WHAT A difference a year makes. Twelve months ago aspiring rider Adam McNamara was just an interested spectator on the Knavesmire when Heartbreak City won at the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival.
Now this rapidly improving apprentice jockey, one of the riding discoveries of 2016, is preparing to partner the quietly-fancied Irish raider in today’s Betfred Ebor, a historic handicap which dates back to 1843. This meteoric rise is even more remarkable because the 19-year-old, one of a clutch of promising young jockeys attached to Richard Fahey’s in-form Malton stable, only rode his first winner in January when Summerinthecity prevailed on the Chelmsford all-weather.
Yet, with 31 wins to his name from just 251 rides, the unassuming McNamara was the obvious ‘go-to’ jockey when Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Tony Martin sought an apprentice who could take a vital five pounds off Heartbreak City’ following the horse’s win in York’s Fine Equinity Stakes last August.
“It just came up on racing ‘decs’ – that was the first I knew,” the County limerick-born jockey told The Yorkshire Post.
“I’m not sure how it came about – I assume Mr Martin was looking for a 5lb claimer and I happened to be available. The horse should have a chance on his previous form and will be in good shape.
“He likes to be covered up and produced late. He’s won round York before – Franny Norton rode him last year, dropped him out and came with a late run. I’ve had a quick word with Franny and I’ll be doing the same.”
It had been expected that Ivan Grozny, trained by Ireland’s champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins, would be the one to beat following the well-backed horse’s eyecatching victory at last month’s Galway Festival.
However yesterday’s withdrawal of the lame Ivan Grozny means Heartbreak City, winner of the Guinness Handicap Hurdle at Galway for the aptly-named Here For The Craic Partnership, could be the Emerald Isle’s best hope in this 20-runner race over a mile and three-quarters.
As for McNamara, he set his heart on a career in racing when he started riding point-to-pointers for trainer John Gleeson about six years ago.
A summer’s work experience at the Musley Bank yard of the aforementioned Fahey fired his determination still further before a stint working for the multiple Classic-winning jockey Johnny Murtagh who was one of the best horsemen of his generation before retiring from the saddle to become a trainer on the Curragh.
Yet McNamara was acutely aware that he would have to move to Britain to secure sufficient opportunities and he had only just arrived in Ryedale when Heartbreak City won last year.
After Summerinthecity’s win, just his second ride for Fahey, McNamara caught the eye when the gallant Mayfair City prevailed at York’s Dante meeting in May. The teenager’s first win on the Knavesmire, he’s now pinching himself that he’s riding in the Ebor.
“The Ebor is one of the races any Flat jockey wants to win,” he says.
“When Mayfair Lady won, it was a fantastic feeling. It was York and she has wonderful owners (the Steel family) who are lovely people and care about their horses. To win for Mr Fahey at York made it even more special.
“He’s good at his job because he keeps everything very simple. He never complicates things. There’s a nice routine. I’m fortunate I live on the yard with a good bunch of lads. They are all brilliant.
“You obviously look up to Ryan Moore because of his big race wins around the world, but I’m trying to learn off Dave Nolan and George Chaloner who I ride with every day. I don’t think they get sufficient respect.
“From my point of view, I just want to be the best rider I can. I want to keep improving and make sure I am a better rider at the end of this year than at the start, and then the same next year and so on.”
As for heartbreak City’s rivals, Charlie Appleby’s Antiquarium aims to emulate Sergeant Cecil by winning the Northumberland Plate and Betfred Ebor in the same season.
The four-year-old Antiquarium stayed on with real purpose to win the ‘Pitmen’s Derby’ at Newcastle, running down Malton trainer Brian Ellison’s Seamour whose Ebor hopes may have been scuppered by an unfavourable wide draw.
The Kiwi-born James McDonald rode Antiquarium at Newcastle, but Godolphin’s retained rider William Buick will be aboard the favourite today.
“Antiquarium turns up in good order. The ground shouldn’t be a problem to him. There’s a bit of rain on the way as well,” said Appleby who also runs Doncaster winner Oceanographer.
As well as the aforementioned Seamour, Yorkshire hopes are also represented by David O’Meara’s Tawdeea and Mark Johnston’s Oriental Fox – proof that it’s some achievement by Adam McNamara to be considered good enoguh to ride in such a prestigious race so early into his career.