PAT KEANE: Ronan Whelan - a young jockey rapidly going places

At Royal Ascot on Tuesday Ronan Whelan offered more evidence that he is a young man rapidly going places when guiding Jennies Jewel to success in the two-and-a-half-mile Ascot Stakes.

This particular race would definitely rank at the lower end of the scale when it comes to contests of importance at this meeting, but for Whelan it was a massively big deal.

For a number of years now he has been second jockey, behind Kevin Manning, to Jim Bolger, and one anticipates, he will take over when the veteran pilot finally decides to call it a day.

That day can hardly be a million miles away either, considering Manning will celebrate his 50th birthday next March.

Whelan has been a very good rider for a while now, but we simply haven’t seen enough of him at the top level to be sure he has what it takes to challenge the very best.

But the portents are good and the 23-year-old, who has always been associated with Bolger and comes from Monasterevin, Co Kildare, has time very much on his side.

Royal Ascot marked a watershed for him, with Jennies Jewel, trained by fellow Monasterevin man, Jarlath Fahey, giving Whelan his first ever winner at the Royal meeting.

This was a class display by the pilot, making every yard of the running on the tough nine-year-old mare.

To make all at Ascot, over such a long trip and with 19 opponents, is a difficult task. But he got all of the fractions right and Jennies Jewel held on for dear life close home to score by a neck from the fast finishing Qewy.

As far as Whelan was concerned the message seemed clear, give me the ammunition and I will deliver.

His comment, in the immediate aftermath of the memorable victory, was simply delicious. He said: ‘’Jarlath is a small trainer and I’m a small jockey.’’

He wasn’t referring, you suspect, to his stature, but rather his current standing in the game. Chances are, however, that is likely to change, sooner rather than later.

His superb handling of Jennies Jewel followed on a memorable afternoon at the Curragh on June 4. Whelan rode a treble that evening, including landing a Group 3 aboard Divine for Mick Channon.

But it was what he did on the Bolger-trained Stellar Maas in a maiden that was seriously eye-catching. Stellar Mass had become something of a professional loser and it is probably fair to say most punters had lost faith in him.

But, partnered with real patience, he was delivered with impeccable timing to lead in the last hundred yards and win by half a length.

A product of the pony racing circuit, Whelan rode his first winner, from only his second ride, on Bolger’s Seachtanach in June of 2009 at Navan. He has come a long way in the meantime, to be one of the most promising flat riders in the country.

He was also, of course, involved in a bizarre incident on 2000 Guineas day at the Curragh in May of 2010.

Riding a horse in a handicap called Monivea for Brian Nolan, he was found guilty of excessive use of the whip and suspended for three days.

Bolger went into bat for him, however, and subsequently produced this nugget. Said Bolger: “History was made here today, my apprentice got three days for excessive use of the whip. The problem is he dropped his whip in the stalls.’’

The three-day imposition was quickly dropped, with the stewards apologising.

Right now Whelan regards himself as “a small jockey.’’ There are clear indications, however, especially over the last few weeks, that he is certainly beginning to grow.

The Gurkha was the medium of some savage wagers for the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot this week, with one major player reportedly coming out to play big time.

He went off at 4-5, which really was far too short, on the basis he was taking on Galileo Gold and Awtaad, winners of the English and Irish 2000 Guineas respectively.

One might have expected this certain stayer to be ridden forward by Ryan Moore, but instead he dropped him out at the back.

Then The Gurkha found a bit of trouble in running in the straight and basically was simply left with far too much to do.

Anyway it proved that the normally immaculate Moore is human after all and this was not his best work. Now if Joseph O’Brien had been on top…!

In December of last-year the American stallion, Scat Daddy, died and isn’t he some loss? That is an easy conclusion to arrive at, watching one of his sons and one of his daughter in action at Royal Ascot.

His son, Caravaggio, was quite superb in landing the Coventry Stakes and right now has to be regarded as the best juvenile colt seen so far this season.

But that brilliant effort was overshadowed by Scat Daddy’s daughter, Lady Aurelia, in the Queen Mary Stakes.

Everything was alien to Wesley Ward’s American visitor, but she was absolutely spectacular, blowing away even us old cynics!

It was terrific watching Order Of St George landing the Ascot Gold Cup on Thursday, for obvious reasons, and he is simply different class to the current crop of stayers.

Today we will seek further profit with another Aidan O’Brien-inmate, Churchill, in the Listed seven furlongs Chesham Stakes.

The once-raced son of Galileo is highly regarded and expected to step up plenty on his debut third behind Van Der Decken at the Curragh on May 22.


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