Ryan Moore: a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the world's greatest
Peter Thomas catches up with the world-renowned rider in Newmarket
Published in the Racing Post on March 25, 2018
It's not even April yet, the Craven meeting is a good few weeks away, so the chill in the Newmarket air this morning comes as no surprise. The sun's out though, it's time for elevenses and you might think the need for a woolly hat has passed – but Ryan Moore isn't giving his up lightly, even indoors.
When you're 'the best jockey in the world', of course, you can get away with most things, but it turns out there's an ulterior motive for this sartorial anomaly. "I got butchered by a Chinese barber," explains Moore, fresh back from winning the BMW Hong Kong Derby on Ping Hai Star. "I knew as soon as he took the first bit off that it wasn't going to be good, but you can't stop halfway through, can you? I've already had a lot of stick since I got back, so the hat's staying on."
A quick Google search reveals the extent of the damage – ferocious crop on the sides, an incongruous thatch left on top – but if this is the price of globetrotting fame, then he at least has a healthy slice of the £970,000 first prize from Sha Tin by way of compensation – to add to the £8 million he's earned in each of the last two years. That and the continued adulation of the world racing community for another peach of a ride, which simply enhanced a reputation that has become practically unassailable over the past decade.
From Tokyo to Chukyo, from Cologne to the Cox Plate, Moore has established himself as the go-to man. Like it or not – and he doesn't, not particularly – he has become a global figure, recognised worldwide, if only in each country's manifestation of the 'racing village'. Certainly no woolly hat is going to put an ardent turfiste off the scent, although he persists in denying all suggestions of celebrity.
Over a double espresso in the National Stud's tea room, while the three-time British champion plays down his fame, so the admirers queue up to spend their polite and admiring minute with him. First up is Ruth, originally from San Francisco, who thanks her favourite jockey for many hours of viewing pleasure and easily extracts an autograph. "Yeah, but she lives in London, so it doesn't really count," he says, refusing to admit defeat in his quest for anonymity.
Ten seconds later, as word gets round, a group from New Zealand approach the table with just the right amount of awe. All they want is a moment of engagement, pictures of themselves in various permutations with him, for which spots on sideboards in Dunedin are no doubt already being earmarked. He obliges with no little charm. It's racing and it's racing people, so that's okay.
"Yeah, but we're in the National Stud and there's a tour bus parked outside," he insists, not one to give in easily. "Of course they like me in here, but you wouldn't get that much attention in town. It's not a fair representation. Are you sure you didn't set this up?"
As ever, the racing is the thing. He's happy to chat to New Zealanders with good hearts and a passion for the sport, but on the subject of fame and adoration . . . well he'd rather change the subject.
"That was a New Zealand-bred, that horse on Sunday," he says, moving swiftly on. "He'd only won over a mile but he was by Nom De Jeu who won an Australian Derby over 1m4f on soft ground, by Montjeu. They told me he'd stay ten furlongs and they were right. Montjeu would always encourage you. These things are very important. Pedigree is probably the most important thing when it comes to horses."
He's away now, sharp mind working through the fine detail of his profession, far from the platitudes of the post-race interview.
"There's talk about different bloodlines doing well in some countries and not in others, but people get very confused by that. Often it's because what they're actually seeing is not the best horses, just the second-rate ones, the ones we don't want over here going over there and the ones they don't want over there coming over here. You have to dig deeper and look closer.
"Racing revolves around pedigrees. That's what it all goes back to and how it all goes forward, and to me it's the most important bit."
No matter where the conversation goes, it always comes back full circle to racing or, more specifically, to horses. There may be diversions to social media and selfies via Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin – on all of which subjects he has concerned opinions as a father of four young children, a thoughtful human being and an investor – but he's happiest, feels safest, talking about what he knows best.
As a frequent flyer to every Grade 1 racing destination, Moore has a wealth of insight into the sport worldwide, not least the attention foisted on top jockeys in the Far East, where he has enjoyed enormous success. At Sha Tin on Sunday he was photographed trotting back down the runway on Ping Hai Star, acknowledging the boisterous acclaim of the huge crowd as they leaned over the rails. Later he was paraded in front of them again in an open-top BMW, looking far less uncomfortable than he might back at home in England. Does that mean he finds it easier to relax in front of an away crowd, distanced from his entrenched reputation for taciturnity at home?
"It's just that you don't have that on any racecourse in England," he says indisputably. "The closest would be if you're walking back down the course in front of the stands at Ascot – but over there there's always a walkway, it's a long walkway and people are saying things as you go past, so you can't just ignore them.
"Of course I like Hong Kong, and Japan. It's good racing, they're big races and it's nice to be asked to go and ride in them, but I've always enjoyed riding good horses in big races and it doesn't matter to me whether that's in Sha Tin, Newmarket or Kentucky."
When trainer John Size phoned Moore on March 3 – "an hour and a half after the horse had won a handicap" – and offered him the Derby ride, he was very happy to accept. "It's nice that they think to give you a call," he says, but there was no need for recourse to a copy of the World Atlas of Strange Foreign Racecourses. The in-demand Englishman has been on the international circuit long enough to know not only the places but also the people wherever top-class racing is held – in fact, being an Englishman abroad is something of an advantage for the man who on Saturday was navigating the straight mile at Doncaster.
"Straight miles, tight turns, they're different tracks but we've got a great variety of tracks in this country, sharp tracks, big tracks, different ground conditions, so it's not a problem wherever you go. It's more that you're riding with different people on different types of horse.
"It's whether or not your horse is suitable to the conditions. If your horse isn't suitable it's a massive challenge wherever you are, and I suppose the most difficult is going to America and riding European horses on dirt when you don't know what to expect.
"To be honest though, if your horse is good you look forward to going, and if you go into a weighing room in Sha Tin you've got people from every corner of the world in there; you go into a weighing room in America, it's the same thing. In every country now there's going to be a core of locals but many different people from all over the world, the same as in any business. It doesn't matter where you go, but for me it's always been about riding the good horses, being lucky enough to ride them."
Having done the tourist thing "about a decade ago", Moore is now a bit of a smash-and-grab raider, straight in, nab a big pot, straight out, fleeting visits to familiar places in a year-round cycle that has become his routine. After a quiet spell spent with wife Michelle and the kids after Christmas, he's in Blighty – for a few more days, until he goes back to Dubai for a few days – and if not jumping for joy at the prospect of the start of the Flat season, looking forward to what it will eventually bring.
"The middle of March is a bit early to be getting excited," he grins, never knowingly over-excited. "It's very sporadic, even until the middle of April, but you look forward to the bigger races and fortunately from the Guineas onwards they become more regular."
To that end he has been on the Waterhall gallop this morning with his old comrade Sir Michael Stoute, who supplied him with a Listed winner in the shape of Echelon back in 2005 and has been an ally ever since. Moore is less available now than he used to be, thanks to his unceasing commitment to Coolmore, but Stoute is the man who guided him through many of his formative years, taught him the value of slowing down, of saving himself for the big days, and who remains a trusted friend.
The pair even share the same attitude towards the endless demands of the media. Neither has contempt for the sport's need to reach out to its audience, and both will indulge the process to a degree, but they prefer to deal in actions rather than words and have thrived on their choice.
"Stoutey's in real good order," confirms Moore with no little satisfaction. "He had an excellent year last year, I think he's got a really nice bunch of three-year-old colts this year and he's still very hungry and completely dedicated to it, still bouncing around.
"He'd hate missing mornings the same way Aidan would never miss one. They enjoy training their horses so much and that's a very important thing in a long career. I owe him an awful lot and I still have good fun working with him."
While we're on the subject of Newmarket legends, in wanders Frankie Dettori, in search of a takeaway coffee now that the morning's work is done. He's not stopping, although the subject of international Grade 1s, on which he is a leading authority, detains him for a minute or two and provokes a brief debate on the subject of Moore's unofficial anointment as the world's greatest jockey. Is Frankie's nose out of joint? Who's really the greatest?
"Ryan. Cool as a cucumber. Homework. Determination. Much better than me," says Dettori.
Moore is having none of it: "My grandad [trainer Charlie Moore] always said Frankie had beautiful hands. I'm not as good as he ever was, that's for sure."
Dettori leaves us, coffee in hand, and the match ends in an honourable score draw. They've discussed Dubai, the parlous state of Arsenal FC and the future of Arsene Wenger, and the tea room crowd has had a double treat even better than two slices of the Bakewell tart.
Not that Bakewell tart is on Moore's menu. At 34, he claims to be middle-aged now, a veteran even, and in need of attention: "Everyone has problems keeping their weight down when they get to a certain age and I find you have to make changes to what you do because your body changes. Dad [trainer Gary] still plays squash twice a week but you have to do that sort of thing regularly, have a routine and people to play with and I don't have the time."
Still, he has the lean look of a busy man, and many domestic minds are embracing the advent of the Flat again, in reality it's just a continuation of the merry-go-round of international racing life that spins as unstoppably as the globe itself. Even the annual distraction of the Stobart Jockeys' Championship can't interrupt such a high-value schedule.
"Will I be going for the title?" Moore ponders very briefly. "I don't know what it is anymore. I don't understand when it starts or when it finishes. People say it's the start of the Flat now, but it isn't really, and when does it end?
"At the start of our year my agent [Tony Hind] knows what the aims are and what he needs to set out and do. That's between him and me, but to be honest . . . "
The sentence tails off into a silence that suggests priorities lie beyond the confines of the old traditions, wherever good horses are there to be ridden in big races on whatever continent.
"Riding good horses, that's what it's always been about."
'Aidan still won't have pressed any buttons'
The principal focus of Ryan Moore's working life is Ballydoyle, the seat of excellence that is a perfect, tried-and-tested fit between the godlike genius of Aidan O'Brien, his number one jockey and all manner of blue-blooded talent, but anybody imagining this year's equine team sheet for the upcoming domestic Classics and beyond is already filled in will be disappointed.
The yard has Clemmie, Happily and September heading the market for the Qipco 1,000 Guineas, Saxon Warrior, Gustav Klimt and US Navy Flag for the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, but Moore insists there is a lot of fine tuning to be done before decisions are made.
"I know these races are close but we still haven't scratched the surface with those good horses," he says. "Aidan still won't have pressed any buttons and we'll be learning about them on the track. They've got to last all year so we won't know until they start to run, and until then I don't get too excited.
"What they do at Ballydoyle is a lot of hard work from a lot of people. I can see it with the staff there, when they talk about their horses when you get on them, what they say afterwards, the detail, the amount they care about them is incredibly important.
"Aidan I see as an extraordinary trainer who's always been a pleasure to work with. It's so hard to get to the top and stay there the way he's done and I haven't got the answers to how he does it. If everyone knew what made him so good they'd all be doing it, wouldn't they? And they're not."
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