PAUL HANAGAN has experienced most eventualities in his 20-plus years as a professional Flat jockey.
The embodiment of Yorkshire racing, the two-time champion jockey has Classic and big race success on his CV.
Yet even he was taken aback by the success of Strawberyandcream at Catterick on Wednesday for trainer James Bethell.
So far behind their seven rivals, they were even out of TV shot turning for home before the race’s complexion changed.
It doesn’t really get the credit that it deserves. For me, it is one of the most under-rated tracks in the North.
“I was thinking about pulling her up – I was that far behind,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “I don’t think I have ridden a horse that far back and won like that – it was quite amazing.
“I would like to think any young jockey or apprentice watching will realise why you should never give up. Keep pushing. You just never know.
“She was slowly away. They went so quick that she couldn’t go any quicker and she didn’t handle the bend.
“I just had to sit and suffer. I just got off the bend and she flew home. Won it going away in the end.”
It is also why Hanagan is best qualified to assess the county’s eight Flat tracks as the annual Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival begins.
Not a favourite course, he admits, because the sheep – and other livestock – grazing on the Westwood are such a distraction, particularly for two-year-olds horses lacking experience. Races, he says, can be lost before the start. “When I won the Oaks on Taghrooda, keeping her cool before the race was key,” he adds. Weighing room facilities also need improving, he ventures.
“They tend to go very quick – but you’ve got to go with them,” says Hanagan. “That was the exception the other day. It is very hard to make up ground like that. You have to be able to handle the track as it is quite undulating.”
“I like Doncaster a lot,” declares the rider. It’s where he was crowned champion jockey in 2010 and 2011 after both title races went to the wire. But while he likes the “big galloping straight”, the round course is more challenging where the task is not to be stuck behind horses beginning to struggle as the race develops.
Hanagan’s face lights up. “One of my favourites because it takes a lot of knowing,” says the jockey. He’s referring to the punishing uphill climb before a relatively short straight which tests horses and riders as they tire.
“I just the love the stiff uphill straight because you can really ride a finish,” adds Hanagan before pointing out the importance of jockeys walking the Pontefract track to understand the topography.
“It doesn’t really get the credit that it deserves. For me, it is one of the most under-rated tracks in the North,” says Hanagan. Why? “Normally they do a very good job with the ground. The bend is pretty tight but you have a lovely long straight and there are not many hard luck stories.”
Probably the most undulating of Yorkshire’s tracks, says Hanagan. “If your horse struggles with the undulations, it is hard to get in a nice rhythm. It can be hard work.”
“A little bit like Catterick,” explains Hanagan, who is still integral to long-term mentor Malton trainer Richard Fahey’s operation. You have to be up with the speed – you can’t make up too much ground.”
“My favourite,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of luck there. The ground is nice, the bend is nice, the weighing room is nice – and they’re nice people.
“They really look after you and they come in and ask for your advice, as a jockey, about the ground. You won’t get that anywhere else.”
Yet the idiosyncrasies of each track – Hanagan is convinced the undulations have become greater in his 20 years as a professional – mean a jockey’s preparation is just as important as their horsemanship and racecraft.
However, a decade after he recorded his first century of winners, the father-of-two has never been happier as he heads to Newbury today to ride Royal Ascot runner-up Ventura Rebel in the big sprint for the aforementioned Fahey.
And he is content to put himself, and his family, first rather than subjecting himself to the physical and mental torture of a title challenge.
Still as good as ever in the saddle, he reveals: “I can safely say I’m enjoying it more now than any previous time in my career. I think I have proved myself to everyone. I am just enjoying it.
“I’m lucky to be riding plenty of winners for Richard but I am riding for a lot of trainers who I haven’t ridden for before. I’ve struck up a good relationship with Ian Williams. I’m riding a bit for Julie Camacho and I had a nice winner at York (Royal Intervention) for Ed Walker.
“I’ve also cut back on the riding out in the morning. I am 39 this year and with the amount of racing, and the traffic, it is one of the best things I have done. I get to see my kids and I’m more relaxed when I get to the races.
“I must admit it is so much better now. Like a lot of the other lads, I have been doing it a long time and it catches up with you after a while.
“There were days when getting up, and starting the car, was hard work because you had such a long day ahead.
“Now you’re more relaxed when you get to work – and begin to prepare for your races.”
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