Clare Balding talks to TED DURCAN
Every month, I will be featuring a major star in the sport of horse racing for whom 2008 promises to bring great things. For our first issue, the man in question is flat jockey, Ted Durcan.
In Dubai, he is a household name. Champion jockey in the United Arab Emirates a record seven times, he rides winners at every meeting, is consistently on the good horses and is the darling of the large and vociferous crowd. Come back to the UK and he is just one of 180 jockeys plying their trade while trying to harness their strategy and mentality like a seasoned texas holdem player. Ted Durcan has been riding in this country for more than a decade but he is on the verge of becoming ‘an overnight sensation’.
For he is the man entrusted with the ride on the current favourite for the Vodafone Derby, Twice Over. The horse is trained by a man who embodies charm, eccentricity, fashion sense and an incredible ability to make sure his charges peak at exactly the right moment for the big races: Henry Cecil.
Cecil went off the radar for a few years until last season, when Durcan and he teamed up with a filly called Light Shift, who duly won the Oaks at Epsom. It was a case of “’ats off for ‘Enery” as the crowd raised the roof with three cheers for a man who used to win Classics as often as he would prune his roses (and for a gardening obsessive with a particular fancy for roses, that is often). The quiet, unassuming, hard working jockey got rather forgotten in the outpouring of emotion for the trainer whose story was somewhat more sensational.
Where Cecil had overcome two broken marriages, the departure of Sheikh Mohammed’s horses from his yard, the death of his beloved twin brother, a bout of cancer and a battle with the bottle, Ted had just won his first English Classic and that was all there was to it.
“It was Henry’s afternoon,” says Durcan, without a hint of bitterness, “and it was just a privilege to be a part of it. The public so wanted him to win it and the whole thing was amazing.
“The next morning, he was back focussed on what Light Shift’s plan was for the rest of the season and I could see exactly what he must have been like in the old days, when he had all those good horses.”
888888;”>Light Shift and Ted Durcan (white cap) winning The Vodafone Oaks 2007
The old days could be back again because Cecil and Durcan have plenty to be excited about. Twice Over is a colt just made for the big occasion.
“He’s very laid back in his work,” says his jockey, “He has a beautiful attitude and will go in behind anything in the yard, canter up to it and then look after himself. He is so relaxed but he’s exciting because he will always pull out a bit extra for you.
“When he won the Craven Stakes (one of the recognised Classic trials for 3-year-old colts) it was a strong run race from start to finish and I still think he saved a bit.”
After the Craven, Cecil announced that the horse was more suitable for the mile and a half of the Derby than the straight mile of the 2000 Guineas. Durcan is happy to leave those decisions to the man who knows and to Twice Over’s owner, Prince Khalid Abdulla.
“The Prince and Henry will run him wherever is best for the horse and I’ll be happy to ride him wherever,” he says with a laugh.
Ted Durcan is widely recognised as one of the nicest men in racing. Trainers respect him, owners trust him, other jockeys love him. He is always helpful, always smiling and always willing to talk, even though he has to concentrate harder on conversation than most of us because of a lifelong stammer. He has led an exciting life, based in Dubai for the winters for the last 11 years watching it grow and expand.
“As a city, it’s been amazing to watch it over the years become a business hub, with people flocking out there. Within another year, they will have sorted out the traffic problems and in another three years it will be even more impressive. I love it out there. It’s a great place to live and it’s been marvellous to be part of it from the beginning.”
Ted travels out with his wife, Sue, who also works in the Emirates during the winter.
“It’s been an extremely lucky and happy time there,” he explains, “I’ve done well and when you’re on good horses it means you’re riding winners and that does wonders for your confidence. I’ve been spoilt, really but it has taught me to ride more patiently and that has been good for me.
“When I come back to the UK, it’s back to reality. You just have to slot in and in the early years it was tough. You have to work your arse off because it you don’t, there are a hundred others who will. I’ve never been scared of hard work, so that’s OK.”
The hard work ethic was instilled in him during his formative years working for Irish trainer Jim Bolger (who trains the favourite for the 2000 Guineas, New Approach). During his time there, Durcan shared a house with the perennial champion jump jockey, AP McCoy. His modesty is extreme and, like McCoy, he sees only his shortcomings rather than his talent.
“I think people like me have to make a special effort to keep up,” he says in explanation of why he rides out for so many different trainers, “you have to make up for lack of ability, or whatever, by working hard. I never like to think that I’m happy with the stage I’m at. There is always room to do better.”
With an attitude like that, the 35-year-old is in no danger of complacency. He has an exciting year ahead and is full of optimism.
“I love April and May, because you are so full of hope. I love the autumn as well because you start planning for the following year. The bubbles are big and through the summer a few may get burst but I hope not!”
Ted Durcan’s Horses to Follow:
Twice Over – “He has the most wonderful attitude and is a very exciting horse. Wherever he runs I will be happy to ride him.”
Passage of Time – “She had a few hiccups last year but she’s flying now and Henry’s really happy with her. She will be in all the good mares’ races.”
Phoenix Tower – “He won the Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket and is still unbeaten. He’s a very sound horse and will do well.”
Walking Talking – “Keep your eye on him.”
Montbretia – “She looks above average.”