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Sunday, February 6, 2005


SPENCER LEAVES O’BRIEN



Jamie Spencer, the 24-year-old Flat jockey, has resigned from his position as retained rider to Ireland’s champion trainer Aidan O'Brien after just one year.

Speculation had been rife over the last 24 hours that the rider had left one of the highest-profile jobs in racing.


Coolmore spokesman Richard Henry confirmed the news in a statement this evening: “Jamie is a young jockey with a lot of talent and has a long career ahead of him. All the team at Ballydoyle wish him the very best.”

Spencer, who was born on June 8, 1980, in Co Tipperary, sprang to prominence by winning the 1998 Irish 1,000 Guineas on the Tommy Stack-trained Tarascon at the age of 17 when apprenticed to Liam Browne, through whose hands the likes of Mick Kinane, Mark Dwyer, Tommy Carmody and Stephen Craine had also passed.

He rode his first winner on Huncheon Chance for Ian Ferguson at Downpatrick on May 11, 1996. Spencer’s father George, who died when his son was only 12, sent out the one-eyed Winning Fair to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1963 and the family home was a farm next to Edward O’Grady’s Ballynonty stable so there was a special poignancy when Spencer survived a stewards’ enquiry to take the 2002 Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham on the O’Grady-trained Pizarro.


Spencer was always more keen on riding than his studies when boarding at Kilkenny College and was best friends with James ‘Fozzie’ Stack, whose father Tommy trained Tarascon, and was brought over to Britain by the Stack family friend, Barney Curley, to ride Magic Combination to win over hurdles at Kempton in January, 1999.

He began a two-year contract with Luca Cumani in 2002, winning that season’s Singapore Cup on Endless Hall in May and the Irish 1,000 Guineas on Gossamer. Having been used as a second-string rider by both Godolphin and Aidan O’Brien, winning the 2003 St Leger on Brian Boru for the latter, he was signed up at the end of the 2003 season by the O’Brien team to ride as first-choice rider to replace Mick Kinane.


However, his year did not go smoothly, with controversy not far away, while O’Brien had his worst season for Group One winners for a long time.



US TRIPLE CROWN ENTRIES


A total of 357 3-year-olds have been nominated for the 2005 Visa Triple Crown races in America reports The Blood-Horse.


Although the figure is down from the 400-plus nominations in each of the previous four years, it will be of little significance once the multitude of talented 3-year-olds start making their way toward the May 7 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

The purse of this year's Derby has been doubled to a guaranteed minimum gross of $2 million. The Preakness and Belmont Stakes (both gr. I) each remains at $1 million.

With many of the big-name trainers flooding the nomination list, there should be no shortage of stars come Derby Day. Todd Pletcher, who is looking for his first Derby victory after second, third and fourth-place finishes, heads the list with 34 horses nominated, down one from his record 35 nominations in 2004. Bobby Frankel follows Pletcher with 16 nominations, and Nick Zito is next with 14. Bob Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, who combined to win five consecutive Derbys from 1995-99, each have 12 nominations.

To demonstrate the impact Lukas has had on the Triple Crown, he and his former assistants, Pletcher, Kiaran McLaughlin, Mark Hennig, Dallas Stewart, and George Weaver account for 68 of the nominations.

Heading the owner list with nine nominations is Overbrook Farm, who won the 1996 Derby with Grindstone and Belmont Stakes with Editor's Note. They also owned the 1994 Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat and 1995 Preakness winner Timber Country in partnership. Overbrook is still going strong, despite the death last winter of owner and founder William T. Young.

Dogwood Stable is next, with seven nominations, followed by Robert and Beverly Lewis, James McIngvale, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, and Godolphin Racing, each with six. This year marks the return to the nominating list of Godolphin, who did not name a single horse last year after nominating 17, 20 and 19, respectively, the previous three years.

Among the many brilliant 2-year-old stars nominated is juvenile champion Declan's Moon, owned by Samantha and Mace Seigel; Rockport Harbor, owned by Fox Hill Farms; Roman Ruler, owned by Fog City Stable; Afleet Alex, owned by Cash is King LLC; and Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Wilko, owned by J. Paul Reddam and Susan Roy.

“The dip in this year's nominations to the 2005 Visa Triple Crown and $5 million Visa Triple Crown challenge was not unexpected,” said Edward P. Seigenfeld, executive vice-president of Triple Crown Productions. “This is the year in which MRLS (Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome) was expected to be significant and our early-nomination total reflects a similar drop in numbers for Breeders' Cup nominations for this crop of 3-year-olds.”

Early Triple Crown nominations, at a cost of $600 apiece, closed on Jan. 22. Late nominations, at a cost of $6,000 each, will close on March 26.


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