Work-rider Fletcher Yarham might not be a household name but he is, in all likelihood, the man who knows Loving Gaby the best. Every morning, when he awakes from his nightly slumber at 3.15am he is filled with a sense of excitement for the day ahead knowing the Blue Diamond Stakes favourite is waiting for him, the first horse he rides every day.
While most of us would probably be dreading such an early alarm call, Fletcher can’t hide his enthusiasm to get to work and partner the filly in her work telling us in his native British accent “it’s pretty exciting, and I get a kick out of it.”
Not in Australia for more than six weeks the young rider finds himself in the middle of a significant time for his new employers as Ciaron Maher & David Eustace chase their first victory in one of Australia’s premier two-year-old races.
His journey to working for one of the country’s premier stables was pretty much mapped out from the day he could sit in a saddle. Obsessed with riding ponies from the age of three or four Fletcher chased his dreams of being a jockey into his formative teenage years using his summer holidays to ride out for Newmarket-based trainer Chris Wall. It was no surprise to anyone who knew him that he finished his schooling at 16 to enrol in the British Racing School. That set him on the path to working for Hughie Morrison before spending three years at George Scott’s yard first as an apprentice jockey, before his height got the better of him, then as a work-rider partnering the likes of stable star James Garfield. In a roundabout way, it was his association with that horse which eventually led him to Australia following a chance meeting with David Eustace.
“David is good friends with George Scott” recalls the rider. “One morning he came over to have a look at James Garfield, and I just got talking with him. During the conversation, he suggested when the time was right we should organise for me to come over to Australia for a bit, and here I am.”
Although just starting in his new life Fletcher is having to adapt quickly to a new way of working, but you get the sense, from the thrill in his voice, he’s enjoying the challenges being laid at his feet.
“You ride a lot more horses here, in a morning you probably get on 8 or 9 lots whereas back home you probably ride three or four.” He explains. “The lots are a lot quicker here you’re pretty much bang on and off all morning, compared to at home where you could ride one out for over an hour. You also have to tack them up yourselves and brush off your own horses. The other big difference is working them on the track here, which isn’t something you do at home, plus there are a lot more hills back in the UK!”
To be an effective work rider, you need to get to know your horse, to be able to report back to the trainer of any changes in attitude or ‘feel’ no matter how subtle they might be. It can often mean the difference between a huge run or a massive disappointment. Although only with ‘Gaby’, as he lovingly refers to her, for his half dozen weeks down under it’s clear the former apprentice jockey is already developing a bit of a bond with the Phoenix Thoroughbreds owned filly.
“She’s really sweet, very relaxed and such a professional.” Even though we are speaking on the phone, you can tell he’s grinning as he describes the two-year-old’s nature. “She takes everything in her stride and listens to you, which is great as a rider as you can go any pace you need to. She covers a lot of ground on the track, no matter what speed you’re going it just feels likes she’s lobbing along as she has such a big stride. Off the track she’s a nice natured filly, she loves a cuddle and loves her food, you’ll quickly make friends with her if you bring her a carrot.”
Although an impressive winner of the Group Three Chairman’s Stakes on debut her work partner agrees she was still showing plenty of inexperience as she was put through her paces under a great ride from Damian Lane. That provided not just a first Group victory for her owners in Australia but a massive learning curve for the I Am Invincible filly.
“100% she’s learned from that debut,” says Fletcher explaining how she’s ‘felt’ since her first run. “She’s no different in attitude; she’s not been lit up by it, in fact, I think she’ll always be a relaxed type of filly. She’s ‘come on’ for the run in a sense she’s not as green, not looking at things around the track so much, she might be even more laid back now and just grown up a bit.”
There are, of course, lots of attributes that a classy racehorse can have to make them better than the majority of their rivals. They’re not always very easy to define, and trainer Ciaron Maher has expressed his opinion Loving Gaby has an ‘X-Factor’ about her. The view from the saddle can often be an insightful place to answer such puzzles, and Fletcher has his thoughts on what could make her a bit special.
“She’s got an impressive turn of foot which you saw on her debut, and the way she switches off is a big help. Her relaxed attitude and the way she takes everything in her own stride are big attributes as she can finish off her races well. She covers a lot of ground which is a massive factor and taking all that into account if you can put that all together on the big day you’d say she should be there or thereabouts.”
That big assignment is fast approaching now. The nerves and excitement are beginning to build for all those involved in the juvenile. The draw of Barrier 12 is ok more than disastrous, and the last major work-out has been completed. That, however, does not mean the job of preparing her for a Group One test is over for her work rider.
“My job now is just to keep everything straight forward.” Explains Fletcher. “As long as she’s happy and relaxed its job done. It will be a bit nerve racking watching it, and I’ll be excited to see it as I’m expecting her to run a big race.”
And should that big run turn into Group One success it will be a landmark moment not just in the history of the Ciaron Maher yard and for owners Phoenix Thoroughbreds but also for the young man who rides her every day. He, one of the thousands of staff who might be away from the limelight but are a vital cog in the mechanism that keeps racing going.
“It’s always great to be involved in a good horse; it’s what you aim to achieve as a track rider to get on these good horses every day and get them to the races.” Says Fletcher as he’s asked to dream of what a win on Saturday would mean to him. “I’ll take a bit of pride in it; it’s nice to say ‘I ride Gaby in the mornings and look after her’. I would be a cool feeling should she deliver on the day.”
Whatever the result on Saturday afternoon Fletcher will be back riding Gaby in her work and doing his bit to get her ready for her next run. It’s a status quo that the Brit abroad is enjoying and he’s in no hurry to make alternative plans for the future.
“I’m just enjoying my time here at the moment. I don’t have any grand plans as to what I’m going to do yet. I think I want to get into a bit of pupil assistant training at some point whether that be here or back home. At the moment I’m just settling in but, at the end of the year I’ll probably have a better idea as to what I want to do and where I want to go.”
For now, he’s doing an excellent job for Loving Gaby, and he’ll be as thrilled as anyone should she land the prize in the Blue Diamond Stakes on Saturday.