has a strong sense of family values, having been born in Brighton, West Sussex, into a racing family that worked its way up from the bottom. Grandfather Charlie, a former car salesman who got into racing by accident, was succeeded as a trainer by Moore's father Gary, now 58, a one-time jump jockey who with his wife Jayne has raised four children- Ryan, Jamie, 30, Hayley, 27, and Josh 23 - to work in the family stables, ride in races and develop to the full the maxim that hard work never hurt anyone.
Pride in individual achievements is shared, and for all Ryan's worldwide success in 2014, nothing would have given him greater pleasure than being on hand to greet Sire De Grugy - trained by Gary and ridden by Jamie - after his win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
A new generation of family values has been established at Moore's home near Newmarket, where he happily retreats into the privacy afforded to his wife Michelle and their two young children. They were uppermost in his mind when he faced the local media after winning the Melbourne Cup on Protectionist in early-November, when he explained: "I've got to thank Michelle at home, because I've been away a lot. You need to win these races for it to be worthwhile". Then in Hong Kong, as he continued a three-month spell that also involved riding in the United States and Japan, he added: "I have done this sort of travelling around the world for the last few years, and the hardest part is being away from the kids and the family. Unfortunately, you can't ride forever and you won't always get asked, so you need to make the most of these opportunities. The most important thing to me is riding good horses, and at the moment I'm being asked to ride them".
Two inescapable encounters with press and broadcasters, and two perfect examples which prove that Moore's public persona is not permanently carved out of stone. Yes, he does not suffer fools at all, never mind gladly, but yes too, he can be engaging, fascinating, even humorous company. One-on-one, his insight is absorbing, yet in Australia and Hong Kong he captivated mass audiences.
Winning his first Melbourne Cup, so soon after giving the Aidan O' Brien-trained Adelaide a superb ride to win the Cox Plate from a seemingly impossible draw, Moore also won over large swathes of the Australian racing media, who naturally harbour suspicion of the British 'invaders' and remembered their criticism of Moore's previous attempts in the race that stops a nation, when they thought he should have done better than finish fifth on both Mount Athos and Dandino.
Moore's delight as he returned to the winner's circle on Protectionist was obvious, and he followed an interview from the public podium with a lengthy session of being quizzed by inquiring press and broadcasters. A month later in Hong Kong, Moore returned to the theme of Australia, saying: "This year I was lucky, as I had two very good horses to ride. I got a bit of stick for my two previous Melbourne Cup rides. They were far from perfect rides, but I don't think either would have won. Their records would probably bear that out". No recriminations, no histrionics, and definitely no sense of "I'm right, you're wrong." Just a man at the top of his game, who has studied all the angles, putting across his point of view.
Although Moore might have preferred to slip away quietly, he was speaking as he fulfilled his obligations after receiving the inaugural Longines World's Best Jockey award, a points-based creation that covers the top 100 races as rated by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities over a 12-month period. When the award was first announced last year, Ireland's Joseph O'Brien was the joint leader with France's leading jockey Christophe Soumillon, and Moore only third. However, by race 99, Moore was assured of the title, by virtue of his 15 Group or Grade 1 winners in the qualifying year, achieved for eight different trainers in seven countries - Australia, Canada, Britain, UAE, France, Ireland and the U.S. - covering four continents.
They included one of the finest rides of 2014 anywhere in the world, in which Moore, riding his French Derby winner The Grey Gatsby, totally outfoxed O'Brien on the Epsom Derby winner Australia to win the Irish Champions Stakes by a neck. Far from being O'Brien's finest hour, as he gave his free-running mount no cover, it was definitely one of Moore's, as he built up momentum from the final turn to extract every last ounce from his willing partner.
Moore actually rode his first winner over hurdles in one of the greatest trivia races the sport will ever produce. His jump racing career was short, one race on 5-2 favourite Mersey Beat for father Gary in an amateur rider's handicap hurdle at Towcester in May 2000 - one winner. Three weeks later, his first ride on the Flat was also a winner, on No Extras, also for his father, in a 27 runner, Class 5 amateur riders' handicap at Newmarket. No-one who was at Towcester or Newmarket on those days could have imagined they were watching the start of such a glittering riding career.
By the end of 2002 Moore had racked up 39 winners from 386 rides. His apprentice allowance attracted particular attention from trainers with fancied horses in big-race handicaps, and his autumn success on Miss Fara in the Cesarewitch for Martin Pipe drew the contemporaneous comment from the Racing Post analyst: "He's already as good as many full professionals."
That much was obvious to others within the sport in Britain. Former jockey Dale Gibson recalls "I was in Hong Kong with some breeze-up horses, and Ryan's natural talent was clear when he was riding work at Sha Tin. He was still an amateur, but I remember saying at the time that if he didn't turn professional and do well, we were all doomed."
The last word goes to Sir Michael Stoute, who took Moore on as his retained jockey on completion of his apprenticeship with Hannon : "I don't think there's anyone better in the world."
Editor's note: On Saturday, Moore showed he was human after all by drawing a blank on the final day of Royal Ascot. But he had already beaten the previous post-war record of eight winners held jointly by Piggott (1965 and 1975) and Pat Eddery (1989). Moore sometimes gives the impression that he can’t really fathom what all the fuss is about but there is no doubt what the consensus is.
Piggott, 79, said: “Ryan Moore is a brilliant jockey, anyone can see that.” On Friday, after he broke the record on Aloft in the Queen’s Vase, the jockey was more concerned about getting to Newmarket on time to ride an unraced two-year-old than talking about his record haul.
He never looks totally comfortable when a microphone is thrust into his face but although he might be a man of few words, when he does talk, everybody tends to sit up and listen.
McCoy, the record-breaking 20-times champion Jumps jockey, said: “At his age, Ryan Moore is the best jockey in the world. That is not me saying that, statistics will tell you that Ryan Moore is the best jockey in the world and he is getting better.”
At Ascot Moore was backed by the equine artillery of Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle team. The wily trainer named Moore as first-choice rider this season and he supplied five of his winners this week. O’Brien knows he is lucky: “He’s a great rider and a great fella.”
Moore even outshone Frankie Dettori this week despite the Italian riding his 50th Royal Ascot winner. But Dettori did continue his own purple patch by steering Undrafted to victory in yesterday’s Group One Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Pat Smullen also drew plaudits with a brilliant front-running ride on Snow Sky in the Hardwicke Stakes. Ironically, he was a horse Moore could have ridden but he chose the disappointing Telescope – about the only thing he got wrong all week.
Excerpt from The Gallop Magazine
Moore captures the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot aboard Await The Dawn (p)