Spencer the artist reaches milestone with a flourish
The Irishman's 2,000th winner embellishes his fine career yet further
There are now 2,000 British Flat winners under the belt to embellish a career rich with rollercoaster ups and downs, but Jamie Spencer doesn't look more than a couple of weeks older than when he first hit the big time almost two decades ago.
He was only 17 and still entitled to claim 5lb when he delivered Tarascon at the last minute to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 1998, a late and lethal strike that would one day become his calling card, and when he returned to unsaddle with tears of disbelief and delight rolling down his downy cheeks a nation's housewives took him to their hearts.
Not everyone has followed suit – aggrieved punters, their groans muffled by fabric, do not always appreciate the finesse of the waiting tactics Spencer frequently employs – but no-one could quibble with the notion that he has long been one of the finest riders in the weighing room.
Three championships (two in Britain, one in Ireland) are the product of dues well paid and days well played, and five more Classics and innumerable major victories underpin Spencer's cool-hand suitability for the big occasion.
He even – with a nod to his trainer-father George's Champion Hurdle success – rode a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. His natural talent, the way he makes being a jockey look beguilingly easy, has been sought after by the biggest owners in the sport.
He rode for Coolmore, putting one of the most prized jobs in racing on his CV by the age of 24, yet Spencer, a complex, introspective, occasionally contradictory individual, felt the hangover from his extraordinary overnight success. His departure from the crucible of Coolmore after one title-winning season affected him deeply.
"I felt a bit of a failure, I wasn't comfortable with myself," he said, and even the instant success of a British title the very next season seemed not to unlock a return to tranquillity.
His achievements spoke for themselves, but Spencer seemed deaf to them. It took him a long time to shake the world-weariness from his shoulders – he always looked like Dorian Gray, often sounded like the picture of Dorian Gray – but he did, his self-belief and confidence returning and now alloyed with the surefootedness of experience.
There still remained a stumbling block on the road to light-hearted enlightenment – he 'retired' in 2014 but walked that decision back within a few months – but now, at the grand old age of 37, he seems to have reached the sunlit uplands of contentment. He is far wittier than his occasionally deadpan visage might indicate, gentler than his strength in the saddle would suggest, more thoughtful than the typical image of a young sportsman.
He once explained his preference for patient riding when saying: "If you're sat last you've got options to go wherever you want. You can see the whole race happening."
It resembles the philosophy of another great sporting artist, footballer Johan Cruyff, whose long-range vision redefined the possibilities of his sport.
It would be a bit high-falutin' to suggest Spencer has redefined the possibilities of his sport but, now and again, when he sees the whole race, sees how to win it before anyone else can, we see a great artist at work.
That pleasure will never grow old, as nor, it seems, will Spencer.