PADDY Aspell heads a posse of journeymen jockeys who hope to exploit the absence of big-race names by securing a breakthrough victory in today’s re-arranged William Hill Lincoln at Doncaster.
Two years after the North Yorkshire rider made the switch to the Flat after successfully negotiating the John Smith’s Grand National course on Chief Dan George, Richmond-based Aspell is still looking for a landmark win on the level.
The 31-year-old only comes in for the ride on Muffin McLeay, trained near Thirsk by David Barron, because the Lincoln meeting – postponed seven days ago because of snow – clashes with the prestigious Dubai World Cup as well as competitive domestic meetings at both Musselburgh and Kempton.
Yet, after accruing a hard-earned 16 victories last season, Aspell says opportunity knocks as he lines up in the £100,000 Lincoln for the first time.
“My horse, he’s pretty fit and he won at Ripon last summer. He’s probably at a mark in the handicap where it will take a career-best performance to win,” the jockey told the Yorkshire Post.
“Quality-wise, he may be struggling, but the going is going to be very testing and that may just find out some of the younger unexposed four-year-olds. It may not be the best horse that wins, but the gutsiest.”
Muffin McLeay’s trainer knows what it takes to win the Lincoln; Barron won the 1991 renewal with Amenable and wants to see if today’s runner has the speed for a mile after excelling over longer trip.
“He’s fit and well. It’s just whether he’s quick enough at a mile. That’s the thing we’ll find out,” said the trainer.
As for Aspell, whose finest hours in the saddle came when partnering the aforementioned Chief Dan George to success at Doncaster, and then at the Cheltenham Festival, in 2010, he remains one of the unsung heroes of the weighing room battling to eke out a living from the sport.
Though he had around 300 mounts last season, his transition from the jumping game to the Flat has not been as prolific as the success enjoyed by Bedale’s 2004 Grand National-winning jockey Graham Lee, who partners the well-fancied York winner Chapter Seven in today’s feature.
“I have missed the jumping game and nearly took out my licence again,” explained Aspell, who has been riding out for Thirsk’s Geoff Harker and also Melsonby trainer Alan Swinbank.
“I got quite heavy and there weren’t many all-weather rides, especially with Southwell closed for so long this winter. I’m glad I didn’t. It just makes my agent’s job even more difficult when trainers ask if I’m a Flat or NH jockey.
“It’s going to be slow for a bit, especially with all the riders just coming back from a winter in Dubai, but I’m hopeful it will pick up in May when we start having meetings in the afternoon and at night. Winning the Lincoln will help.”
As today’s race matters so much, Aspell will be sweating down to 8st 9lb to give his mount every possible chance.
This is an exception – he believes 8st 10lb will give him the best possible chance of achieving success on his rides this summer. “It’s not just me, there are many, many riders viewing the season this way,” he adds.
Charlie Hills believes he has an excellent chance of upholding family honour when he saddles Captain Bertie in the big race.
Forty-five years after his father, Barry, landed a colossal punt in the Lincoln with Frankincense, Captain Bertie is the new market leader and will be ridden by William Carson, the grandson of the former champion jockey.
“The ground shouldn’t be too much of a problem and the draw (stall seven) looks good,” said Hills junior with a noteworthy hint of confidence in his voice. “There are fancied horses around him and there is plenty of pace, so we can’t complain about that. We know our horse goes well fresh and his work has been good. It’s not an easy race to win, but I don’t think there’ll be any excuses for our horse.”
Captain Bertie’s main market rivals are the Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned and John Gosden-trained pair of Lahaag and Eshtibaak.
With twice St Leger-winning rider William Buick and former champion jockey Paul Hanagan in Dubai, the unheralded Robert Havlin and Dane O’Neill have significant spare rides.
“I think we all know Eshtibaak probably wants a bit further, but I would imagine the ground is going to be soft and that should play to his strengths,” said the owner’s racing manager, Angus Gold. “Lahaag was a nice, progressive horse last year and we have to hope he can continue going the right way.”
Asked which he thought had the best chance, Gold said: “Paul chose Eshtibaak last week and I’m not going to argue as he knows far more about the horses than me.”
Malton trainer Richard Fahey saddles Majestic Myles, Justonefortheroad and last year’s winner Brae Hill, who bids to join an exclusive club under Tony Hamilton.
Only Ob (1906 and 1907) and Babur (1957 and 1958) have won successive renewals of this season-opening cavalry charge, but Fahey is upbeat. “He is in great order and it was a little frustrating the Lincoln was off last week. He’s vulnerable to potential improvers off his mark, but I couldn’t be happier with him,” he said.
Conversely, Declan Carroll, who trains at Sledmere near Driffield, feels the extra week has been beneficial to Swiftly Done’s prospects.
“We’ve managed to get another bit of work in him, so the extra week might actually have helped us,” said the trainer, who has booked promising seven-pound claimer Luke Leadbitter for the riding duties.
Like Paddy Aspell and countless others, it is an opportunity that he intends to grab.