As Irish sprinter Slade Power prepares for his keenly anticipated clash with the top Australians in Saturday's Darley Classic at Flemington, Donn McClean looks at the remarkable story of the 5-year-old’s jockey, Irishman Wayne Lordan.
Wayne Lordan sat easily in his chair before this year’s Royal Ascot and spoke about Slade Power. No real pressure, he said. Honestly, he said. He knew how good his horse was, and he had his plan.
This was his plan: ride him exactly as he had ridden him the previous October when the pair of them had won the British Champions’ Sprint Stakes. Up with the pace, just behind the leaders. Keep it simple. No dramatics, no heroics. Wayne Lordan all over.
A different type of person might have buckled. It was Royal Ascot after all, Day Five of five, the G1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes with The Queen and everybody watching.
Not only that, but there was all this talk of the “Power Double.” Sole Power had won the G1 King’s Stand Stakes on Day One, trained, like Slade (when you speak about the two of them together, you drop the Power – it’s the rule, it’s inferred), by Eddie Lynam, and owned, like Slade, by David and Sabena Power. (There’s the Power.) There was all this talk of book-ending the week with the two G1 sprints, a small trainer from Ireland, owners with finite pockets.
Put that with the fact that Slade Power did not yet have a stallion-making G1 victory on his CV, despite the fact that his branches were laden with ability and that his trainer had been telling us since the time that his dam shunned him that this fellow could be even better than Sole. Check the pressure valve again: nothing.
Lordan rode Slade Power up Ascot’s straight six furlongs that day like a man who was riding a piece of work up the Old Vic gallop on The Curragh, just as he has said, up with the pace on the far side, just behind the leaders. Hit the front just inside the two-furlong pole and keep going all the way to the line.
Wayne Lordan has been keeping things simple all his life. It all started when he won on his pony Shaky on his debut on the pony-racing circuit, a 9-year-old lad who barely made an impression when he stood up on the weighing scales. He spent a summer at County Tipperary trainer David Wachman’s stable when he was 12, and he joined another local trainer, Thomond O’Mara, as an apprentice when he was 14.
He rode winners for O’Mara and he honed his skills. A good young rider who could claim allowances off bottom weight in a handicap, he was in demand. He rode 17 winners in 1999, just his second year riding, and he established himself as one of the brightest young talents in the weighing room. O’Mara introduced him to leading trainer Tommy Stack and his son Fozzy, and he kicked on.
He rode good winners for the Stacks in the early days, Basin Street Blues, Serov, Serious Play. At the end of the 2003 season, with still 13 winners to go before he lost his claim, he went to America to further his experience. He learned lots during that spell at Turfway Park, riding four winners from 30 mounts, but he returned home to find that, because his American victories came with an apprentice's license, he could no longer claim weight allowances in Ireland.
He did win the Irish Lincoln in March 2004 on the Tommy Stack-trained Tolpuddle, and he rode Patsy Byrne’s horse to win a Listed race the following month back at The Curragh, but he struggled after that. With no claim, he was competing on a level playing field with the top men, a young apprentice competing against Michael Kinane and Johnny Murtagh and Pat Smullen for rides. With no momentum, 11 winners was all he could muster that season.
Things picked up quickly the following year. He continued to ride for Tommy and Fozzy Stack, but he also renewed his links with David Wachman and he rode 41 winners in 2005, almost double his best previous total. And he started to get on the good horses. Alexander Tango and Myboycharlie and Walk On Bye and Bushranger. In 2008, he rode Unsung Heroine to win a G3 at Cork and to finish second behind Conduit in the English St Leger.
Then, in 2010, Sole Power came along.
Lordan had ridden Sole Power just once before the G1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York in August 2010. He had finished fourth on him in the G3 Palace House Stakes at Newmarket the previous May. Pat Smullen and Johnny Murtagh were the other two riders who had ridden him, but Smullen was riding at Killarney on Nunthorpe day for his boss, Dermot Weld, while Murtagh was riding the 6-to-4 favourite Starspangledbanner for Aidan O’Brien in the Nunthorpe.
Lordan was delighted to be called upon by Eddie Lynam to ride the Kyllachy gelding. Undaunted, unfazed by the fact that his horse was a 100-to-1 shot, he rode him like a good horse, well off the pace, didn’t ask him for his effort until he reached the furlong pole, and he won well, beating Starspangledbanner into second place. It was Lordan’s first G1 win, Eddie Lynam’s first, Sole Power’s first; the first of many for all three.
Circumstances and commitments to Stack and Wachman have determined that Lordan hasn’t ridden Sole Power since 2011, but he has ridden Slade in 17 of his 19 races, including in his two G1 wins - that Diamond Jubilee at Royal Ascot last June and the July Cup at Newmarket the following month.
On Saturday, he will ride him for the final time in the AUD$1 million (USD$860,000) G1 Darley Classic at Flemington in Australia.
It has been a good season for Irish horses in Australia. Gordon Lord Byron won the George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill in March and Adelaide won the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley in October. Even so, it is not going to be easy for Slade Power, taking on the top Australian sprinters, including the world’s highest-rated in Lankan Rupee and rising star and pre-race favourite Chautauqua.
But Slade Power is a top-class sprinter, trained by a top-class trainer, and Wayne Lordan is a top-class jockey. Horse and rider appear to have settled in well to their new surroundings. Slade Power’s issues with the starting stalls have been well-aired at this stage, but his own lad will be allowed to load him into the stalls, blind on, and Lordan will be allowed to remove his blind whenever he wants. That is a big help.
Lordan himself got his eye in at Flemington by winning a Listed race on Tuesday, Melbourne Cup Day, on the Anthony Freedman-trained Reparations. That should ease the pressure -- if there ever was any pressure.