Trainer Alan King’s website refers to Robert ‘Choc’ Thornton as his “top-class stable jockey” and Wayne Hutchinson as “the yard’s second jockey”. Those statements may need updating if recent news is anything to go by.
Hutchinson has played second fiddle to Thornton at the King stable for over a decade, during which time star names like Katchit, Voy Por Ustedes and My Way De Solzen have enhanced the latter’s reputation, but a recent announcement suggests that the long-time colleagues are now on an equal footing, with owners choosing who they want as their first-choice rider.
It was while Thornton was out injured that the understudy grabbed his chance to shine, with victories at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals, followed by glory in the Scottish Grand National, cementing a glorious end to the 2012/13 season and earning plaudits from colleagues and journalists alike.
Thornton is now back to full fitness yet it appears he is no longer considered an automatic choice for the top rides. Perhaps the only person who seems unsure about Hutchinson’s promotion is the man himself.
“Nothing has changed,” Hutchinson tells Alan Lee in a superb interview. “There are plenty of rides to share and we have runners at two meetings every weekend.
“I was still a kid, claiming 7lb, when I arrived at the yard. I’ve always looked up to Choc and, even now, I’ll ask him for help and guidance.
Hutchinson’s story is a spur for anyone aspiring to reach the top level
“Choc made it quite young and I guess I’m having my best years much later.”
Hutchinson may be right about the yard having plenty of runners at the weekend but there are rarely two headline meetings on the same day and I cannot believe he doesn’t yearn to sit on the Grade 1 horses. And who wouldn’t, in his position?
Whether it’s a case of not wanting to appear cocky, or a lack of self-belief, Hutchinson’s career is firmly in the ascendancy, something that does not apply to his former colleague Charlie Huxley, who has quit the saddle aged 26 after eight seasons with Alan King.
Huxley won a Scottish Grand National and looked destined for a good career as an amateur rider but an ever-diminishing book of rides forced the decision to say goodbye to the weighing-room in “a career that wasn’t going forward”.
It’s always sad to hear about someone retiring in their mid-20s yet, equally, Hutchinson’s story is a spur for anyone aspiring to reach the top level.
There was only the top level in evidence at the ROA Horseracing Awards, sponsored by Weatherbys Hamilton, where Sprinter Sacre short-headed Treve in the battle for Horse of the Year honours.
One owner that may well be collecting an award in due course is Professor Caroline Tisdall, who recently paid the eye-watering price of £450,000 for ex-French four-year-old Un Temps Pour Tout at Doncaster Bloodstock Sales.
Tisdall, an author, art critic and conservationist, explains her fascination with the National Hunt scene and what it is that gets her pulse racing, in a must-read feature.
“I see jump racing as an area of wonderful freedom and slight political incorrectness,” Tisdall explains to Tim Richards.
“When you look at jump jockeys getting up with a broken collarbone and wanting to ride in the next race, then compare them with footballers who lie down pretending they’re hurt, you recognise them as inspirational.
“Whenever I get an ache or pain, I just think ‘AP’ and try to carry on.”
I would like to wish all our readers the very best for 2014.