Spencer comes of age at Curragh

NO one, not even Mark Johnston, you suspect, will have left the Curragh on Sunday evening with a deeper sense of satisfaction than Jamie Spencer.

He was entitled to feel well pleased with his weekend's work, a couple of days at headquarters which saw a boy grow into a man!

Spencer must have travelled to the Curragh on Saturday feeling under enormous pressure. He had to be aware the whispering campaign was in full flow, that many in the game were beginning to believe he simply wasn't up to the biggest job in racing in Europe, first jockey at Ballydoyle.

It wasn't that he had lost races he should have won, indeed you would have trouble coming up with any example of that.

No, it was rather the fact he had already been suspended on a couple of occasions and then the Antonius Pius incident in the French 2000 Guineas at Longchamp really was starting to look the last straw, if that's not too much of an exaggeration.

It was a diabolical decision by the French stewards and Spencer should never have been suspended in the first place.

But suspended he was and six days on the sidelines this week he can return for the delights of Ballinrobe next Monday if he wishes was a bit of a disaster.

The pressure of riding for Ballydoyle should not be underestimated. The two previous pilots who held the job under Aidan O'Brien, Christy Roche and Michael Kinane, arrived with a huge amount of experience under their collective belts, seasoned, talented and tough professionals.

Spencer hasn't had such a grounding, hasn't enjoyed working under regimes such as "Darkie" Prendergast, Jim Bolger and Dermot Weld.

In lots of ways, he's still learning his trade and, as Ted Walsh pointed out at the Curragh on Sunday, "is just a kid".

The day after he partnered Antonius Pius at Longchamp, Spencer travelled to Roscommon to ride Rockstown Boy in a 12 furlongs maiden.

The world and its mother knows Rockstown Boy is a hold-up horse. That evening, however, he dashed him into the lead at around halfway and, inevitably, Rockstown Boy died a thousand deaths in the straight to finish a struggling fifth.

Perhaps, Spencer did exactly what he was told, but for the thousands at the track and watching in the betting offices it didn't look good.

Come the Guineas' weekend, however, he showed real balls, real character and, for the first time, I would contend, made it crystal clear just why Ballydoyle appointed him.

He ended the two days with five winners, giving three outstanding performance. On Saturday, he won the Group Three Greenlands Stakes on outsider The Kiddykid, putting American Gary Stevens, who was aboard heavily-backed favourite Arakan, completely in the shade.

Spencer was very good on Powerscourt on Sunday, Tattersalls Gold Cup, and quite brilliant on Meath in the Gallinule Stakes.

The manner in which he celebrated after the Gold Cup, his first Group One since coming to Ballydoyle, gave every indication he felt a real monkey was off his back!

His riding had a right bit of devil and dash about it. I could be completely wrong, of course, but last weekend might mark a real watershed in the career of Jamie Spencer.

Powerscourt was superb, looking much improved on last season. But let's not get carried away just yet.

Does beating Livadiya by six lengths, who has to be regarded as just about a genuine Group Three performer, amount to a hill of beans in a Group One context?

Remember who won the Tattersalls a year ago. It was another Ballydoyle inmate, Black Sam Bellamy.

He actually scored by eight lengths, but didn't win again in six more runs through the campaign.

And what odds Meath turning up at Epsom? He mightn't be a star, but knows how to gallop and is as tough as nails.

He showed no signs of stopping at the end of ten furlongs on Sunday and could improve again for a step up to a mile and a half.

Is he any worse than The Great Gatsby, who was a length second to Kris Kin for Ballydoyle at Epsom last year?

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