Paddy Young: Five-time Champ

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Paddy Young asked Danny Mullins. He asked Liam Heard. He asked other jockeys around Britain and Ireland.

Nothing happened.

By April, Young and his wife Leslie had a barn full of horses and no jockey. Investigation turned into resignation, forcing Young to pull his tack bag off the tack room shelf for another season. With four championships in the books and ticking ever closer to 40, Young didn’t relish another season. Then Mullins, Heard and others said no. Then Jack Fisher called about Grade 1 winner Mr. Hot Stuff…

Young, who works his mobile phone like Picasso yielded a brush, began texting the champion trainer that he should look for a younger, hungrier jockey. As he typed “…more heart,” Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard called about Mandola, an impressive maiden winner in the fall. Young thought about Mr. Hot Stuff, he thought about Mandola, he thought about Ajzaa, a maiden who was training well on the farm.

“I guess my fire is always on simmer…” Young said.

Young said yes to Fisher, said yes to Sheppard and was a jockey again. He made his 2015 National Steeplechase Association debut at Middleburg Spring Races April 18. Young had dabbled at the point-to-points but had missed the first four weekends of the 2015 season.

Brushing off a five-month hiatus, Young went 3-for-6 and the title race was on – again. By October, the race was over as Young ran away from Jack Doyle (who arrived in May), to claim his fifth jockey championship. From Banbridge, County Down, the 39-year-old won 24 races from 84 rides, leading an Irish sweep of the top nine spots in the standings and climbed further up the all-time leader board with 192 wins (nine jockeys have won 200 races or more). Young tied Hall of Famers Jerry Fishback and Paddy Smithwick with five championships. Only Hall of Famers Dooley Adams and Joe Aitcheson Jr., seven apiece, have more.

At the end of the season, Young walked back to the jocks’ room after going 1-for-5 on the final day. Young talked for three minutes and then was asked if he wanted to put down his saddle – it would be a long conversation. Young set down his leather saddle and girths on the pine needles of South Carolina and talked for another 20 minutes. Dirt caked around his mouth like a day-old cup of hot chocolate, spittle that should have been saliva foamed in the corner of his mouth, the dehydration of being a jump jockey, whisping into the air.

Young had been here before, at the end of a long, arduous, testing, gratifying year. But, now it was over. Officially over. In American steeplechasing – for better or for worse – there is a season. The Aiken Steeplechase in March ushers it in and the Colonial Cup in November ushers it out each year. For jockeys, there is no better time to check the time than at the Colonial Cup meet. Finish it in one piece, check. Celebrate a title, perhaps. Is there another one in you? Hold that thought.

“It’s great, unexpected in a sense,” Young said. “At the start of the year, I wasn’t riding. I went to the point-to-point and rode, still hoping someone would come up to ride the horses, then basically, at the beginning of March I said, ‘I’ll ride our horses myself.’ But, when Jack Fisher calls and Jonathan Sheppard calls, you can’t say no.”

Young didn’t say no again, winning 10 races for Leslie, four for champion trainer Fisher and spreading the wealth among seven different trainers. He captured the Temple Gwathmey aboard Mr. Hot Stuff, the A.P. Smithwick aboard Choral Society and the Noel Laing aboard former British hurdler Andi’amu, the rest were bread-and-butter wins at tracks like Block House and High Hope. Not exactly, Leopardstown and Punchestown.

Young arrived in America in 2003, hoping to ride some amateur timber races and come up with another plan.

“I was a muppet when I came here,” Young said. “If I never came here? I’d probably be riding hunters, maybe schooling bumpers, pair of welly boots on, with no hat cover, plodding around the fields, riding leg long, getting 50 Euros or whatever. It was the best move I ever made.”

Latching on at Fisher’s, Young won seven races in his first season, turned professional, survived a 2-for-48 season in 2005, earned his first championship in 2009 and his second in 2010 while riding his first and only champion, Slip Away.

“I think anybody who has won one title knows how hard it is…when I won my first one, it wasn’t enough, I didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder. When I won the second one, I was delighted,” Young said. “I can remember when I rode Slip Away and we were coming back after exercising in the morning, I whispered to him, ‘If you win the Cup today, I’ll hang it up.’ Then he won and I was like, ‘Man, this horse is going to be racing next year, how can I give up?’

“Last year, my heart wasn’t in it, it was just getting out of bed and doing the job,” Young said. “This year, it just snowballed, I wasn’t ringing up for rides, but when I was one clear after Saratoga, I wasn’t sleeping at night, so I knew then that it obviously meant something.”

The tallest jockey in the room, Young has perfected his craft. When he came to America, he was a rider. Now, he’s a jockey. Mastering a style closer to Ruby Walsh than Tony McCoy, Young folds his frame like he’s climbing into a kayak and tries to deliver everything with as little force as possible. He upset the Smithwick in the ride of the year, producing Choral Society like he was sliding an envelope under a door, the horse ran the last 100 yards, that’s it.

“When I first came over here I tried to win the race early, I’ve done a complete U-turn. I try to watch Timmy Murphy, Mick Fitzgerald, Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell, if you can’t learn watching them, you’ll never learn,” Young said. “The first title will always be the best, but to win five, nobody has done it in my era so it’s huge.”

And, about that sixth.

“Interview over,” Young said.

See you next year, champ.

Originally written as part of a weekly American feature by Sean Clancy for The Irish Field. For more, go to The Irish Field