DAVID PROBERT has always been a gifted young jockey of immense potential – it’s now 10 years since he was joint champion apprentice with William Buick after a thrilling duel.
Yet, while Buick is now one of the world’s elite riders and won last month’s Epsom Derby on Sheikh Mohammed’s Masar, Probert’s progress through racing’s ranks has been more measured.
However Probert is in the form of his life as he heads to York to ride the quietly fancied Brorocco in today’s 59th running of the John Smith’s Cup, the richest middle distance handicap in Britain.
Not only has Brorocco, trained by Andrew Balding, improved with every run this season, but Probert’s 52 rides in the past fortnight prior to racing yesterday had yielded 14 winners at a strike rate of 27 per cent.
And, with these winners including Lancashire Oaks success seven days ago on the Balding-trained Horseplay, the rider is understandably looking forward to today’s 10 furlong test which is worth £125,000 to the winner.
“He has a good chance,” Probert told The Yorkshire Post. “He’s been progressive and run well in various big handicaps. It was a big effort last time at Newmarket to give so much weight and still finish third.
“It’s a chance to win one of these big handicaps. I was second in it one year, but this is probably my best chance. He has been a bit hotheaded in the past, and can get a little bit worked up, but he’s grown up. He’s definitely maturing with age.”
The same can be said of the cherubic Probert who hails from Wales and grew up riding ponies and horses.
A stint at the British Racing School saw him assigned to the Balding’s Kingsclere stables – long regarded as the best academy for young jockeys in the country – and his light weight saw him win sufficient races to share the 2008 apprentice title with the aforementioned Buick who, by then, was already acclaimed as racing’s ‘boy wonder’.
Yet, while Buick’s career did take off, Probert accumulated the winners more conservatively as other young talents – like last weekend’s Eclipse-winning jockey Oisin Murphy – emerged at Kingsclere under the watchful eye of Balding and his much-respected father Ian who trained the racing legend Mill Reef.
Probert attributes his recent run of success to “a lot of hard work and a very good agent (Neil Alan)”.
“He’s doing a great job and I’m getting plenty of support off other trainers,” said Probert who was particularly pleased to win aboard Highland Acclaim at Epsom on Thursday night for North Yorkshire trainer David O’Meara.
“I’m not going racing for one or two rides. I’m going for five and six and it helps. The more rides I get, the more chances to win. We have got the ball rolling and hopefully it continues.
“William (Buick) was always a natural talent and deserves everything he gets. I’m not on a par with William, but I’m riding plenty of winners. The trainers are seeing that and giving me opportunities in the bigger races. My ultimate ambition is to win a Group One race.”
That motivation comes, in part, from the success enjoyed by Buick, his friend and rival, who partners Blue Point in today’s Group One feature – the Darley July Cup – at Newmarket.
Victorious on the horse in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, the horse steps up to six furlongs for an elite test on fast ground which could also suit former winner Limato from Henry Candy’s yard.
“He seems in good order. He is back up to six now, which he has already won over, so that is not going to be an issue.
“The fast ground will suit him,” said Buick.
“He was very effective over five last time and beat some really good five-furlong specialists in the King’s Stand, but I think the best part of the race was his last furlong so that would mean six is up his street. There are no concerns over the trip.
“He is a horse who has always deserved to win a Group One, as he has been knocking at the door, so it was nice to get one with him.”
Buick, who was a graduate of Northern Racing College before joining the Balding yard at the outset of his career, then flies to Longchamp to partner Derby second Dee Ex Bee in the Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris.
Trained by Middleham’s Mark Johnston, the colt is seeking Group One honours just a fortnight after finishing unplaced in the Irish Derby when expected to win.
“If he runs to the level of his Epsom run, he should win. We are very hopeful,” said the trainer’s son and assistant Charlie.