IF novice steeplechaser O O Seven prevails at Doncaster today, it will be more than mission accomplished for jockey Andrew Tinkler.
Not only will it be a Grade Two triumph for top trainer Nicky Henderson’s highly-regarded horse, but it will be the Yorkshire-born rider’s fifth win in the past fortnight.
And this is more significant than ever.
Now riding as a freelance after spending almost half of his adult life riding as a professional jockey, it is important to seize such opportunities.
Though Tinkler has won four previous races on the six-year-old who is stepping up in trip to three miles, it was Henderson’s first jockey Nico de Boinville who was in the saddle for O O Seven’s successful chasing debut at Cheltenham last month before the rider was badly injured 24 hours later.
Yet, after riding his first winner a day after his 16th birthday in May 2001 and enjoying a long association with Henderson, Tinkler also rides out for the likes of Jonjo O’Neill, Martin Keighley and Warren Greatrex.
The reason is this – competition is now so intense for rides that time stands still for no one in racing. And Malton-born Tinkler, for one, is relishing the challenge after a week bookmarked by winners for the aforementioned Henderson at both Wetherby seven days ago and Doncaster yesterday.
“Nico is at Nicky’s – he’s a Gold Cup and Champion-chase winning jockey. JP McManus retains Barry Geraghty while Daryl Jacob rides all of Simon Munir’s horses. It doesn’t close doors at Nicky’s but opens them elsewhere,” Tinkler told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s changed since I started. Then there were three, four or five trainers who could be champion. Now there are a lot of very good young trainers. There are no easy winners any more. There are a lot of good young jockeys too who are not getting the rides they would have done a few years ago.
“AP (McCoy) raised the bar a huge amount. It’s competitive. It’s healthy. There’s no room for sloppiness or laziness. It’s healthy for everyone. It’s a competitive sport, but it’s also a business – horses are costing more, jockeys are more professional. If you get a chance to shine on a really good horse, it’s important to take advantage of it.”
Tinkler says he spends “a lot of time juggling” making sure he’s riding out at yards on their busiest mornings and then working out which rides are likely to yield the best results – whether it be wins in the short-term or greater opportunities in the longer-term because of contacts forged with new connections.
A two-time Cheltenham Festival-winning rider thanks to victories on Greenhope (2006) and Call The Cops (2015), he has always regarded O O Seven as a steeplechaser in the making and believes the bet365 December Novices’ Chase will provide a good yardstick because his three rivals all hold solid claims of their own.
“He’s a good ride to get,” added Tinkler. “You do get some false races if there’s one odds-on favourite but having some strong competition, and a small field, is a help because you get a much more honest race. It will be a proper test and so it should be for the prize money and the fact it is a Grade Two on Channel Four. When he was jumping hurdles, this was always the plan and his jumping, touch wood, has been very professional.”
In a foretaste of things to come, Classic-winning Flat rider Joseph O’Brien, now a trainer in Ireland, saddles Lord Justice and Zig Zag in the concluding juvenile hurdle. If the 23-year-old’s forays to Britain are to become more frequent – as looks inevitable with the quality of young horses at his disposal – the task facing the likes of Andrew Tinkler will be just that much harder. Yet’s he’s more than up for the challenge.