IF RIDGE Ranger wins the Qatar Stewards Cup, the final day highlight of Glorious Goodwood, the long journey home will be a particularly sweet one for big race jockey Jason Hart.
The 21-year-old is epitome of that unique breed of jockeys, Flat or National Hunt, who will literally travel the length and breadth of the country to pursue the sport that is their life.
Runner-up aboard the favourite London Grammar in yesterday’s opener at Thirsk, the Malton-based horseman drove to his native Scotland for two rides at Musselburgh last night before beginning the long trip to the Sussex Downs for today’s six-furlong cavalry charge, one of the moot competitive races of the year.
Yet Hart travels to Goodwood safe in the knowledge that Ridge Ranger, the joint top-weight, is one of the classiest of the 28 declared runners on the back of the filly’s Group Three success in York’s 188Bet Summer Stakes earlier this month.
“I’m looking forward to it,” the jockey told The Yorkshire Post.
“She goes there with a big chance.
“It won’t be easy, but we’ve got a good draw in stall two.
“She won there last year over five furlongs when Neil Farley rode her and she was drawn two that day.
“Hopefully it is a good omen.
“Fingers crossed, she’s a Group winner running in a handicap and should be there, or thereabouts, if she repeats her York form.
“She’s a smooth traveller and you can ride her how you like. She doesn’t have to make the running or come from behind.
“The fact she’s already won at Goodwood, and handled its undulations, is another plus. Fingers crossed.”
To many, it was a slight surprise that Ridge Ranger’s impressive win on the Knavesmire was the first Group success in the career of Hart who has been a stalwart of Yorkshire racing for a number of years.
Yet appearances can be deceptive – Hart has the proverbial old head on young shoulders and continues to make stealthy progress after becoming, just three years ago, the latest in a long and distinguished list of Yorkshire-based Flat riders to be crowned champion apprentice.
Though he does not have one flagship stable behind him, he’s particularly close to Ridge Ranger’s trainer Eric Alston who is based near Preston.
It is a relationship which continues to flourish.
“He gave me rides when I was claiming seven pounds and was very loyal to me,” explained Hart with refreshing maturity and characteristic candour.
“There has to be loyalty somewhere.”
The jockey is only now back in the groove after suffering a heavy fall at June last year which left him on the sidelines for eight months following knee reconstruction surgery.
A frustrating time, perspective came when his great friend Connor Beasley suffered life-threatening injuries in a horrific pile-up on the all-weather with the hobbling Hart among those to maintain a bedside vigil.
Hart was proud to be an usher at his friend and rival’s wedding last winter – and both jockeys credit Jack Berry House, the Injured Jockeys Fund centre in Malton, for accelerating their respective recoveries.
“The knee is good. When you’re riding everywhere, you don’t have time to think about it,” added Hart.
However, Ridge Ranger will have to beat a strong Yorkshire contingent headed up by Orion’s Bow who is seeking a sixth successive win for Thirsk trainer Dandy Nicholls and his wife Alex Greaves.
The couple are no stranger to victory in this race – they have the Stewards Cup on three previous occasions and are triple-handed today.
“I’m not sure where his improvement has come from, we didn’t geld him until late on last season and maybe it took him a while to get over that,” said Greaves. “Of course, the other side of the argument is what were we doing wrong last year!
“Barry McHugh, who’s been riding him, thinks he’s a Group horse.”
Orion’s Bow will start from stall 12 with Kimberella (21) and Blaine (16) also representing Nicholls, who was keen to have middle draws for his contenders.
His father-in-law Ernie Greaves picked out the stalls at the draw and said: “The trainer wanted between 10 and 19 if possible – those were my instructions.
“Nobody knows the best draw and a lot of people have been coming towards the stands’ rail even though they have been told it is not the best place to be.
“Who is to know? I tried to keep our three apart, rather than them all being next to each other.
“The horses from the yard are in brilliant form and all three of our Stewards’ Cup horses are fancied.”