18 JANUARY 2003, Page 44

The turf

All-weather stars

Robin Oakley If Jimmy Quinn rode horses as fast as he speaks, the rest of them would never catch up with him. He is a 7st 101b ginger-haired bundle of energy, who never stops. Last year he rode more than 1,100 horses in races in Britain and scored 101 victories. On top of that, he had more than a hundred rides in Germany. He rode in Ireland, in Italy, even in Istanbul, and was second in the Swiss Derby. He reckons he had just three Sundays off. I could only catch him for a word at Lingfield on Saturday, as he took a quick drag on a cigarette after the fourth race. The fifth was the only contest on the eight-race card in which he did not have a mount. And for lightweight jockeys like Jimmy Quinn, the steady build-up of the all-weather tracks at Lingfield, Southwell and Wolverhampton has been a boon, increasing both the size and the steadiness of their income.

You won't see Kieron Fallon, Richard Hughes, Kevin Darley or Frankie Dettori blowing on their fingers in February before a seven-furlong seller at Southwell, although Pat Eddery, eager to clock his normal century of winners in a season, did pursue all-weather rides in December (in the end he finished on a frustrating 99). But for the next rank of jockeys, the allweather tracks have become a godsend, as they have for trainers who won't be getting much of a look-in at the height of the flat season when the big yards are in full swing. Jimmy Quinn has become one of the stars of the all-weather tracks, along with Ian Mongan and the flavour of the month Eddie Ahern, who scored a treble on Saturday's Lingfield card to make it eight victories in as many days.

In the bad old days at Lingfield, the jockeys say, there wasn't much finesse about it. There was so much kick-back from the sand that your only hope was to dash into the lead and stay there as long as you could. But since the excellent Polytrack surface was laid it has been much more like turf racing, with a variety of tactics employed. Jimmy Quinn says: 'It's a nice track to ride now, but you have to use your head. It's hard to ride here now from in front. But you need a horse which can travel. There can be a lot of traffic coming into the straight.' The key to many races, he says, is coming down the hill between the threeand two-furlong markers, and there his fellow Irishman Eddie Ahern has perfected what has become known as the 'slingshot technique', a long, smooth acceleration through that furlong, building momentum for the sweep round the bend into the final straight. All-weather racing still lacks something in atmosphere, but spice is sensibly being added in the Bet Direct All-Weather Jockeys Championship, running from November to March. Ian Mongan is odds-on favourite for the threetrack contest, but if you can still get 4-1 against Jimmy Quinn, he is worth a punt.

Winter flat racing really is coming into its own, and not just because it provides us frustrated punters with somewhere to go when the weather rules out the jumping tracks. The class is stepping up all the time. For the second Saturday running, one of Ahern's winners, Royal Trigger, was provided by the multi-horsepower Barry Hills yard. Another. Makula, hacked down, alas without my help, from 14-1 to 7-1, was provided by Brian Meehan, who has been attracted not just by the Polytrack surface but by the increasing prize money on offer. The big boys are muscling in. So are the names-tobe. The likable Andrew Balding had his first winner in his own right since taking over the prestige Kingsclere yard from father Ian with the 11)-1 Easter Ogil, a somewhat frustrating character known in the yard as 'doggy Ogg'. At least they haven't had to waste too much on the horses' rugs in the changeover, merely picking the off the I.A.B. which used to adorn them.

Balding pere was always good about giving youngsters their opportunities, and it seems the tradition will continue. Easter Ogil was neatly ridden by stable apprentice Neil Chalmers. Another claimer who showed that you don't have to be an old sweat to master the Lingfield tactics was young Tom Queally, a former Irish champion apprentice who is attached to the Aidan O'Brien yard and who was on a working holiday with trainer David Elsworth. He timed his run coolly on old Indian Blaze in the seller and is worth a line in the notebook.

The day's biggest prize, though, went to the Maidstone yard of John Best, who was still on his way to the course from a skiing holiday in Austria. Desert Spirit, bought by Best because he looked like Steely Dan, who had won the same race for him the year before, took the Showcase Handicap at 33-1, unbacked by the stable's guiding light Dave Nevison but fortunately supported by his owner Paul Hudson. Desert Spirit had won for the yard once before at the same price, at Sandown. They had not fancied him that time because it was his first outing, 57 days after being gelded. They had not reckoned him quite ready this time either in such a hot race, as it was his first race for 113 days. If there is anything more frustrating than a horse which does it all on the gallops and shows little on the track, it must surely be the horse who doesn't really show you quite enough at home, then goes out and does it on the track.