THE ART OF SETTING THE PACE; Tactic under scrutiny after high-profile misjudgements.
Castigating Michael Hills and Joseph O'Brien may be less than fair when not privy to the instructions they were given, but the widely held perception was that both might have performed the role better given another go.
Hills appeared to go off too fast on Rerouted in the St James's Palace Stakes, leaving Frankel to take it up before the home turn, while O'Brien had a ride to forget in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, missing the break on Jan Vermeer and then forcing Ryan Moore to take evasive action as he attempted to get to the front on So You Think.
It remains to be seen what role pacemakers for So You Think and Workforce will play in Saturday's Coral-Eclipse Stakes, but if that Group 1 adds to the catalogue of mishaps by jockeys charged with making the running for better-fancied horses it would be further evidence that past masters of the art like Brian Procter and Steve Raymont were a dying breed.
Procter, who made a career out of riding pacemakers for Dick Hern, believes his success was partly down to riding lead horses on the gallops for many of the West Ilsley stable stars, including Troy and Nashwan, both of whom he assisted to prestigious wins through an instinctive feel for pace and timing.
"We didn't know much about fractions in those days, it was Steve Cauthen who brought that over," says Procter, who now works with Godolphin.
"I was taught to get out there and keep a good, level pace but sometimes you got somebody taking you on, so then you had to play it by ear.
"Dick Hern wanted me to make sure the rest of the field was with me. Going ten or 12 lengths clear of the second was no good to anyone. It isn't easy riding a pacemaker; you don't have wing mirrors and you are there to be shot down if the fancied horse doesn't win."
Having shouldered the responsibility so often, Procter has nothing but sympathy for jockeys who find themselves in the firing line when things go wrong.
"I wouldn't criticise anybody. I think it is just the way the races are being run," he says.
"The lead horses are there, but the other riders don't seem to be taking a lot of notice of them. If the No 1 horse is locked in and can't get out, it doesn't matter what the pacemaker is doing."
Raymont regularly took on pacemaking duties for Jeremy Tree, a task in which he gained his greatest satisfaction when doing the spadework with handicapper August in the 1985 Coronation Cup for Rainbow Quest, who he also rode in all his work.
Raymont, who works for Roger Charlton, says: "My job was to make sure I was going the right pace from the outset so that Rainbow Quest could be settled and Pat Eddery could ride him as he wanted. Pat could decide whether to follow me, depending on how he wanted to ride the race.
"On some occasions these days you see pacemakers going what you think is too fast, but if the jockeys are told to go a certain pace that's what they're going to do, I guess.
"Sometimes the others tend not to use the pacemaker, but it is something of a catch-22 because if you don't jump off and go quick your job as the pacemaker has been totally wasted. If everything piles up behind you and the horse you are there to lead is pulling and getting into trouble, that is probably worse than going too fast."
Former champion jockey Willie Carson, often the beneficiary of Procter's pacemaking on Hern-trained runners, is in no doubt pacemakers are an important tool in top-class races - provided they are used in the right way - and has an interesting viewpoint on the selection of riders.
"The guy who rides the pacemaker ought to be a better jockey than the guy on the good horse," says Carson, "because getting the pace right is vital.
"If you put on somebody who doesn't ride that often and doesn't know pace, nearly always they will get left because they are too nervous trying to make the horse jump. Pacemakers get left because the jockey's excitement transmits through to the horse and he doesn't go.
"It is a very important job and it is a job for an experienced jockey. For someone not used to riding in big races it is a big burden for them to make the running. There is so much put on your shoulders that you get nervous. Trainers put so much pressure on you to get away and do this and that, the jockey on the pacemaker gets more orders than the jockey on the good horse. It is a very difficult job.
"I was very lucky to have Richard Hills and Brian Procter helping me out. They were doing the dirty work and all I had to do was the plucking."
A noted exponent of the skill, Hills says the trick when riding a pacemaker is to lure the whole field into going the pace that suits the pacemaker's more fancied teammate.
"In addition to following you," Hills says, "they also have to respect you and your horse."
In Hills's case, the point was rammed home to his colleagues when he twice stole the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot with 6-1 Maroof (1994) and 3-1 Summoner (2001).
"Maroof wasn't an automatic pacemaker, he was a front-runner and Willie's horse [Mehthaaf] needed a good pace and holding up, whereas on Summoner I was purely a pacemaker [for Noverre] and they let me off and we won.
"When Willie won the King George on Nashwan, my job was to slow the pace [on 500-1 shot Polemos]. We jumped and then I pulled up in front because we were conscious Ascot was going to test Nashwan.
"One of the best pacemaking jobs I did was for Frankie in the 2001 Irish Champion Stakes on Give The Slip when Fantastic Light beat Galileo. I set a nice even pace, which Give The Slip was a great horse for, and then I came off the fence to allow Frankie to get first run on Mick [Kinane]. It worked to a tee. Fantastic Light won by a head, but if Frankie had gone round me he probably wouldn't have won."
Hills maintains that every time he was asked to carry out pacemaking duties it was crucial to have a plan.
Sometimes the owner would be involved, sometimes the trainer, "and sometimes it was just left to the jockeys", but a plan had to exist.
Richard Hills takes the 2001 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on 3-1 pacemaker Summoner
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Jun 29, 2011|
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