St Leger on the radar of racing’s ‘Mr Consistent’

Mark Johnston's Hartnell, ridden by Joe Fanning, wins the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket Racecourse in July.
Mark Johnston's Hartnell, ridden by Joe Fanning, wins the Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket Racecourse in July.
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NO FLAT jockey is in a richer vein of form than Joe Fanning as the ‘Mr Consistent’ of Yorkshire racing finally gets the recognition that his horsemanship merits.

He’s actually ridden more winners in the calendar year – 125 and counting – than any other jockey in the country if his all-weather successes from January to March are counted as well.

Yet Fanning finds himself trailing the pace-setting Ryan Moore and Richard Hughes by a significant margin in the title race because of a relatively slow start to the domestic Turf season by his own high standards.

The 43-year-old, who hails from County Wicklow, was not helped by being typecast as Mark Johnston’s exclusive stable jockey who could only ride winners from the front.

Thankfully, this is now changing following the inspired appointment of former North Yorkshire journeyman jump jockey turned broadcaster Niall Hannity as his agent. He has made an immediate impact and started sourcing far more outside riders for Middleham-based Fanning – just one of the rider’s five mounts at Southwell on Thursday night were for his principle employer.

The aforementioned Johnston is not alone in musing whether Fanning could have been a genuine champion jockey contender if Hannity, a Racing UK stalwart, had been on board from the start of the current campaign.

However, Fanning is certainly giving a helping hand to his agent. The Johnston-trained Hartnell is now a leading contender for next month’s Ladbrokes St Leger, the final Classic of the 2014 season, after impressive victories in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket’s July meeting.

This was followed up by four tactically astute winners at Glorious Goodwood – none of the successes were the type of ‘pillar to post’ rides normally associated with Fanning who has been an accumulator of winners since his very first triumph at Yarmouth in 1990 aboard Squeak Fairhurst’s Henry Will.

“It’s really picked up in the last month. Niall is very much on the ball and it meant I could win on Rocket Ship at Pontefract on Wednesday for Sir Michael Stoute,” Fanning told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s also fortunate that Mark’s horses are running better than ever, especially at Goodwood where he loves having winners.

“In a couple of instances, I was lucky to be on the right one when we had two or three runners in the same race. Fortunately, Mark put me on the winners – I’m not sure I would have selected the right horses if it had been left to me.

“He just seems to churn out the winners year in and year out. He’s had more than 200 winners in four of the last five seasons, and is on track to do so again.

“The horses are fit and healthy, and he’s not afraid to run them. That’s the key. Hopefully, it stays that way.”

The one thing missing from Fanning’s CV is an English Classic – the now-retired Kevin Darley had the honour of retiring Attraction to 1000 Guineas glory a decade ago.

However, Hartnell could be the horse to remedy this in the St Leger, a race that Johnston appears to be prioritising with his meticulous attention-to-detail.

It is surprising, given the yard’s prowess with stayers like Double Trigger and Royal Rebel, that the race has eluded Johnston.

“It would be a lovely race to win,” said Fanning. “Royal Ascot was great. Big races, they’re the ones you want to win. The good thing is that he goes on any ground.

“I think he is better with a juice. That time of year, it can be soft at Doncaster. When he was third in a Group One at Saint-Cloud last November, it was very heavy ground.”

In the meantime, the understated Fanning will be aboard former footballer Mick Channon’s Amralah in today’s feature Betfred Rose of Lancaster Stakes at Haydock where Godolphin’s True Story will attempt to get his campaign back on track after finishing third in the Dante.

“He has a high rating and has a good chance,” said Fanning before noting that Amralah would not be making the long trip from Lambourn to Haydock if there was not some confidence on the part of Channon.

The same applies to the Dick Hern Fillies’ Stakes when the jockey partners the William Haggas-trained Token Of Love.

Though Lightning Thunder, a close second in the English and Irish 1000 Guineas, has a favourite’s chance of providing young jockey Harry Bentley with another significant victory, Fanning partnered Token Of Love to a cosy victory at Newmarket at June.

He also is aware that Skipton-born Haggas has one of the best strike-rates in the country this season and that the filly is not intended to be there to make up the numbers.

“He’s a very good trainer, one of the best,” said Fanning. “He places his horses very well; he’s a very shrewd trainer.”

Meanwhile, Fanning – the winning-most Flat rider in the North for the last two seasons – is not setting targets. The future, he says, will take care of itself if he keeps winning.

At the current rate, Fanning’s best days could be ahead of him as he chases down the career-best 188 winners that he rode two summers ago.

Don’t bet against it.