Horses For Courses: Golden Graham excelled with ton

LANDMARK SUCCESS: Graham Lee's most notable victory of the 2012 campaign came on Hawkeyethenoo, above far left, in the Stewards' Cup at Glorious Goodwood. PIC: PA
LANDMARK SUCCESS: Graham Lee's most notable victory of the 2012 campaign came on Hawkeyethenoo, above far left, in the Stewards' Cup at Glorious Goodwood. PIC: PA
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Frankie Dettori will be the talk of horse racing this morning following his six-month ban for testing positive for a banned substance.

It will be May 20 when the Italian finally returns and it’s fair to say any hopes of him being 2013 champion jockey have subsequently been dashed.

The Italian is out to 100-1 to achieve that feat with William Hill but it was another ton that also took the eye this week – a century for the brilliant Graham Lee.

As Dettori disappears from champion calculations, it may just be that Lee is entering them.

Former jump jockey Lee obviously has some way to go before troubling Richard Hughes who is a best-priced evens shot to defend his crown in 2013.

But there wouldn’t be much between the two in terms of raw talent and if the duo were on horses of equal ability in a driving finish it would be interesting to see which one prevailed.

Practically every punter or racing fan has their favourite jockey and for many Flat folk it will be Hughes.

If not then probably William Buick, Silvestre De Sousa, Ryan Moore or Paul Hanagan.

But it’s a fair bet that after a stellar 2012, plenty would also opt for Lee who really has taken racing by storm in his first season as a Flat jockey.

Lee will probably be best remembered for two things as a jumps pilot – for winning the Grand National in 2004 on board Amberleigh House and for being stable jockey to the Howard Johnson-Graham Wylie empire.

But the northerner isn’t half making a go of his new career with 100 winners in his maiden Flat season an almighty achievement.

Plenty will argue that a jockey is a jockey no matter what is thrown in front of them but even without having any first-hand riding experience, it’s fair to say that the National Hunt and Flat game are completely different spheres.

Different paces to the races, quite obviously no obstacles, bigger fields more often that not and the potential for extra trouble in running.

Yet even without having exclusive rights to a powerhouse stable behind him, Lee has clocked up a ton with the minimum of fuss and on talent alone he’s a big price at 12-1 with Hills and Ladbrokes to be champion next year.

A lot could happen between now and the start of the season at Doncaster next March and who is to say that by then Lee won’t have a contract with one of the game’s elite owners or trainers and possibly be based down south?

He certainly deserves one though the likes of Jim Goldie, Kevin Ryan and Ann Duffield and co for whom Lee has predominantly ridden for this year will quite clearly want him to stay up here!

Either way, the former jumping star is going to be a serious rival next term, not just to Buick, De Sousa, Moore and Hanagan but even to Hughes.

Lee twice rode over 100 winners during a jumps campaign but the northerner admitted this week that his Flat ton was undoubtedly his best.

“I was lucky to ride a couple of centuries over jumps, but getting this 100 up in such a comparative short space of time is very pleasing,” said Lee.

“I am making a go of it in a second career and not many get that chance.”

Winner number 100 came on the Jeremy Noseda-trained Prophets Pride who bolted up at Wolverhampton on Tuesday at odds of 1-2.

It is ironic that Lee – definitely one of the strongest jockeys in the saddle – would bring up the century on a steering job.

Yet probably this week’s most significant winner came under Lee’s former National Hunt code at the weekend.

Perhaps we are biased having napped him but Bob’s Worth’s success in the Hennessy was a joy to behold and looking back 4-1 was a mighty price about this tough as teak campaigner who brought not one but two Cheltenham Festival victories to the table.

And now the Nicky Henderson-runner is favourite to land a third in the biggest one of all – the Cheltenham Gold Cup next March.
Saturday’s hero is a best-priced 5-1 and even with three months to go, what a race we have in store with the next four in the betting being Sir Des Champs, Silviniaco Conti, Long Run and Flemenstar.

Forget Christmas as March can’t come soon enough. It could also be that by then the versatile Lee has received the true recognition for which his brilliant efforts deserve.

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