Donn's Articles » Ted Durcan

Ted Durcan

Ted Durcan isn’t saying that he and Meeznah should have beaten Snow Fairy in the Epsom Oaks six weeks ago. That wouldn’t be Durcan’s style. He’s just saying that he’s not afraid to take her on again today in the Darley Irish Oaks at The Curragh.

“David (Lanigan, trainer) had her programme mapped out at the start of the season,” he is saying. “He wanted to win a maiden with her, run her in a listed race and then go on to Epsom. But she got a minor stone bruise, it just held her up, so he could get just one run into her, she went to Epsom on the back of a maiden win.”

It wasn’t ideal. When you are one of 15 adolescent fillies hurtling around Epsom’s roller coaster in the white hot heat of a Classic, experience counts. Meeznah was a maiden at the start of the season, she won a four-horse race on her debut this term by nine lengths, where she looked good but from which she probably didn’t learn a lot. She went into the Oaks with just four runs under her girth, and that inexperience may have told in the end.

“Her homework in the lead up to Epsom was excellent,” Durcan is saying, “and we knew that she was nice, but we always had it in the back of our minds, especially with Epsom, that she probably lacked one more hardened run. She ran a super race in the Oaks, everything went right, and she went to win her race, but she may have idled in the last 100 yards. Oce Snow Fairy went a neck up, when she saw her she went after her.”

The rider sits back in his chair, replaying the race in his mind. He knows what it is like to win an Epsom Oaks, he knows what it takes, having done so on the Henry Cecil-trained Light Shift in 2007. That was some day, Durcan’s first Classic, Cecil back from the wilderness. A lot of the celebrations passed him by that day, it was all about Cecil, he was delighted for Henry, he was thrilled just to be the jockey who rode that Classic winner for him, he stood back and joined the masses who congratulated the master trainer and fought back the tears. He would have loved to have won the race again this year, but alas, the neck verdict went the other way this time.

“When we moved upsides Aidan’s filly, Remember When,” he is saying, “I thought we were going to win it. But when we only went a neck up, when we didn’t go further clear, I was always afraid that something was going to come from behind us. I’m not knocking the winner, she was very good, but I just think that the experience at Epsom will have brought our filly on a lot.”

A native of Mayo and a regular on the western show jumping circuit as a youngster, it wasn’t until Durcan went to boarding school at Clongowes in Clane in County Kildare that he encountered a racing yard for the first time. He started riding out for Gerry Stack before moving on to Jim Bolger’s, where he worked during school holidays for three years before he did his Leaving Cert, and joined Bolger full-time.

Competition for rides at Coolcullen was intense. Christy Roche was stable jockey, Willie Supple was second jockey, Paul Carberry was there, AP McCoy was there, Seamie Heffernan was there, and there was Conor Everard and a whole host of other lads like Durcan sniffing around for the scraps of rides on which youngsters who are desperate to make their way in the game can survive. The number of rides and the number of winners that Durcan had for Bolger’s increased year on year for six years, but the time came when he had to move on.

“It is an amazing learning centre,” says Durcan. “You were handed loads of opportunities, you’d have wanted to have been an imbecile not to learn lots, but myself and Mr Bolger had a little bit of a falling out, so I ended up riding for Paddy Prendergast and John Mulhern for a year, who were both great supporters.”

The 1996 season finished with a flourish for Durcan. He rode Miltonfield for John Mulhern to win the Irish Cesarewitch at The Curragh in early October, and he rode him to win the October Handicap two weeks later. With one year of his apprenticeship left, Prendergast recommended that he should spend his last year in the UK, try to get established there while he was still claiming, so he joined Jack Berry in the north of England.

Dubai was just getting going at the time as a racing nation at the time, and Durcan went out there in 1997 essentially as a work rider for Paddy Rudkin. Paul Eddery was Rudkin’s first rider at the time, but Durcan came in for a lot of rides, and slowly built his name in the UAE. When he came back to the UK for the summer, instead of going back to Jack Berry’s, he went to Newmarket to work for Saeed Bin Suroor.

“I started spending the summers here with Saeed and the winters over in Dubai,” says Durcan, “riding for Paddy Rudkin, and then I went on and was first jockey for Sheikh Mohammed’s eldest son, Sheikh Rashid.”

Durcan quickly became established as a top rider in Dubai. He was champion jockey there for the first time in the 1999/2000 season, and he has been champion six more times since. His exploits in Dubai were noticed in the UK in this fickle game were fashion is as important as ability, and he struck up successful relationships with some of the top UK trainers, including Mick Channon, Ed Dunlop, Henry Cecil and, most recently, David Lanigan, with whom he worked at Cecil’s.

“I was spoiled with the horses I had to ride in Dubai,” he laughs. “And Saeed, and the whole Godolphin operation over here have been great. I ride out for Saeed when I am in Newmarket, but if I have to overnight anywhere, or if I am away, there is never an issue, and I have always been on the list for rides when Frankie or Ahmed Ajtebi, or Kerrin McEvoy before him, aren’t available. And to win the St Leger for them last year on Mastery was just brilliant.”

Things are good for Durcan. He has ridden more than 70 winners in the UK every year since 2006, 95 in 2007, 94 last year, and two Classics in the last three years. Things could get even better at The Curragh today.

© The Sunday Times, 18th July 2010