AIDAN Coleman has been one of the most exciting young talents in horse racing since jumping into the public’s consciousness when winning the prestigious Red Rum Handicap Chase aboard the doughty Stan at Aintree five years ago as a fresh-faced teenager.
Now, after a burgeoning career that has seen more ups and downs at the in-form yard of Venetia Williams, Coleman is riding on the crest of a wave after a record-breaking season which has seen his initial raw promise converted into accomplished horsemanship of the highest order.
His 73rd winner this season, a new career-best, came at Catterick 10 days ago aboard Shangani and it would be not be the greatest of surprises if Summery Justice added to the jockey’s big-race tally in today’s feature Racing Plus Chase at Kempton.
Lightly-weighted in a three-mile handicap chase which will be run on testing ground, they are conditions in which Coleman and Williams traditionally excel, even though the lightly-raced Summery Justice is their second string after they opted to head straight to next month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup with their exciting prospect Katenko.
The challenge is still a formidable one with the market headed by David Bridgwater’s well-handicapped Wyck Hill, who beat Katenko at Ascot last December, a performance that prompted today’s ante-post favourite to be purchased earlier in the week by legendary owner JP McManus.
The field also includes the veteran grey Nacarat, a former winner of Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase who is seeking his third victory in this race following his brilliant front-running success 12 months ago under Paddy Brennan.
“I’m looking forward to it. Summery Justice is not the horse I thought I was going to ride, but I think he has a good chance,” County Cork-born Coleman told the Yorkshire Post.
“He’s been very hard to train and doesn’t get to the track very often, hence why he’s only got 10 stone. Sandown at the beginning of the month, when he was third, was only his first run of the season and he should come along for the run.
“He’s only had 11 races and one of his wins was at Kempton. That’s another plus. So is the fact that he hasn’t many miles on the clock.
“Wyck Hill is the horse to beat. That JP has bought him says a lot about the reputation of the horse – the owners would have thought very carefully about selling a horse that is in the Grand National reckoning and beat Katenko earlier on.
“The decision with Katenko was a simple one: Venetia and the owners were keen for the horse not to have a hard race three weeks before the Gold Cup because we think he has an excellent chance of being placed.
“He needs to improve, and the Hennessy winner Bobs Worth is a worthy favourite for a race that will see improving types taking on former winners in Long Run and Imperial Commander, but all Katenko has done is improve and he deserves his place. They probably said similar about Mr Mulligan, Cool Dawn and Looks Like Trouble – and they won the race. The key is having a sound horse.”
Soundness is key – but so, too, is stable confidence and Williams is enjoying her best season since she took a punt on the then unknown Coleman when Sam Thomas moved on.
This is measured by the well-spoken Coleman’s ruefulness that he has not ridden a winner since Emperor’s Choice prevailed at Carlisle on Monday; he wants to maintain this momentum. It will not have helped that he was at Warwick yesterday while AP McCoy was enjoying an unexpected Sandown win on the Williams novice Kapga De Cerisy after the Paul Nicholls-trained Fago blundered badly.
Another indicator of the jockey’s determination is that he is slightly irritated by the attention which has been given to his rodeo-like attempts to stay on several horses after they erred, including the ironically-named Ifyouletmefinish at Market Rasen last Sunday. That he is annoyed when a likely winner eludes him is another hallmark of a potential champion.
“Everyone seems to like it, but I don’t,” said the Racing UK-sponsored jockey who is bullish about Brick Red’s prospects in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle on the Kempton undercard.
He is more forthcoming on the success of Williams, the beneficiary of several shrewd purchases – Katenko included – by leading French bloodstock agent Guy Petit.
“It was grand to get my record at Catterick, but the season’s a long way from being finished. I just think Venetia had a couple of bad years which everyone is entitled to. She didn’t have the horses, but she’s shown this year what she can do when she has the right horses.”
As for the future, Coleman is looking no further than Cheltenham and then the Grand National. Apart from staying “injury free”, he simply says he’ll “just see what happens”.
He is right to do so. For, after a five-year apprenticeship, there is every likelihood that elder statesmen like McCoy and Richard Johnson will hang up their saddles in the next five years – and Coleman will be one of the leading names in the frame to replace them. He has earned that right.