Jamie Spencer chats about his aborted retirement and the season ahead
When I made the decision to retire, I didn’t actually then think about it too much as I was so busy still working. Just getting on with the day-to-day riding. A catalyst day for me however was when I flew from Los Angeles to Melbourne in early November. It was the day after my ride in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Toast of New York. For whatever reason I stayed awake most of the flight and I spent the whole time thinking ‘how will I replace horse racing in my life’? Even though I’d got beaten on Toast of New York I’d got as much satisfaction from that race as any winning ride I’ve ever had in my career because everything had gone tickety-boo other than the fact we didn’t win. In terms of my change of heart, that really was the start of it. Then I went to see Sheikh Fahad ten days after that and discussed it with him. So really I’d made my mind up in early November not to retire but publicly I decided just to go along with it and get Hong Kong out of the way, before announcing it, and then have a break. As well as speaking to Sheikh Fahad, I spoke to some of my trainers, Kevin Ryan, Charlie Hills and Michael Bell, so they were all aware of it. It was a really strange period of time for me, but I’m so glad I reversed my decision because I think I would have got very bored.
The Breeders’ Cup Classic will stick with me forever. Even though I got beat a short-head. It’s just such a hard race. It makes you hungry to want to win it. It’s probably a billion to one now for me to win the race but coming so close makes me hungry to try and find another horse to win it. It’s a very difficult thing to describe the buzz you get from riding racehorses. If I’m honest I’m not too enamoured with riding in 0-50 handicaps. I’m still pleased if I win them but it’s not that exciting. However I do enjoy the day to day riding generally, and I do enjoy the constant unknown. For many people they know what they’re whole year is going to be like, they just go to work, finish at the same time each day, five days a week, and then have the weekends off. Riding racehorses is different. Every day is different. Riding different horses for different trainers. Some trainers are optimistic some are pessimistic. When David Simcock says he really likes a horse, it’s one of the nicest he’s had for five years, you know it’s going to be nice when you sit on it. But every trainer is different. It’s that constant unknown that is great. Like everyone, jockeys, trainers, owners, you are striving for that next good horse, and the beauty of it is that you never know when it’s going to come. On the flipside you never know what injuries are going to come or what else is round the corner, so you can’t really look too far ahead in racing. It’s a good sport and it’s been good to me. I’m just glad that I reversed the decision to retire because I’m enjoying it more now than I’ve done for a long time.
The best thing for me was that I took a long holiday after Hong Kong. I had seven weeks not riding horses. That was good for me, helping me recharge my batteries. I had plenty of holidays, and I’ve come back hungry. In the past I’ve come back from Hong Kong, had Christmas, and then Dubai starts in the first week in January. This year has been different. I feel fresh, and when I started back riding out, I found myself really enjoying it. The start to the Turf season has gone well and hopefully that will continue. Now I’m hoping to find some nice horses to ride. Obviously as a freelance nothing’s ever sure, so you just have to play it by ear. When the entries come out each day you see where you are and what you’re riding. It’s different but I’m enjoying it.
I’m really comfortable with where I am right now. Especially as I’m doing it on my own terms. I’m my own boss. If I don’t want to go racing, I don’t have to go racing. But I choose to do so because I have an inner hunger that I want to do well, I want to prove to myself that I still enjoy it. So far so good. David Harrison was my agent for five seasons and we had five good years together. But like everything things change and I felt a change would be good. I have Niall Hannity as my agent now and it seems to be working well so far. He’s doing a good job and working hard. It’s a sport at the end of the day and you should never lose sight of that. The reason I became a jockey was because I love riding horses. Different things will get in the way of that, because it’s a commercial business. It can be like work sometimes dealing with people. But at the end of the day, I became a jockey because I love riding horses, the feel, and the buzz. And if you’ve got a reasonable amount of talent that can get you through it, it’s a good way of life. I generally like dealing with horses. I like everything to be done properly with a horse. Allow them to take their time. I love to have the horses walking steady so that they are nice and relaxed. I take a good interest in them. I don’t just hop on them and gallop them, and then get off them. I enjoy giving feedback to the trainer and building up a rapport with the trainer.
I’m enjoying it all at the moment. Hopefully I can have a good season. It would be nice to get on some top horses but I’ve definitely got some nice ones to ride. Hopefully if I can get Ryan to have another ride, I can get on The Grey Gatsby soon enough. I’m just hoping Aidan O’Brien or Sir Michael Stoute have something for him in the same races! I was cheering for Arab Spring more than Michael Stoute or his owner the other day for that reason. You strive to get on the good horses, and hopefully I’ve got a couple of young sprinters that are quite nice. I just need to find a couple of decent middle distance horses to ride as well.
I haven’t set myself a target for the season. Every day it’s a case of getting up each morning and getting numbers on the board. I had a treble last week at Doncaster and I got loads of satisfaction out of it. It’s just a case of riding winners and climbing up the standings and see where that takes me. I’ve never really struggled to get rides in the big races. Not that I can name any horse at the moment that I’ll be riding in the big races, but hopefully when good spares come along I’ll be able to get on one or two of those. When I came back from the Ballydoyle job ten years ago it was a similar sort of thing. I didn’t have that many good horses to ride. And then I got on David Junior and won The Champion Stakes. That’s the way racing is. That’s all you do. You get up, start riding work for a lot of people, and hope to get on that good horse.
Things have started well. Riding a couple of winners at the Craven meeting was really important. It’s not easy getting on decent horses and you see it with all jockeys at the beginning of the season that all you ride for are your regular trainers. So Craven week my rides were stacked full of Michael Bell, Kevin Ryan and Charlie Hills horses. And it’s the same for everybody else riding. You ride for your people and just hope that their horses are in form and you get a bit of luck. It’s a tricky time but when the season gets going and you go to Chester and York it starts to open up, particularly with all the evening meetings, and more rides become available.
I ride out twice a week for David Simcock and Michael Bell, and go down to Charlie Hills once a fortnight, and also Kevin Ryan’s once a fortnight too. David Simcock never has his horses quick off the mark so he’ll step up a gear in May and things will really get going. It’s just a case of trying to keep everybody happy. The worst thing you can do is have too many trainers you are riding for as you’ll only end up pissing some of them off. So I ride out for those four and it’s working well. I’ve always ridden winners for David, Kevin and Michael, and got to start riding for Charlie over the last couple of years. Charlie’s a good guy and is doing really well. He doesn’t have a stable jockey, which is handy, because he has various horses with owners with retained riders, like the Sheikh Hamdan horses ridden by Paul Hanagan. So it works well for him and it works well for me. I also ride a good bit for Marwan Koukash, so with Chester coming up where he has so many runners I’m looking forward to that.
The trick is not to tie yourself down too much so when the good spares come you’re available. I don’t set targets, but every day there’s a target to get up and ride a winner or two.