Since the start of the 20th century, 39 trainers have won the championship on the Flat for the first time. Just five – Frank Butters, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, Paddy Prendergast, Peter Walwyn and Aidan O’Brien – retained the title the following season. The old saw in football that winning the championship is tough but hanging on to it is even harder seems to hold true in Flat racing, too.
But as the racing caravan moves on from Guineas weekend at Newmarket, towards Chester, York and the Derby meeting at Epsom, it is already clear that Charlie Appleby will take a great deal of stopping in his attempt to become No 6 on the list, two decades after O’Brien won his second title in 2002.
A one-two for Appleby in the 2,000 Guineas was followed on Sunday by a convincing win for With The Moonlight in the Pretty Polly Stakes, a key trial for the Oaks at Epsom next month. Andrew Balding, John & Thady Gosden, William Haggas and O’Brien, second to fifth respectively in last year’s title race, had 23 runners in all over the three days of the meeting and just one winner: Balding’s Shine So Bright in a handicap on Friday.
The Gosden stable could not even muster a runner on Saturday’s card, while O’Brien drew a blank in the Newmarket Classics for the first time since 2014. The man with a record eight Derby winners to his name already does at least head into the next fortnight of Epsom trials with the ante-post favourites for both the Derby and Oaks, however, thanks to the eye-catching performances of Luxembourg and Tuesday in their respective Guineas.
Ballydoyle, as usual, has several entries in the Classic trials at Chester this week, including Changingoftheguard, a son of Galileo who won a maiden by six lengths in early April, and is one of five declared runners for the Chester Vase on Wednesday. The likely favourite for the Group Three, though, is New London, unbeaten in two starts, now second-favourite for the Derby – and trained by Appleby.
There is already a sense of relentlessness about the Appleby stable similar to the one that surrounded runners from Ballydoyle a few seasons ago, and he has two of last year’s Classic winners – Adayar and Hurricane Lane – preparing to launch their four-year-old campaigns. His stable has sent out 40 winners from 103 runners in 2022, a remarkable strike-rate of 39%, and from his point of view the season has only just begun.
There will, of course, be many twists and turns over the next six months, but Appleby could scarcely have made a stronger start to his title defence and his stable will be the bedrock for William Buick as he attempts to win the Flat jockeys’ championship for the first time.
With Oisin Murphy serving a season-long ban, Buick may never have a better chance to win the title and while riders including Tom Marquand, Hollie Doyle and David Probert may feel the same way, Buick’s consistency is exceptional, with a strike-rate above 20% in each of the last three seasons.
The early signs are that his win-rate could edge up rather than down this year, so his main rivals will need to work even harder to beat him.
Murphy had 860 rides on the way to his first title in 2019, but that was under the old system that allowed jockeys to ride at nine meetings per week.
The 2022 season will retain the Covid-related protocol restricting riders to one meeting per day, so even the busiest jockeys may struggle to reach 700 rides in the championship period from May to mid-October. Unless injury or a severe suspension intervenes, Buick will surely be Britain’s next champion jockey on the Flat.