Crowned by Longines as the world’s best jockey, Ryan Moore is a world-class horseman. In a rare interview, the reluctant racing celebrity talks riding for Her Majesty The Queen and chasing the next great horse.
To say that Ryan Moore is publicity-shy is a massive understatement. Throughout his career – during which he has won everything there is to win, from the Melbourne Cup to the Dubai Sheema Classic – the stellar flat racing jockey has kept the racing media at a strained arm’s length, building up a reputation for brushing off reporters with monosyllabic answers or refusing to comment entirely. So when you’ve flown all the way to Hong Kong for an audience with the 31-year-old champion (and every racing expert you meet here throws around words about him like ‘guarded’, ‘evasive’, and ‘grumpy’ and tells you to expect a very short interview), you’re really not expecting the world’s smoothest interview.
Well, apparently the racing experts don’t have the English jockey sussed out quite as well as they think they do, because the Ryan Moore that turns up in a blue tweed jacket and chinos on the morning of our interview is perfectly polite and very generous with his time – relieved, perhaps, to find a fashion writer moonlighting as an equestrian editor sitting opposite him rather than a hardcore sports journalist digging for information on his tactics and strategies for this year’s big races. Is he a reluctant interviewee? Yes. Shy? Absolutely. But in a world where most public figures go through endless media training to make them ever so likeable and inoffensive, the quietly spoken, honest Moore and his extreme dislike for self promotion is a welcome dose of realness.
The reason he has agreed to speak with us is one that makes him feel a little extra awkward. Three days before our interview, Moore was the guest of honour at a gala dinner held by Longines and the Hong Kong Jockey Club to celebrate the inaugural Longines World’s Best Jockey Award, a prize based on success in the world’s top 100 Group One races. Moore scooped the title ahead of French jockey Christophe Soumillon thanks to an impressive and steady clocking up of victories over the last 12 months, and accepted the award with a short and witty speech acknowledging his deep aversion to being in the spotlight.
Sitting in a Chesterfield sofa in a drawing room on the 30th floor of the Grand Hyatt with sweeping views of the Victoria Harbour, Moore is sipping a cup of green tea. He squirms in his seat and offers a mischievous smile when I ask him what it means to get an award like that. “Look, it’s a lovely award to win. I get to ride a lot of good horses around the world. I ride for the best owners and best trainers who are happy to travel with their horses, which isn’t something everyone does and um…” He trails off before he approaches the subject again: “It’s because of the people that I work for that I won it. I don’t need to hear that I’m good or whatever. It’s not really my style. I’m quite happy to go around and do it quietly, you know? It was a great evening, lots of people being very kind to me, and then there’ll always be other people who’ll use that to knock you, anyway.”
Like if you lose a race? “Yeah. Because without the horse, you’re not gonna win. The first and most important thing is always the horse. I can only do the job as good as I can. I can’t make them run any faster than they can actually run.” While that might be true, there’s no getting around the fact that Moore has the magic touch. A truly international jockey, he has galloped to victory at Chantilly’s Prix du Jockey Club, the Irish Champion Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, and the Epsom Derby, winning the latter by seven lengths on Workforce with the fastest ever Derby time. “Workforce was always a fun horse. He was quite difficult, a big horse. He was like a cart horse,” he says, smiling. “But he was just a gentleman, with a really kind temperament.”
Since 2006, the three-time British Flat Racing Champion Jockey has been the stable jockey for legendary trainer Sir Michael Stoute. “We have a very good relationship. He’s a massive help,” Moore says. Home is Newmarket, England – the racing capital of the world – but there’s extensive travelling. While he rates the racecourses of Kentucky, Dubai’s Meydan, and California’s Santa Anita, York in his native England is probably his favourite. “If I could pick it up and move it 150 miles south I would. I just think it’s a beautiful racecourse and a fair racetrack.” The day before our interview, he was thundering down the turf for the prestigious Hong Kong International Races at the city’s scenic Sha Tin racecourse, surrounded by skyscrapers and misty mountains.
“I saw Ryan in Tokyo two weeks ago where I asked him, ‘So, you’ll win on Sunday?’” Walter Von Känel, President of Longines, tells me on the day. “And he said ‘Oh, I’m not sure. Look at the competition.’ He’s very modest, a very nice man, very, very professional, always respectful of the horses, which is essential. He deserves it because he’s the best. And jockeys deserve the recognition.” For the Swiss watchmakers, the award is an important part of their equestrian legacy. Since 1881, they’ve been the go-to racing timekeepers, treasured for their precision-driven and innately elegant timepieces, and they’re passionate about shining a light on the stars of the equestrian world.
While all equestrian sports require a massive effort from riders, it is wonderful to see jockeys recognised in this way. To be a jockey doesn’t just require an astoundingly athletic physique (if you think squatting against a wall for two minutes at the gym is hard work, try hovering over a thoroughbred going 50 kilometres per hour) but also an analytical mind. The latter in particular is one of the reasons Ryan Moore outruns them all. He may have dropped out of his A-levels to ride, but his work is characterised by a kind of studious diligence. Advised at an early age by his racehorse trainer grandfather to use his brain instead of his whip, the self-confessed perfectionist is admired for his tactical genius, precision, and incredibly well researched knowledge on the competition.
“I’ve always watched a lot of racing. I know what’s going on with other horses everywhere and I know the other riders pretty well. There are always things that you want to have happen, things that you don’t want to have happen, and things that are likely to happen in a race, so you sort of have a good think about it. I always find you really have to be very natural on the horse. You’ve just got to get them to be as economical as you can. Different countries, the races are run at different tempos, and different tactics. Everywhere around the world the tactics vary. Some horses it will suit and others it won’t. Same with the ground and the track. You just have to try and make your horse comfortable.”
Moore was seventeen when he first came to Hong Kong to breeze horses for owners preppeing to sell. “The racing here is always quite intense. It’s high standard and very competitive. You’ve got to be on your game when you come here,” he says. This weekend wasn’t his lucky ride, but, he says, he “kind of really wasn’t expecting a lot this week.” While Sha Tin is the glamorous racetrack here, Moore has a soft spot for the Happy Valley racecourse on Hong Kong Island and its night time racing under lights. “If I was ever to take people to watch the races, Happy Valley is the best place. It’s a seven-furlong round track and you can see everything. It’s not a fair track to ride at all, but just to watch and experience racing, everything is just right there.”
To Moore, Hong Kong is a shining example of how racing could be run elsewhere, since the Hong Kong Jockey Club oversees everything about the industry. The British first introduced racing here in 1841, and betting is a major draw, something that’s evident by the roaring crowds that press against the rails as the horses come down the track when we visit. For jockeys, the big crowds are always motivating, and it understandably upsets Moore to ride at some of Europe’s poorly attended racecourses, similar to how an actor must feel to walk on stage to a half-empty room. “Italy has a couple of beautiful racetracks but there’s just nobody there. It’s just a sad sight. Germany produces great horses but when you go to the racetracks it’s just… It’s so out of date. You’re taken into a shed for the weighing room,” he says.
Born in Brighton, Ryan Lee Moore was always into horses and seemed destined to be a jockey, although he modestly says he didn’t know if he was going to be good enough at first. His grandfather swapped a vocation as a car salesman for that of a racehorse trainer, and his son, successful trainer Gary L. Moore, followed in his footsteps, first as a jump jockey. Moore was on a pony at the age of four like the rest of his siblings (his brothers Jamie and Joshua are jump jockeys and his sister Hayley Moore is a top amateur jockey) and grew up idolising jump jockeys Richard Dunwoody and AP McCoy. “We never went to Ascot when we were kids, except for once maybe. We weren’t welcomed into it, whereas jump racing was a bit more natural, a bit easier. Flat racing was sort of always up there, out of reach,” he says.
At 5ft 7in, Moore was lucky enough to stop growing and flat racing beckoned. His father sent him to Wiltshire-based trainer Richard Hannon’s yard, where he was soon riding in Group One races. Incredibly, he says, he never really gets that nervous before a race. “You’re usually only nervous when you think something’s going to go wrong or you don’t think the horse is good enough. I’ll give you an example. I remember before the Derby in 2011, I was on the favourite horse, Carlton House. Leading up to the Derby I thought he’d win. Then he had a setback and things weren’t quite going the way they should be and he was getting shorter and shorter and he finished third. He was owned by quite an important person, the Queen, so that was a bit different to normal sort of races,” he says quietly.
Moore has been riding for Her Majesty the Queen since his apprentice days, a topic that makes him speak with much more enthusiasm. “We were lucky enough to get to meet her a few times a year and she always just puts you at ease. She’s proper old school. She lets you get on with it and doesn’t interfere. She’s really, really nice to ride for. She’s probably the perfect sort of owner,” he says, chuckling. “I got to ride for her at Ascot which was just great. I’d love to have ridden her a Derby winner. Hopefully there will be one. She’s got a great knowledge of horses and racing. She comes and looks at them; she’s seen them when they were foals and when they were yearlings. She loves looking at them and seeing how they develop. She just has a great passion for it. And she doesn’t miss much. It’s her release, I think.”
His own release is football. “I was up late last night watching Man United – Liverpool. I support Arsenal but I’ll watch anything,” he says with a smile. While he follows show jumping a bit, racing takes up most of his time and a typical day is spent riding and hitting the gym. “Then dinner and bed,” he says with a grin, tucking into a yoghurt, berry, and granola parfait. “I’m lucky that I can eat what I want within reason, as long as it’s sensible fare,” he says. “I have it under control but I have a very strict routine every day.” Moore is your typical non-drinking, non-smoking athlete. “But it’s not easy for a lot of lads. If you’re not the right size, you’ve got to put your body through hell and it’s not healthy,” he says of the constant wasting – racing’s term for keeping your weight down. “Sometimes you see what some jockeys have to do and the extremes they go to.”
This is also why he says he’d only want his three children to follow in his footsteps if they can easily fit within the weight restrictions. “If Toby would like to be a jockey, that’s fine by me,” he says of his eldest, who is six years old. “Racing’s been good to me but you have to really want do it. I’d only want him to do it if he was going to be successful because it’s high risk.” Moore and his wife Michelle keep a pony for the children at a local riding school. “I think they should be mucking out and doing the whole thing themselves, but they’re just too young at the moment.” As for a horse of his own, there’s no time. Every year he sits on too many horses to even begin to keep count of them.
But there’s obviously the horse that you work with every day and of course you get attached to them. It’s always fun when you’re building a horse up towards a big race. If you’ve been riding him since he was a baby it’s very satisfying,” he says, adding that they’re not always around for as long as you’d like them to be when the successful ones go off to stud. “That’s the side of flat racing that can be tough, you know.” The late Presvis, the highest-earning British-trained gelding of all time who died of colic in 2012, has a special place in Moore’s heart, as does the retired mare Snow Fairy, who won all over the world. “She was pretty special,” he says.
What defines a great jockey, then, aside from the great horses? “Different jockeys have their own style and techniques like trainers have their own techniques. There are many ways to get the horse to perform, but I think the best ones have to have a good pair of hands and just know how to get the horses settled and letting them find that natural rhythm and just have the confidence to be patient.” He’s always looking for the next great ride, but while he loves the speed and power of horses, he’s not in it for the adrenaline rush: “I always like to be pretty calm. I think if you get too excited on a horse they feel it straight away.” Similarly, you won’t find him wearing any lucky socks. “I’m far too sensible for that,” he says with a smile. So what’s next for the world’s best jockey who’s won everything? “Ah, well, I’d like to win them all again,” he says with a downright cheerful look. “You’ve won them once, you might say it’s a fluke. I’d like to try to win them a couple of times.”
First published in the #15 SS2015 issue