REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL; Peter Thomas talks to Micky Fenton about life as a journeyman jockey - and his association with the evergreen Mac Love, who runs in today's big race at Goodwood.
IN THE case of Micky Fenton, appearances definitely have the knack of being deceptive. Sat on the sofa of his cosy Newmarket terraced home, in his baggy white T-shirt and jeans, he may look as though he's taking it easy, but for the eager freelance jockey it's never that simple. It's Tuesday and he has no rides booked, but while his agent goes about finding some for later in the week, Fenton is very busy indeed - busy accentuating the positive.
This is perhaps the most important part of the journeyman rider's lifestyle. Riding a steady percentage of winners from a workable number of mounts is all very well, but if you can't latch on to the affirmative as well, you'll end up going barmy.
This is why Fenton's not missing a day's racing, he's "making the most of my days off". And when he's busy driving to the other end of the country and back for an also-ran, you won't find him moaning, because "if you weren't busy, you'd be sitting at home moaning". It's a classic ploy from the Bing Crosby Book of Reverse Psychology and it seems to work well for the 37-year-old Irishman.
"You really have to take the positives from everything," he confirms, positively. "It's a hard life, but if you start moaning about it, you're in trouble. There are days when you'll go for one ride and lose money just to keep the ride on one horse and maybe pick up another few to go with it on another day. That's the only way to look at it.
"You can sit there and complain about prize-money, and it can be so bad that a lot of the time you might just as well have one more ride as have a winner, but prize-money is what it is and you just have to try to get your share.
"You can grumble about the travelling, but you've just got to learn not to try to do stupid things like get to evening meetings that are just too far away. The nine-meetings-a-week rule doesn't affect me too much, but I wouldn't mind if it did affect me, because it would mean I'd be getting a lot more rides."
You get the idea. It's all about finding reasons to be cheerful and, fortunately, Fenton enjoys another of those today when he partners the Stef Liddiard-trained Mac Love at Goodwood, bidding to add the Group 2 Totesport.com Celebration Mile to the brace of Group 3s he's already landed on the eight-year-old this year.
Not surprisingly, his outlook is a bright one, even if his veteran partner, rescued from the scrapheap by Liddiard and his new owner, internet travel tycoon Vimal Khosla, after a spell in retirement, looks to have it all to do to keep tabs on the likes of Delegator before delivering his customary late challenge.
"The trouble is," says Fenton, "he's the kind of horse you have to switch off, but you have to keep him interested as well, and it took me a while to get to know him. It's all about getting a feel through the reins of what they're thinking, so it helps to know what you've got under you and it helps if you've got patient owners.
"If you go too soon, you get there too soon, and if you go too late, you'll disappoint him and he'll drop the lot on you. He's very genuine, but he's an older horse who's done everything and you have to get to know his head.
"When he won the Diomed at Epsom, he loved the track and the ground was lovely. He winged down the hill and I had them all in front of me and I could see I had them all covered. As long as he went when I wanted him to, I knew we'd win, and I could tell he was interested and up for it that day.
Ascot next time was a Group 1 and nothing really went right for him, but he came back in great form to win at Salisbury and probably arrived there even easier in a race he wasn't really entitled to win.
"On that run, you'd think you had an improving eight-year-old on your hands. I suppose he's one of these hardened older horses who just needs a bit of confidence and some quick ground and he'll go and do it for you."
It's a familiar scenario for Fenton: an unfashionable horse for an underrated trainer against some well-touted rivals, just like three years ago, when he teamed up with Fenland trainer Pam Sly's Speciosa to win the 1,000 Guineas. Again, he had some work to do to get inside the complex head of an essentially willing partner, and again he got the psychology right, to everybody's delight.
"Pam used to ring and ask me to pop in and ride one out for her on the way somewhere, usually an old handicapper, then one day she got me in to ride this two-year-old who just flew down the gallops, so I started going there a bit more!" he says.
"She was a bit disappointing early on, green and hanging all over the place and a bit moody, but I could always tell she was decent and it was good that she was tucked away up there, away from all the Newmarket jockeys. I could keep her to myself. It's the reward for putting yourself about among the smaller trainers. You're more likely to keep the ride.
"All winter, all I could think was 'don't get injured' and just pray the filly doesn't get injured. Then you're waiting for January to come round so you can start riding her out again, and hoping when you do she's still the same filly. But Pam got everything spot-on and everything worked out perfectly. My daughter Eleanor was there to watch it, and the whole of the Sly family, so it was a special day. It made it all the more special being for a small yard. Pam's son Michael came running out to greet us and I thought he was going to fall over on the track!" To the benefit of plenty of small trainers, Fenton knows a decent horse when he sits on one and knows how much it means for the little man, or woman, to grab their share of success. After the obligatory spell riding ponies at home in Limerick, he abandoned plans to become a jump jockey like brother Barry and served his time with Liam Browne at the Curragh, before joining Michael Bell in Newmarket, first as an apprentice and then as stable jockey, teaming up with such good animals as 2001 Oaks d'Italia winner Zanzibar.
WHEN the vagaries of fashion pushed him into a freelance career, he struck up a fruitful understanding with the Hughie Morrison-trained Alcazar, and took his saddle round half of Asia in the winters, gaining valuable experience in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Macau, riding difficult horses on unfamiliar tracks and ending up a prize asset for many minor outfits back home with no access to the sport's biggest names.
"I got a lot of satisfaction from getting going again as a freelance and riding for smaller yards," says Fenton. "It makes you hungry when you see how much it means to these trainers and owners, even to finish third instead of fourth and cover some of their expenses. It's hard to get started, but then a good horse comes along. Alcazar started as a spare ride - none of his jockeys was available at Nottingham one day, he was an outsider and I ended up winning on him and he went on to win a Group 1 in France. He kept my name in lights for a few years.
"I've been lucky - as a freelance I've come across horses like this most years. Some jockeys ride ones like this every Saturday, but I look out for one or two in a season and they keep turning up.
"A good winner probably helps my agent, reminds people who I am. It's hard at my age to break into anything bigger, but it helps you hang on to what you've got, and I think this fella [Mac Love] has a chance of coming good for us again. As long as the ground stays okay, he'll give me a sniff of winning, and he might just do it."
And if you're waiting for a negative, then don't, because they've all been eliminated.
Read Peter Thomas's blog on racingpost.com
Top team: Micky Fenton and Mac Love are bidding for Group 2 glory at Goodwood this afternoon
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 29, 2009|
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