By Nicholas Godfrey
Bahrain: There’s many a good tune played on an old fiddle. Just ask Terry Cain, the former leading British apprentice who rode a winner in Bahrain last week – at the age of 66.
Cain, whose career highlight in Britain came when he won the Cesarewitch on Flash Imp for his Epsom guv’nor Ron Smyth in 1973, rolled back the years to partner the five-year-old Roman River for his old mate Allan Smith in a 1,200-metre event on Friday’s card at the Rashid Equestrian and Horseracing Club at Sakhir.
According to Cain, a longtime senior work rider for multiple Bahraini champion trainer Smith, this was a one-off comeback – unless coronavirus intervenes. “That’s what’s in my head and that is the plan,” he says.
“But if we’re struggling for jockeys, especially with the coronavirus stopping people from flying, then I suppose you never know. – especially with the coronavirus if people can’t fly so you never know.”
A well-known name in British racing until the late 1970s, Cain went on to become a 16-times champion jockey in Holland, making his living on a continental circuit also including Germany and Belgium for three decades. Having ridden his first winner on Bijou Boy at Salisbury in July 1971, Cain has easily more than 1,000 winners to his name altogether; he started going out to Bahrain with Smith when the latter left Belgium in 1994.
As well as the Cesarewitch, won when he was a 5lb claimer, his CV includes a couple of Dutch and Bahrain Derbys, plus a plethora of victories on the useful handicapper Hovis. He was also Mick Ryan’s go-to rider for the prolific ‘Boxberger’ horses in the 1980s.
‘I don’t know what else I could do’
Cain has spent 50 years in racing altogether, having gone to Epsom to become an apprentice as soon as he left school at Mitcham in Surrey. “My dad told me I had to do it and now I don’t know what else I could do,” he laughs.
He got the call-up for Roman River when stable jockey Gerald Mosse failed to clear the doctor ahead of his planned comeback from a heel injury sustained at the first Bahrain International Trophy meeting in November.
“He is riding out and he was down to ride the horse but he couldn’t get clearance so Allan threw it at me and I took the challenge on,” explains Cain. “I was riding until I was 60 anyway in Bahrain and around Holland and Germany, and although I decided to retire, I’m still a work rider with Allan so it wasn’t as if I wasn’t riding at all and I’m as fit as a flea.”
Maybe so, but he admits it may not have been the wisest idea to resume a jogging regime before the race. “Well, he threw it at me four days before the race and I wouldn’t have had a crack at it if I didn’t think I could do it justice, but I went running for the first time in years and I didn’t know what I was getting myself into!
“I hadn’t done that for years and it finished me,” Cain goes on. “It was better the second time but still a struggle, I must admit. There were a couple of time when I thought to myself, ‘What do you think you’re doing? Someone else should ride this.’ But obviously Allan wasn’t going to let me off so I have to thank him for that.
“I was just hoping the horse would carry me into the race far enough that I didn’t have to work too hard!”
The association between Cain and Smith goes back decades. “He was riding in Holland and Belgium the same time I was there and when I took up this job in 1994, he came out as my stable jockey,” says the trainer, who won a $1 million event on the Saudi undercard with Dark Power.
‘He came out as my stable jockey’
“When I went to Dubai in 2001 he went back to Holland, and then when I came back here he came back as second jockey. He hung up his boots six years ago but stayed on as a work rider.”
There was every reason to hope Roman River might be the ubiquitous ‘steering job’, as Smith explains. “We all really fancied the horse as he’d been working really well with Dark Power leading up to the Saudi race,” he says.
“It was funny but, I was sat in the office having a coffee with him the other day and happened to say: ‘Hell, Terry, Gerald isn’t going to be fit to ride until next week and I don’t have a jockey for Roman River, I think you’ll have to get your licence out again!’
“He just said, ‘Yes all right, I’ll go to the racing club today – I’ve already had a medical!’ Well, he rides six or seven horses a morning and he is very fit, so I thought why not? He’s one of the best judges of a race I know and he gave the horse a cracking ride.”
However, although Roman River won well enough in the end, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as everyone expected before a two-length verdict over a dogged runner-up in Likethelook.
“It was harder than we thought,” admits Cain. “He dominated the other horse in the final furlong and that one dropped away but I did think he’d take me further into the race but it wasn’t too bad. He won well in the end and I only had to give him two backhanders – which was lucky, because I don’t think I could’ve used my stick properly!”
‘It was harder than we thought’
Cain now lives in Bahrain – albeit with an annual three-month holiday to visit family and friends in Epsom and use his property in Thailand. He claims he did not succumb to too many butterflies on this unlikely comeback effort.
“I really wasn’t nervous – there wasn’t time and there was too much going on,” he says. “But at the start everything was going through my head. Just doing the basic things – girthing and trying to get the leathers right. They weren’t at my length and I couldn’t get them right.
“I just had to make sure I got away quickly because I wanted the rail,” he goes on. “That was the main thing and the horse did it fine – he was so quick out of the gates. Then it was all about getting the fractions right, not going too quick.”
No problems on that score, despite a little bit of huffing and puffing. Presumably from both horse and rider.