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12 Jun 21 19:08
Date Joined: 18 Feb 02
| Topic/replies: 3,172 | Blogger: mrcombustible's blog
6:00PM, JUN 12 2021
I've been on a few happy occasions to Ballydoyle – a place you can file under "middling to awesome" – have loved Warren Place from Sir Noel Murless's day, have a longstanding affection for Willie Mullins' lair of bizarre brilliance, have made some shocking holes in the cellar at Seven Barrows and have a deep-seated affection for Heath House and the polymath genius who rules the place and is guardian of its history.

But last Sunday I was honoured to be summoned – ordered, indeed – to attend my favourite yard of all just outside Newmarket where not a single horse is trained but the occasional Derby winner broken in.

Not that Vicarage Farm Stud is short of livestock. There are 50 racing pigeons, around 11 deliriously happy dogs – only two of which are admitted to the house – ferrets, over 50 sheep, 60 greyhounds in training by the owner's mother and brother, sundry chickens including Peggy, who helped to conduct the interview standing on my notepad, and a selection of sex-crazed budgies whose motto appears to be 'Trill and drill or glide and ride'.

Welcome to the wonderful and welcoming world of Derby-winning jockey Adam Kirby, Megan Evans and their children, Charlie, four, and Evie, three, who has a curly blonde mop of hair that would make Shirley Temple look like Yul Brynner.

Sunday lunch at 3pm in a local pub had 22 of us in attendance and the delightful manager informed us he would be closing at 7.30. As it gradually dawned on him quite how fast the meter was running, he quietly took me aside and smilingly announced that we were more than welcome to stay until Easter.

Discretion and decency prevent me from revealing the bill, but you would race for less in a decent novice hurdle at Cheltenham in October. The only cloud in the sky came from the burning plastic when Megan inserted her card in the machine.

Just 24 hours earlier Kirby had powered Adayar home to win the Derby with a ride that made 'balls of steel' look like mushy peas, some considered savagery in the first furlong and a half followed by him arrowing the big horse through a gap Harry Houdini would have baulked at.

In my endless decades it was a Derby ride matched only by Lester Piggott and Kieren Fallon for dash and daring in the prime of their pomp.

Drawn in the coffin box of stall one, Kirby says: "I really had to stoke him up early as he is a big horse to get into gear and I was worried about that early climb so I had to ask him for plenty. In fact I had to burn him for a furlong and a half, but he was more than up to it.

"I wasn't happy at the top of the hill and found myself following Ben Curtis and the last thing I wanted was a 50-1 chance coming back suddenly and landing in my lap. I didn't want to switch him out because it can affect heartbeat, rhythm and screw their stride pattern so when that little sliver opened up I didn't think twice about getting in there. And god did he pick up – he really surprised me just how very, very good he was."

Adam Kirby celebrates in style after his Derby victory on Adayar
Adam Kirby celebrates in style after his Derby victory on Adayar
John Walton (Getty Images)
As I have observed before, Epsom is not so much a racecourse as a ride that has escaped from Alton Towers, but even its mad undulations were as nothing compared with Kirby's run-up to the race when the ups and downs of being on the fancied John Leeper one minute and jocked off by Frankie Dettori the next must have been a nightmare.

But jocking off fellow riders in the Derby must be the second oldest profession in the world and Lester was notorious for it – I swear back in the 1970s he managed to jock Nelson off his column in Trafalgar Square.

Kirby says: "I was obviously thrilled when Ed Dunlop booked me for just my second ride in the Derby. Ed said nothing was set in stone but asked if I'd ride him and my phone battery went flat before I could thank him. A little later Charlie Appleby rang and said, 'Squeak, I am thinking of running all three of mine,' but I told him I had committed to John Leeper.

"I went and sat on him and loved him, took him to Epsom – a fine big horse who felt every bit as good as he looked. Then came the day I was just turning out of Duchess Drive in Newmarket when Ed rang and said, ‘I’m very sorry Adam, but you’ve lost John Leeper – Frankie’s on him.'”

There followed a phone call to Dettori during which Kirby made his feelings clear, quite possibly using plenty of words not suitable for a family newspaper.

He continues: "By now it was about nine in the evening and I parked up for an hour overlooking the farm and the animals which I love doing. I was angry and must have been like a pit bull when I got back to the house. I rang Charlie and he said, 'You can ride mine. I've spoken to Oisin [Murphy] and he's been an absolute gentleman."

One of the most moving aspects of the immediate post-race aftermath was the flight of fellow pilots who tumbled out of the weighing room to greet someone who is very much one of their own.
You see it over jumps sometimes – Jamie Moore winning the Champion Chase, for example – but it is as frequent as Halley's Comet on the Flat.

Kirby says: "Usually it happens when you retire and I don't mind admitting it touched me very much. Normally you usually have to wait for your funeral to find out how good people thought you were but I imagine you don't really take it in then!

"And I can't thank Charlie enough and would never have a bad word to say about him. He is very witty, a super dad and the best of company. He deserves everything he has achieved.

"Sadly Her Majesty wasn't there but I have met her before when Lethal Force won at Royal Ascot. It would have been great to see her after winning the Derby, but what I would really like from her is a couple of her racing pigeons – she has got some fantastic ones."

Having threaded half a ton of horse through the eye of a needle, Kirby spent the final furlong thinking about his mum, "a brilliant horsewomen, more cowgirl than jockey".

His dad died eight years ago having made enough as an electrician, builder of Swaffham greyhound stadium and very astute breeder of broodmares to buy Vicarage Farm and its 75 acres just outside Headquarters.

What has always set Kirby apart from some of the other one-dimensional jockeys is that his natural instinct for animals transfers itself to his mounts when he is legged up on them. He is 5ft 11in of pure horseman. As John Francome says: "He has a good brain and if there was a race with no saddles they would not see which way he went while all the other jockeys would fall off being led round the paddock."

In his hunting days he was a legend with the Cottesmore, turning up on a coloured pony one day, some ancient beast the next and something he had just broken in the day before the following time.
He is one of those riders who has a bunch of keys bigger than a gaoler's to unlock horses in mind and body.

Nor does he let little details get in his way. When his partner Megan, a superstar in my book and daughter of the grizzled trainer/survivor David Evans, went into labour with their first child, he duly whizzed her into hospital. With Megan in plenty of pain, Adam, ignoring the clamour of horrified midwives, said, 'You sit in that chair and I'll have the bed because I need a snooze.' Suitably refreshed, he had his suit sent round and headed to Royal Ascot. A couple of hours later he received a picture of his firstborn Charlie and proceeded to win on Profitable.

Kirby came up through the ranks starting with Michael Wigham, was riding out aged 12 at James Fanshawe's and rode his first winner for Gay Kelleway, whom he admits "sharpened me up a fair bit".

That first winner was called Broughton's Nose, which could hardly be more apposite. We all know Kirby – tall enough to make a serviceable Belisha Beacon if you painted his head orange – struggles with his weight and, in a masterpiece of understatement, he admits: "I can get up to 10st relatively quickly." I am sure this is because his ears weigh a pound each while his nose must weigh another couple.

He says: "I like champagne but can't get my nose into those bloody flutes."

Don't worry, mate, I am sending you half a dozen of those old- fashioned but increasingly trendy champagne glasses called saucers allegedly modelled on Marie Antoinette's breasts. She, poor girl, ended up headless but her legacy is that Kirby can now open some Bollinger and get gently legless.

Kirby, pictured winning at Sandown this week, has been the toast of the town since Epsom last Saturday
Kirby, pictured winning at Sandown this week, has been the toast of the town since Epsom last Saturday
Edward Whitaker
His alliance with Clive Cox began when he was 17 as second jockey to Philip Robinson and it has been a triumph. Cox is yet another of those fairly ordinary jump jockeys who has made a top-class Flat trainer, and says: "He came down last Tuesday to work some of the Ascot horses and that went really well, but Wednesday he was at rock-bottom.

"I watched the Derby with my wife Tina thinking the number-one draw was a nightmare, but he was supreme in that first furlong and we were overwhelmed to be frank. When you leg him up you know he will be brilliant but look after the horse at the same time.

"All week I have had endless messages of genuine delight on his behalf going back to owners he rode for when he was 7lb claimer. It's been a welter of good wishes and the yard is buzzing for him. An exceptional moment for an exceptional man."

And so say all of us.

When I first met Kirby at Vicarage Farm more than ten years ago we got on like a house on fire. As I left very late at night, he said: "We have spent 48 effing hours clearing the place up for your visit."

My reply was simple: "Well, you didn't make much of a job of it."

"Well," he said, "no need to come back again."

All I can say is that I have been given too many awards in this game, but to be asked by Adam and Megan to help celebrate their Derby win was bang up there with any of them. An honour and a pleasure.

'I won't send a horse out of the yard who isn't perfect'
If you arrive at the races and spot a man parking up and letting six pigeons out of the car, his name is Adam Kirby. Advanced electronics tell him exactly what time each one gets home to Newmarket and he happily concedes he is fascinated by them.

On Monday he took delivery of some serious pigeons and said: "They fascinate me. These are like unbroken three-year-olds – stayers in the making. This lot's grandsire was second in the famous race back from Barcelona."

But very much part of the Vicarage Farm genius lies in the utterly crucial process or breaking in youngsters.

On Monday morning there was a charming congratulatory note from Kirsten Rausing and of course no lesser outfit than Godolphin send plenty to Kirby.

He says: "We take huge pride in teaching the young ones and I will not send a horse out of the yard who is not perfect."

Breaking in young stock requires feel, a beautiful balance between gentleness and discipline plus the rare ability to get inside their complicated heads.

And increasingly bigger and bigger names in the owning world are sending these youngsters to Vicarage Farm to learn how to be those creatures we all love – the talented thoroughbred.

As the great man says: "I can take bad news but if something silly or avoidable goes wrong I find it unbearable."

It is called perfectionism and Kirby is just that – a perfectionist with a heart as big as a house.

This interview is exclusive to Members' Club Ultimate subscribers.

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Replies: 8
the dealer
When: 12 Jun 21 19:28
Cheers Happy
acey deucy
When: 12 Jun 21 21:43
Very good thanks for posting mr c.
screaming from beneaththewaves
When: 12 Jun 21 22:06
I didn't want to switch him out because it can affect heartbeat, rhythm and screw their stride pattern

Something an armchair jockey like me needs to bear in mind when a rider gets trapped and looks like he's left it too late.
windsor knot
When: 12 Jun 21 23:27
classic down . makes every article  really about himself, not the intended subject.
When: 13 Jun 21 07:01

Jun 12, 2021 -- 5:06PM, screaming from beneaththewaves wrote:

I didn't want to switch him out because it can affect heartbeat, rhythm and screw their stride patternSomething an armchair jockey like me needs to bear in mind when a rider gets trapped and looks like he's left it too late.

Maybe that's why he got boxed in first two races yesterday and finished unplaced....

Storm Alert
When: 13 Jun 21 10:02
Thanks, a good read...
acey deucy
When: 13 Jun 21 10:20
classic down . makes every article  really about himself, not the intended subject.....Never really found that.
When: 13 Jun 21 12:14
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