THE poignancy will be palpable later today if the ever-popular jump jockey Andrew Tinkler marks his very first ride in the USA by winning America’s Grand National on the rejuvenated Hunt Ball.
Not only would it be his first victory since the death of his grandfather Colin, the patriarch of a Yorkshire racing dynasty, but it would also be the biggest win to date in a resilient career now in its 15th season.
After every win, Tinkler cherished the congratulatory phone call from his biggest supporter and his voice quivers with emotion as he recalls their conversation exactly six months ago when the Malton-born rider partnered Call The Cops to an emphatic victory in the prestigious Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival.
“He was happy if you win a seller a Stratford,” Tinkler told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview.
“Imagine what he was like after Cheltenham. I will miss those conversations on the way home. He was always there.”
A noted bon viveur who was the inspiration behind racing syndicates through Full Circle Thoroughbreds, and whose wife Marie was a pioneering female jockey, Tinkler senior would have relished his grandson’s trip to Far Hills, New Jersey, for America’s premier jumps race.
This, after all, is a jockey who rode his very first victory a day after his 16th birthday in 2001, finished sixth in the 2004 Grand National at Aintree as a teenager and who has enjoyed the privilege of riding for illustrious owners like the Queen and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Yet, while Tinkler is part of a generation of riders whose opportunities were curtailed by the dominance of 20-time champion jockey AP McCoy, the 30-year-old has never lacked courage – or the ability to understand what makes horses tick.
Take Hunt Ball. This is a horse that caught the imagination of the racing public when winning seven out of nine handicap chases in the 2010-11 season, culminating with Cheltenham glory, before relations deteriorated between trainer Keiran Burke and colourful owner Anthony Knott – the latter, a Westcountry dairy owner, was later ‘warned off’ for three years for supplying inside information.
By then, the horse had been sold to a syndicate of American owners, Atlantic Equine, with the intention of Hunt Ball running in the USA on a regular basis. Yet, after four unmeritorious runs State-side in the latter part of 2013, the decision was taken to ship their charge back to the Lambourn stables of Nicky Henderson, who has been Tinkler’s principle trainer since he turned professional.
Horse and rider appear made for each other. Hunt Ball and Tinkler have safely completed the course on the three occasions that they have tackled Aintree’s fearsome fences – they were 17th to Pineau de Re in the 2014 Grand National – before the inspired decision was taken to revert this well-travelled 10-year-old back to smaller obstacles and take advantage of his eligibility for novice hurdles.
After back-to-back wins prior to a short sumemr break, Hunt Ball made it three on the bounce when defying top-weight to win a fixed brush hurdles races at Worcester last month and confirm his well-being ahead of today’s American adventure.
Unlike Aintree’s 40-runner cavalry charge, just nine horses will go to the post; the obstacles are comparable to Worcester’s hurdles than the spruce associated with Becher’s Brook and the distance – two miles and five furlongs – is considerably shorter than the heart-stopping four-and-a-half mile marathon on Merseyside every April.
Yet the $300,000 prize money, and Grade One status, are tantalising propositions for a rider still seeking his first career success at the very highest level.
“I couldn’t be happier with him,” said Tinkler. “His three races over hurdles couldn’t have worked out better. It wasn’t a pot-hunting exercise; it was a way of getting the horse’s confidence back. They were races that he was eligible to run in – he had gone chasing on just his third ever start – and you have to take your chance if you have a horse that is eligible. I cannot wait to get out there and experience the race. I need to make sure I take it all in and enjoy it.
“It’s a huge race in American racing and he has been acclimatising at Michael Dickinson’s yard. The race is strongly run, but he is pretty adaptable and I think it is a perfect trip – three miles stretches him to a point. He’s joint-favourite and the only concern is that he didn’t perform to his best on his previous trip to America. When the trip was being planned, I was hopeful of getting the ride – and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
It also helps that Tinkler is riding with confidence. He’s already ridden 16 winners this season, just five short of his total tally in a stop-start, injury-hit 2014-15 campaign, and he’s clearly prospering from riding Yorkshire-born and Cheltenham-based trainer Martin Keighley’s horses, while retaining his long-standing connections to the Henderson yard.
Tinkler’s self-evident energy and enthusiasm has also been ignited by a belated Cheltenham Festival success on the aforementioned Call The Cops. Eight years after Tinkler partnered Greenhope to glory at jump racing’s Olympics, this second triumph was long-overdue.
Quietly confident after partnering the gelding to victory at Doncaster in order to qualify for the Pertemps Final, his recollection of the race is vivid. “At the top of the hill, I just remember that this couldn’t be going any better and I was telling myself to ‘be patient’. ‘Be patient’, I kept saying,” he said.
“It’s a really long way from the back of the second last to the finish and I told myself that the top jockeys around Cheltenham – the likes of Ruby (Walsh), Choc (Thornton) and AP (McCoy) never rush and I just made sure our winning run halfway up the home straight counted.
“I did fancy Call The Cops quite strongly but didn’t want to tell anyone. You can go there with good rides and come nowhere or ride outsiders that run out of their skin to finish third, fourth or fifth. I crossed the line and Aidan Coleman came up to me and told me just to enjoy it. I can’t describe what it is like to be cheered back into the winner’s enclosure. You stand up in your stirrups and salute the crowd. These are the days that make it worthwhile and I’ve never heard my grandfather sound so happy on the telephone after the race.”
In the aftermath of the race, owners Matt and Lauren Morgan sold Call The Cops to top owner JP McManus whose green and gold colours were carried with such distinction by McCoy and it remains to be seen if Tinkler will keep the ride when the horse goes chasing. He’s ridden for McManus before and is sanguine: “If I never ride the horse again, you remember the good days and don’t cary about what’s next.”
Now the wrong side of 30, Andrew Tinkler is determined to make the most of every opportunity, starting with today’s American Grand National from where he hopes to be able to toast absent friends and prepare for the next phase of his career.
“There are three certainties in life,” he adds. “Death, taxes and the fact I won’t be riding for another 15 years.”
The Andrew Tinkler story ...
BORN IN Malton in May 1985, Andrew Tinkler hails from one of Yorkshire’s most famous racing families.
His grandfather Colin, who died recently in Malton Hospital aged 89, was a celebrated punter and tipster whose Aintree stalwart Monanore was third in the 1988 Grand National while Tinkler’s late grandmother Marie was a champion amateur rider.
Their two children Colin – Andrew’s father – and Nigel were both National Hunt riders before beginning training careers. And the jockey’s brother Nicky is steeped in Yorkshire point-to-point racing. “My grandfather was genuinely elated whenever I had a winner and was the first person on the phone after racing,” said Tinkler as he spoke eloquently about this special bond and a career which has yielded nearly 400 winners.
“I miss him deeply, His enthusiasm, his character, his wit. He was a real good egg. He was always ringing me and he never failed to cheer me up.
“He was just a really cool granddad and I have a lot to thank him for. I miss him, but he had a good innings and didn’t suffer too much.
“He was always there if I needed him. I’m fortunate in that I was never forced, or pushed, into anything. Horse racing was a big thing for me from very early on, but it was never forced on me.
“Between him, my dad Colin, my uncle Nigel and the rest of the family, I’ve had a fantastic upbringing. I’ve stayed in one piece, I want to better last season’s score numerically (21 winners) and keep the momentum going.”
His grandfather would be proud.