Champions 2011: Paddy Young adds a third

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The first is about achievement. The second, approval. The third, affirmation. Paddy Young became the first steeplechase jockey to win three titles in a row since John Cushman dominated the trade, winning four consecutive crowns back in the 80s.

Since then, no jockey stayed healthy, hungry or good enough to threepeat. Not Teter, not Hendriks, not Lawrence, not Miller(s), not Kiser, not Kingsley, not Brown, not McCarron, not Aizpuru, not nobody.

Young led from start to finish in 2011, winning 27 races for six trainers, including his wife Leslie who contributed four wins to the cause. Young nearly doubled his closest pursuer, Brian Crowley, who finished the year with 15 wins.

Born in Ireland, Young emigrated to the United States to ride as an amateur, perhaps win the Maryland Hunt Cup. He won seven races in 2003, six in 2004, two in 2005. And 103 since. Young has worked – literally, worked – his way to the top of the game. The lanky amateur has turned into the complete professional (minus the sport coat) of his time. Sure, he has his choice of rides – cherry-picking quality from Tom Voss, claimers from Ricky Hendriks and house horses from Leslie – but choice comes from accomplishment.

Young won his first title in 2009. That one was about earning a championship, getting that one  line of indelible description.

“The first year you walk away and think, ‘Brilliant, but was it a fluke?’ ” Young said.

A year later, he backed it up with a solid defense. That one was about legitimizing the first.

“The second year,” Young said, “you’re trying to prove yourself.”

The third, gravy.

“This year I felt more established. There was no pressure. I’ve achieved more than I ever thought I would achieve,” Young said. “I’m not being cocky, but I didn’t have anything to prove, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”

It happened.

Young skipped the opener at Aiken, foregoing two wins for Hendriks to ride two for Leslie at Warrenton Point-to-Point, but was quickly rolling as his main client, Voss, opened with an unusual early and electric start.

Young won a maiden on Good Request for Voss at Camden. Mischief, Slaney Rock and Tizsilk swept three at Stoneybrook. Reveillon offered a late pickup win at Atlanta. Mischief won again at Middleburg. Arch Hero and Cornhusker contributed wins at Foxfield. In Hendriks’ barn, Lake Placid added a score at the Virginia Gold Cup. Belarion bolstered the stanza with a maiden timber win at Winterthur. Triple Dip, a maiden, won the timber stakes at Nashville for Jimmy Day. Hendriks dusted off Thermostat for a win at Willowdale. Mabou, Ballet Boy and Dance Faster provided a triple at Radnor. Church Service promised huge things with a runaway win at High Hope.

Now that’s a spring – 16 wins.

“Everything fell in place, if I was in trouble in a race, a gap opened. Having a huge advantage all the way helped, it took the pressure off,” Young said. “When Triple Dip ran at Oatlands (Point-to-Point), I told Jimmy I couldn’t ride him in the maidens because I had ones for Tom and some of our own, ‘If you aim this horse at Nashville, I promise I’ll ride him.’ And it worked out, it wasn’t something dreamt up the weekend before.”

Then the summer. Gulp. Young endured a four-month winless skid, losing 27 consecutive races. Brian Crowley, riding the guns of Jonathan Sheppard, closed the gap but still entered the fall well behind. Crowley missed time for a suspension and Young put the title on ice.

Lake Placid won a cheap claimer at Colonial Downs. Class Mark won a claimer and Gustavian contributed 20 percent of the winner’s share to the Youngs at Shawan Downs. Sir Dynamite collected a maiden claimer at Foxfield. Black Bag notched another maiden claimer at Virginia Fall. Farndale came through with a conditioned claimer win at Morven Park. Gustavian added another, taking an allowance at Aiken. Dance Faster won yet another claimer for Hendriks at Montpelier. G’day G’day upset the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Mussiecoocoo obliged in the allowance timber. Wanganui, on his way to a 3-year-old championship, made 27. Whew.

“You depend on Tom for the stakes horses and maidens, depend on Ricky for the claimers, hopefully our horses step up, then I was lucky enough to get on horses for Jimmy Day and other mid-size trainers,” Young said. “If you’re not in, you can’t win, it worked out perfect, it just worked out perfect, I was riding for the right people all year. Winners make confidence. Every time you go out there, you think you can win, that makes you ride better, I won’t say invincible, but you just think everything you ride can win.”

That’s exactly how Young rides, he gives every horse a chance. Patient, quiet, calculating, almost sympathetic to a horse, he’s transformed himself from natural-riding amateur to polished professional – with three titles. Young doesn’t drink, stays fit, works like a drill press and manages to be diplomatic in a game where bridges get burned and grudges get held with each overnight.

This fall, Young played three conditioned claimers better than Ban Ki-moon.

At Shawan Downs, Young was named on Farndale, for his main client Tom Voss. He was also named on Class Mark for Ricky Hendriks. The latter had won a point-to-point and was set up. Young took off Farndale and rode Class Mark. He won.

Two weeks later, Farndale was back in at Morven Park. Young was named on him and Dispute This for Hendriks. Young rode Farndale. He won.

A month later, Dispute This was back in at Montpelier with Young named. He won. Three wins could have easily been zero wins.

“Thank God for text messaging,” he said of his diplomacy.

As for a fourth title, can he stay healthy, hungry or good enough?

“I take it day to day, the main thing is to stay in one piece and take it from there. Tom lost a lot of stakes horses this year so you’re hoping he can restock, you hope Ricky can restock with the claimers, you hope our horses can do good,” Young said. “There aren’t many days off. But in all honesty, I feel rewarded for what I put into it, I don’t moan about the work. When you’re winning, it’s all worth it.”

Paddy Young
Sts    1st    2nd    3rd    Earnings
112    27    20    17    $529,470

Third consecutive championship for transplanted Irishman. First to three-peat since John Cushman in 1983. Led throughout while getting bulk of work from leading trainer Tom Voss and Ricky Hendriks. Also rode regularly for his wife Leslie. Won stakes with Triple Dip, G’day G’day and Wanganui. Won 100th career race in May at Virginia Gold Cup.