Winning Is A State of Mind

by Ed Meyer

posted on May 22, 2009 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

May has been the cruelest month for Jamie Spencer, who began it with high hopes of riding a pair of Classic winners. That dream lasted only until Delegator came off second-best in a scrap with Sea The Stars in the 2,000 Guineas, while Spencer’s Derby mount, Crowded House, is now a 20-1 shot after flopping at York last week.

The 28-year-old, whose only British Classic success came in the 2003 St Leger, presumably feels deflated at the turn his season has taken, but it does not show. He appeared stoic as he stood chatting in the weighing room here yesterday, waiting for his only ride of the day, a well?beaten third of six.

“I’m happy with my lot,” he said. “Life is about having peace of mind and everyone’s ambitious, but the worst thing you can be is too ambitious.”

In what may have been a veiled reference to the champion jockey, Ryan Moore, he added: “There’s people you can see who are not enjoying winning because they’re too bothered about not winning the next race. I’m just happy riding the horse I’m riding at the moment.”

Cool, calm and collected though he seems, Spencer will surely be more on edge this Saturday, when he and Delegator try their luck in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at The Curragh. The bookmakers offer no more than 2–1, despite the possibility that as many as 16 others may line up in pursuit of the $197,000 first-place prize money.

The obvious danger is Mastercraftsman, trained by Aidan O’Brien, for whom ­Spencer spent a single year as stable jockey in 2004. Fifth in the Newmarket Guineas, Mastercraftsman was just two lengths behind Delegator on very quick ground and will be much better suited by the heavy going that seems likely in Ireland.

The big question is whether Delegator will handle such a surface, but Spencer says he has no more idea than the rest of us. “No trainer works their horse on that ground, so, until we try, we won’t know,” he says.

“Aidan O’Brien’s horses generally improve for a run but that’s not to say that Delegator can’t improve again. He’s only had a handful of runs in his career.”

Spencer has not sat on Delegator since the Guineas but reports his trainer, Brian Meehan, “seems happy enough with him”. Of Crowded House, there is no news, though the jockey still hopes to be on him at Epsom on June 6th. As of yet, there is no sign of an alternative ride in the race.

But he does not miss the days when he was attached to a major stable, with high-profile mounts in every big race. “Each year, about four or five medium-to-large stables always seem to find one or two good ones,” he says, reeling off a list of the major winners he has found by sharing his services around.

In part, his way of doing things is a response to the burnout he experienced in 2007, when he took more than 1,000 rides in pursuit of the jockeys’ title, eventually shared with Seb Sanders. He will not be doing that again.

“It’s pointless,” he says, flatly. “With the current prize money situation in the UK, it’s just financial suicide to chase your tail round the country unless you’ve got a 150-horse yard. If Ryan wants to do that, he’s got the horses to ride on a daily basis – but he doesn’t chase his tail like I did that year, nobody’s done that. It’s just madness. Waste of time.”

Just as he rises above the demands of the fixture list, Spencer refuses to engage with the criticism that has often come his way from punters, who resent the regularity with which the jockey’s hold-up tactics get him into mid-race difficulties.

“Everyone has an opinion, just like ­everyone has a nose, and they’re allowed to use it. The one thing I’m allowed to do is decide whether I take it on board or not. Most of the time, I just paddle my own canoe, do my own thing.”

“The day you lose self-confidence because of people who don’t understand, the majority of the time, is the day you’re in trouble. I’m usually pretty confident and I think that translates to my horses.”