If there is a prize for celebration of the year, South Yorkshire amateur rider Ryan Winks is a racing certainty after Chestnut Ben’s unlikely win in the prestigious Scottish Champion Chase for the Bowes Lyons Trophy which celebrates the late Queen Mother’s roots north of the border.
The singing jockey punched the air in celebration as the 18-1 outsider charged to the line at Musselburgh and then attempted a Frankie Dettori-style flying dismount in the winner’s enclosure and then, without much prompting from TV presenter Derek Thompson, serenaded racegoers with a rendition of Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ while his face was still caked in mud.
You can’t hold back,” the 35-year-old journeyman jockey said.
After all, this was a horse – trained by the rider’s permit-holding father Peter on the family’s farm at Little Houghton between Barnsley and Doncaster – taking on top-class two-mile steeplechasers from some of the best National Hunt yards in the country.
And then there is the jockey’s unlikely rise to prominence. Without a winner to his name, he gave up the sport in 1996 and spent several years singing on the cruise ships – his mum Lynn runs the Goldstar Entertainment agency in Barnsley – before returning to these shores.
His first winner under rules came in 2002 at Brighton on Aflame before this stalwart of Yorkshire point-to-pointing switched to the jumps where he has accrued eight victories in seven seasons.
This latest success, his third of 2015-16, was a new personal best for Winks. And two of these have come on Chestnut Ben at Musselburgh (the horse also won the Kilmany Cup at the same venue last month).
“A man with nothing to lose always wins,” says Winks, who was brought back down to earth yesterday as he mucked and rode out on the family’s farm in between torrential rain showers.
“This is unreal. England and Ireland are home to the best jumps racing in the world. You’ve got to take on the top trainers – the challenge is doing so with horses that don’t cost loads.
“It’s Scotland’s Champion Chase and we’ve won, I can’t believe it. As we set off, I thought they’d gone off a bit too quick on that ground. I was never going to win that way so I kept the horse happy and made my move as the pace-setters came back to him.
“He jumps well and galloped all the way up the straight. I punched the air and shouted out a couple of words that I can’t repeat.
“This was a race with nearly £13,000 to the winner.
“Dad got the horse through a friend and it just shows what we can do. The horse will stay in training and go back to Scotland for the Kilany Cup and Champion Chase next year. National Hunt racing needs entertainers.
“Everyone loves entertainers – look at Alex Higgins in snooker, for instance – and it was just about enjoying the moment and having lots and lots of fun.
“If you were to ask me if I’d rather sing at Wembley in front of thousands of people, or do what I did with Chestnut Ben, I’d take winning at Musselburgh all day long, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Even though Simon Cowell has not yet been on the telephone with a contract for the next series of The X-factor, the rider’s father is anxiously waiting for the telephone call from the BHA that will allow him to take out a full training licence.
Winks Snr trains seven or eight horses at present, but is keen to expand.
“This win means the world to a stable like ours,” he said.
Wakanda could take in the BetBright Chase at Kempton later this month before heading to Aintree in the spring.
High Eldwick trainer Sue Smith felt the heavy ground at Cheltenham proved his downfall in the Cotswold Chase after he was pulled up two fences from home. The seven-year-old, who had previously rattled off three big wins on the spin, will not head to the Cheltenham Festival, but a trip to Aintree is a “definite possibility”.