Lee hoping he will have plenty to smile about aboard hot tip Growl
ASK most jockeys what is the toughest part of the job and the answer will be “getting on the right horse”.
It gets even harder come the big races but Graham Lee will find himself on the horse who will be the hot favourite for the biggest race of the day when he rides Growl in the William Hill Ayr Gold Cup.
For over a decade as a jump jockey Lee was often the right man on the right horse and harvested a rich crop of the winter game’s glittering prizes, including the 2004 Scottish Grand National on Grey Abbey, until he switched to riding on the Flat in 2012.
He hit the ground running with a century in each of his first four seasons and big winners like the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot last year on Trip To Paris, but it has been a harder road to travel this season.
“I was off five weeks with a virus in the summer, which didn’t help. Out of sight out of mind,” he said. “But there’s no point getting older unless you get wiser. Some lads feed off having winners for their confidence. But I don’t think it affects me that way. If the horse is good enough, I’ll win on it.
“Yes, it’s been an average season but I’m not bothered. You just take each day as it comes and I’m too old to get bothered by figures and stats.”
The stats say that Lee had a 29 per cent strike-rate riding on the Flat for Richard Fahey but only 0-4 this year so it was a little surprising to some outsiders when the trainer offered him the ride on Growl, on whom he will not have sat until he gets the leg up in the parade ring.
“One of the great pieces of advice I was given as a youngster was expect the unexpected,” he said, “and I didn’t see that coming.”
Those who try to see a way through the conundrum of this 25-suspect whowill-win-it have often fallen back on the draw bias. Growl is drawn in stall six but changes to the sprint track at Ayr, with a false rail on the stands’ side, are considered to have nullified what was described as a “golden highway” that had favoured high-drawn horses and Don’t Touch won the race for Fahey 12 months ago when breaking from stall eight.
“I’m still going through the race but there’s pace around him, with Watchable and Nameitwhatyoulike drawn near to him, and that’s a massive help. He can take a tow off the pace and get taken into the race,” Lee said. “Since the golden highway has been removed it’s all about where the pace is. I don’t think there’s a draw bias at all now.”
The betting market is heavily biased in favour of Growl and will mean that the fate of millions of pounds will be decided in around 72 seconds. Lee does not give the prospect of such pressure even a second’s thought.
“Not in the slightest. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelid at it,” he said, with a late entry for least surprising comment of the week.
“Growl doesn’t know what price he is and I’m not bothered. If he’s good enough and he has luck on the day he’ll win.”
Perhaps, but when those stalls open, if Growl is the right horse then Lee will back himself to be the right man for the job. SELECTIONS Growl
Lulu The Zulu Sterling Davis wants Glasgow Rocks summer arrivals to fight for their starting spots when his side faces a USA Select team in their final pre-season friendly tomorrow.
With Great Britain duo Kieron Achara and Gareth Murray not scheduled to link up with the squad until Monday, the American seized the chance to look through his line-up in Tuesday’s 101-41 rout of the Scottish League side Boroughmuir.
But with seven days until the BBL opener against Manchester, Davis wants to get a feel for how the Rocks shape up.
“I just want to see us continue to grow,” he said. “Playing Boroughmuir gave me somewhat of an idea of where we are but Sunday will be a tougher test. Our offense so far looks okay. Our defence has been pretty good. But there’s still a lot of growth we need before our first league game next weekend.”
GRITTED TEETH: Growl, ridden here at Ascot by Jimmy Fortune, will be steered by Graham Lee in today’s feature race Gold Cup at Ayr.