Behind every good horse is a good jockey
By Mandy Cottell
SYDNEY (AAP): Australia has been captivated by the rags-to-riches tale of Queanbeyan cabbie Joe Janiak and his sprinting star Takeover Target.
Now the pair are less than a week away from taking on the world.
Trainer and horse arrived in England last month ahead of their assault on the King's Stand and Golden Jubilee Stakes, run at Royal Ascot on June 20 and 24 respectively.
But one crucial piece of the fairytale formula has been missing.
It is said that behind every good man is a good woman and so, behind every good horse is a good jockey.
For Takeover Target, that man is Jay Ford.
The story about Janiak buying city discard Takeover Target for just $1250 (plus GST) at a tried horse sale, training him from a caravan and making ends meet by driving a taxi has been well publicised.
It is the quintessential Aussie yarn about a battler made good.
Ford, Sydney's champion apprentice two seasons ago, has taken a backseat to the headlines but he is a crucial member of team Takeover Target.
He has partnered the gelding in 17 of his 18 starts, travelling across the country to ride him.
During Takeover Target's early career Ford followed the gelding to Queanbeyan, Wagga and Grafton.
Later it was Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne, including Flemington - home of the Melbourne Cup ? where the six-year-old won his last start in the Group One Newmarket Handicap.
Like Takeover Target in his early days, Ford was once a roguish newcomer but has matured into a young gentleman who will do Australia proud on the world stage.
He has never been to England and his only major overseas jaunt was to America "as a kid" but on Tuesday he will jet off from Sydney charged with the task of steering the pre-post favourite down the unfamiliar Royal Ascot straight.
"I'm more excited than anything," Ford said.
"It's obviously a bit daunting going overseas to ride but I'm definitely looking forward to it.
"The horse has shown what he can do here and now I'm excited for him to show the rest of the world what he can do."
A new haircut - shaved at the sides to form a series of stripes - is one of Ford's few concessions to his youth.
Even that will be gone come Royal Ascot race day.
The 22-year-old knows what is at stake, not just for Takeover Target and Janiak, but for himself.
He plans to go into battle armed and prepared.
"You can't buy an experience like this, it will be great for me to ride over there at such a big meeting," Ford said.
"In the long run it could do wonders for my career, you never know what doors could open.
"I spoke to (former Australian jockey) Kerrin McEvoy when he was last here and he said he would show me around.
"I will have a look around after a few races have been run and walk the track and I've watched a few videos of past races."
Ford began his riding career close to five years ago, spending the latter part of his apprenticeship with Group One-winning trainer Kim Waugh at Rosehill.
He served notice of his talent when on July 10, 2004 he became the first junior rider in more than a quarter of a century to ride five winners at a Sydney metropolitan meeting.
But he always tried to keep his goals realistic.
When he did allow his imagination to run away from him there were dreams of riding stakeswinners but not even he thought it would come so soon.
He admits he has to pinch himself every time he realises he is heading overseas to ride a horse in at least two internationally-renowned races and Takeover Target may yet back up in next month's July Cup as well.
But far from letting it go to his head, Ford acknowledges Janiak's faith in him has been crucial to his success.
"When I was growing up I thought I'd be quite happy to win a Group race let alone partner a horse like this internationally," Ford said.
"Joe gave me my first ever winner and I've known him for a few years.
"It has been tremendous of him to stick solid, especially now we're going overseas.
"I've got everything to thank him for."
And Takeover Target?
"Of course you get a soft spot for a fella like him," Ford said.
"You don't find many horses like him, I've had so much success on him and hopefully there's a lot more to come."
Australia hopes so too.