Adam Houghton profiles three apprentice jockeys who have identified themselves as stars of the future with their exploits this season.
With 30 winners already on the board, teen sensation Billy Loughnane has established a healthy lead in the race to be crowned champion apprentice in 2023, with last year’s winner, Benoit De La Sayette (20), heading the chasing pack.
Admittedly, it's worth pointing out that Loughnane has also been given far more opportunities than any other rider in this category – he’s had 87 more rides than De La Sayette, for example – but it’s simply testament to the impression he’s created so early in his career that his services have been in such high demand.
It was on the all-weather during the winter that it all began. Loughnane was still a few months shy of his 17th birthday when, little more than a month after his first ride in public, his victory on the 28/1-shot Swiss Rowe on a foggy night at Wolverhampton in November proved to be the first of many.
Swiss Rowe had been a long-standing maiden but was making only his second start for the jockey’s father Mark, whose stable’s excellent form over the winter meant that he was able to supply many of his son’s winners.
Looking excellent value for his 7lb claim – which he soon lost in January – Loughnane quickly started to pick up rides from other yards, and it was after the turn of the year that his career really began to take off as he became the most talked-about jockey riding on the all-weather.
In January alone Loughnane clocked up 23 winners from 98 rides at a 23% strike rate. Apart from having his claim reduced to 5lb, Loughnane’s other achievements during the month included riding his first treble, which came at Wolverhampton, repeating the feat at the same track a week later and getting another at Newcastle three days after that.
Loughnane's claim was reduced to 3lb when he reached his half-century in late-April and his overall tally of winners now stands at 81, including 19 (from 120 rides) for father Mark. He also has an impressive record when teaming up with the likes of Mick Appleby (5/18), George Boughey (5/23) and Gay Kelleway (5/17), while he is three from three when riding in the Godolphin blue for Charlie Appleby.
The young jockey has also gained plenty of experience of riding on the big stage. He had his first ride in a Classic despite being unable to claim when partnering Sweet Harmony in the 1000 Guineas, while his best result from eight rides at Royal Ascot came when filling the runner-up spot aboard Calling The Wind in the Ascot Stakes.
With eight winners in the last 14 days alone, Loughnane shows no signs of slowing down and, barring injuries, he promises to be very hard to stop as he tries to realise his ambition of being crowned champion apprentice.
Connor Planas is ranked joint-third in the apprentice jockeys' championship with 17 winners, no mean feat given that he's only had 102 rides since the title race began.
By way of comparison, Loughnane has had 226 rides during the same period, while last year's one-two, De La Sayette and Harry Davies – who shares third-place with Planas in 2023 – have had 149 and 142 rides, respectively.
The omens were already good for Planas heading into this year. He'd made a good impression in his first season with a licence in 2022, ending the campaign with 19 winners, while a change of scenery afterwards saw him join up with the powerful George Boughey stable which continues to go from strength to strength.
Last year Planas was based with Tom Clover, though it was Phil McEntee who gave him his first ride under Rules at Wolverhampton in April 2022. It took him until his eighth ride, less than three weeks after his debut in the saddle, to make the breakthrough when guiding the Rod Millman-trained Crystal Casque to victory at Salisbury.
Planas' talents really caught the eye in July last year when he partnered five winners from only 17 rides at a 29% strike rate. Little wonder his number of rides the following month jumped up to 56, yielding another eight winners, including a valuable success aboard the talented sprinter Mokaatil at Sandown's Sky Bet Sunday Series fixture.
Rather than honing his craft on the all-weather like Loughnane, Planas headed off to sunnier climes for a winter in Dubai, where he was among the winners, before returning to Britain in March. It didn't take him long to register his first wins of the domestic year as he enjoyed a brace at Lingfield towards the end of that month, with both wins coming on horses trained by Boughey.
Planas' total number of winners in Britain in 2023 now stands at 27, with the rapidly progressive sprinter Quinault providing the undoubted highlights. Trained by Stuart Williams, Quinault continued an excellent run for Planas when winning a valuable three-year-old handicap at York in June – the jockey's fourth winner from five rides in the space of a week – and the pair then followed up in a similar event at last week's July Festival at Newmarket.
Boughey (8/65) has unsurprisingly given Planas more winners and rides than anyone else, though Clover (5/30) did plenty to get the ball rolling early on, while Richard Hughes (3/4), Patrick Morris (3/7) and Ed Walker (3/5) are three other trainers who have utilised his services to good effect.
Incidentally, any punters who have followed Planas closely in 2023 have also been well rewarded, with his 27 winners returning a profit of £28.56 to a £1 level stake.
Taylor Fisher completes the top five in the apprentice jockeys' championship with 15 winners, just behind Planas and old sparring partner Davies, who ended up losing out to De La Sayette after a close battle for the title of champion apprentice in 2022.
Earlier in his teens, Davies had been champion on the pony racing circuit where one of his biggest rivals was Fisher, he too a former champion in that sphere who is likewise now making a name for himself in the apprentice ranks.
Fisher initially had the option of joining Davies as an apprentice with Andrew Balding but, rather than competing for the same rides at Kingsclere, opted to start out with Richard Hannon instead. But when that arrangement failed to work out, Fisher’s stepfather, Devon point-to-point trainer Joe Tickle, took out a licence under Rules to supply many of the then 17-year-old’s early rides.
However, even before he’d ridden his first winner, Fisher caught the eye of Archie Watson who signed him up in July 2022. After a number of placed efforts, Fisher got off the mark later the same month when successful aboard the Ismail Mohammed-trained Gliding Bay at an evening meeting at Lingfield.
Having made that breakthrough, a stream of winners came the following month, eight of them to be precise, which included Fisher’s first double, at Ffos Las, and a first winner for his Lambourn yard when Dragon Glory won a nursery at Lingfield.
A victory at Chelmsford on the Gay Kelleway-trained Mukha Magic also ranks as a particularly special one among the teenager’s early successes given that the other four jockeys in the race were none other than William Buick, Ryan Moore, Jamie Spencer and Andrea Atzeni.
Another seven winners in September included a win on Temple Bruer in the apprentice handicap which opens Doncaster’s St Leger meeting and Fisher’s 7lb allowance was put to good use on James Ferguson’s smart sprinter First Folio, who’d been set to carry 10-0 in a handicap at Yarmouth. By the end of 2022, Fisher had ridden 22 winners, reducing his claim to 5lb.
This year Fisher has already surpassed his total in 2022 with 25 winners, leaving him just three short of his half-century when his claim will be reduced again to 3lb. Watson (5/86) has been the most prolific source of winners in Fisher's career to date, though the likes of Tickle (4/41), Ed Dunlop (3/6), Alexandra Dunn (3/18), Gay Kelleway (3/11) and Stan Moore (3/6) are not far behind.
And though Fisher's tally of winners in the apprentice jockeys' championship is only half that of Loughnane, he has certainly held his own in recent weeks. June was the most successful month of his career yet with 10 winners – including braces at Chepstow (twice) and Leicester – while so far in July he's partnered four winners from only 14 rides (29% strike rate).
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