JUMP jockey Dougie Costello could not be more matter of fact as he prepares to line up on the Flat in Ripon’s most prestigious race of the year today: “It’s still a green field with a white rail and some horses,” he says.
While Costello is right, the six-furlong William Hill Great St Wilfrid – a contest that will be competed in just over a minute – could not be in greater contrast to the steeplechase and hurdle races that have been the North Yorkshire rider’s bread and butter.
It is testament to the 33-year-old’s determination to make a name for himself under both codes of racing that he is being entrusted with more rides on the Flat, most notably the Paul Midgley-trained Another Wise Kid, which is looking to bounce back at Ripon following a disappointing run in the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood.
Forty rides on the Flat this summer have already yielded six winners at an impressive strike-rate of 15 per cent and Costello’s alliance with up-and-coming Lambourn trainer Jo Hughes has seen him make regular sorties across the English Channel to ride in France.
“I don’t see it as any different to riding in a selling hurdle race at Sedgefield,” says the likable jockey whose finest hour in the saddle came when he won the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival aboard Countrywide Flame for Malton trainer John Quinn.
“Coming from a hunting background in Ireland – my uncle was a huntsman – I was always brought up with hunters and store horses.
“As a young lad, I thought Flat jockeys were soft. That was what my uncle taught me – and what I thought – until I knew better. Yet, when kids ride their bones, it’s because of two things – they love speed and they love horses.”
Costello’s appreciation for Flat riders changed when he had a stint in America in his late teens – he learned about the importance of riding horses to split-second timings on the gallops.
Nevertheless he only started riding on the Flat relatively recently when he started losing weight as a result of heavy falls sustained in the National Hunt sphere. He believes his experience at the Quinn stable, the country’s pre-eminent dual-purpose yard, has been instrumental in his success.
However, while the 2004 Grand National-winning rider Graham Lee has made the switch on a permanent basis, a decision vindicated by his victorious ride on Trip To Paris in this summer’s blue riband Ascot Gold Cup, Costello is still keen to keep his options open.
He accepts, with a young family to support, that it might be short-sighted to start turning down a significant number of rides on the Flat if there proves to be a dearth of opportunities over the jumps.
“We’ll see. Jumping is quiet at this time of the year so I am going with the flow,” says Costello, who lives with his young family in Ryedale.
“I’m going to the races weighing roughly nine stone and can sweat out two or three pounds.
“I won’t be as light as Graham (Lee), but it is working out. I’m also a freelance jockey so I’m going to have to have a look at the maths.
“The one difference between the Flat and the jumps is that it’s like getting out of a classy Ferrari and riding a clapped out BMW.
“Flat jockey, jump jockey, you’re still riding horses with four legs and a tail. And you want to win as much as the next guy.”
As for Another Wise Kid, the aforementioned Midgley is hopeful that this runner can show the form that saw him finish sixth in the corresponding race 12 months ago.
“I was disappointed down at Goodwood. For whatever reason I do not know, he was beat after a couple of furlongs,” says the trainer. “Other than that he’s very consistent and he’s very genuine.
“He wasn’t beaten far in the race last year and I think he got held up in the race, if I remember rightly. He likes Ripon and the ground all comes the same. He seems in good form.”
However, Michael Dods fears that the draw could have put paid to the chances of Spinatrix who has finished second in the last two renewals, but admits a big draw may not be ideal.
Spinatrix and stablemate Mass Rally are towards the stands’ side in stalls 18 and 15 respectively and Dods would have preferred Spinatrix to have been drawn low like Another Wise Kid. “When the ground’s soft, it favours the far side, but we know that’s where we’re at – we’re drawn on the stands rail and we’ll make the best of it,” he sasaysid.
Meanwhile in-form Richard Fahey’s three-pronged attack is led by Don’t Touch, who defends a 100 per cent record, having notched a hat-trick at Newcastle, Haydock and Wolverhampton. “He’s quite a nice horse. We do like him a lot,” says the Musley Bank trainer.