Sammy-Jo Bell is thrilled to have been given an unexpected call-up for the Dubai Duty Free Shergar Cup and plans to grasp the opportunity with both hands.
Widely regarded as one of the weighing room’s rising stars, Bell was born and raised in County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, the birthplace of recently-retired 20-times champion jumps jockey Tony McCoy.
And, also like McCoy, the young jockey enjoyed a spell with master tutor Jim Bolger during her youth, before riding as an apprentice for Kevin Prendergast.
She now plies her trade mainly out of Richard Fahey’s Musley Bank yard near Malton in North Yorkshire, having ridden 10 winners in her homeland.
“I’ve basically rode horses all my life. My mum rode in a few point-to-points and I was brought up with horses,” said Bell.
“I had some show jumpers and eventers and rode out some of the point-to-pointers, so I got the bug from there.
“I was with Mr Prendergast on the Curragh for three and a half years and it was a brilliant experience.
“He basically taught me everything I know about racing and gave me the majority of my winners over there.”
While her first few of seasons were not bereft of promise, reaching double figures in the two years combined, she has enjoyed a steep upward trajectory this term and heads for Berkshire already on the 22-winner mark for 2015.
Bell’s inclusion in the ‘Girls’ team is, of course, down to the misfortune of a colleague.
Cathy Gannon was due to to take part in her second Shergar Cup alongside Hayley Turner and Canadian rider Emma-Jayne Wilson before injury intervened. Her withdrawal means Bell will become the first apprentice to take part in the popular event.
She said: “I’m really excited about it. I feel gutted for Cathy as she’s such a nice person and has always been very helpful to me when I’ve met her on a racecourse, but obviously it’s a great opportunity for me and I’m really looking forward to it.
“Hayley is great. I haven’t met Emma-Jayne Wilson yet, but I’m sure she’ll be good to get along with as well. Things have been going great this year. After riding 10 winners in Ireland and 10 in my first two years over here, to ride 22 already this year is more than I could have hoped for.
“I’ve been getting plenty rides and it’s great the boss has given me so many chances.
“I never dreamt I’d be riding in a Shergar Cup and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”
Bell was on board Spirit Of The Law when he missed out by just half a length at Newmarket recently, and though the jockey is engaged at Ascot, the six-year-old returns to HQ in a bid to go one better in the racebets.com Handicap.
Given the narrow margin of defeat, a 2lb rise for that effort looks very fair and with Richard Fahey providing Patrick Mathers with a winner on their last visit to Newmarket, he has to be considered in an open heat.
Arguably the best bet of the day comes at Haydock, though, as Master Of Finance bids to gain reward for some fine efforts in defeat in the Betfred Goals Galore Handicap.
Middleham trainer Mark Johnston must have been finding life frustrating with the four-year-old, as he produced game efforts at York, Epsom and Chester, before struggling in the John Smith’s Cup back on the Knavesmire.
He soon bounced back to form with a fine effort from the front at Ascot, rallying bravely once headed on soft ground that day, and if Silvestre De Sousa can get the fractions right from the front on this sharper track, he could take some stopping.