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First success is the sweetest for emotional Shepherd

First success is the sweetest for emotional Shepherd
First success is the sweetest for emotional Shepherd

A first ever Royal Ascot winner is in itself a poignant moment, but the emotion seemed to run a little deeper than usual for Callum Shepherd when winning the Hardwicke Stakes aboard Isle Of Jura.

The 26-year-old has enjoyed a prosperous partnership with the horse since he joined trainer George Scott’s stable, faring particularly well throughout the winter in Bahrain – the homeland of his owner Sheikh Nasser.

Though Isle Of Jura’s continued success has given the Shepherd much to celebrate, there was a significant and much-discussed low point for him earlier this year when the Derby came around in June.

Shepherd was due to ride James Fanshawe’s Ambiente Friendly in the Classic, aboard whom he was the wide-margin winner of both the Feilden Stakes and the Lingfield Derby Trial.

The Gredley family, owners of the colt, opted to replace him in favour of Robert Havlin, however, and Shepherd had no choice but to look on as the horse finished second behind City Of Troy.

Royal Ascot 2024 – Day Five – Ascot Racecourse
Isle Of Jura crossing the line (David Davies/PA)

The rider remained dignified in the aftermath as others expressed indignation on his behalf, and clearly redirected his focus on the next big meeting when heading to Royal Ascot with rides on each day.

Isle Of Jura, though 16-1 for the Group Two Hardwick Stakes, must have been the most anticipated among them after his two Listed successes this year and after a smooth passage though the race, he strode to a brilliant three-and-a-quarter-length victory under an emotional and reflective Shepherd.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to the horse and his connections, we’ve been on a great journey,” he said.

“George has shown me such loyal support and this horse has been a revelation, he’s just stepped up and he’s been fantastic.

Royal Ascot 2024 – Day Five – Ascot Racecourse
Isle Of Jura winning the eighth race of his career (David Davies/PA)

“That was something. It hasn’t hit me yet, you’re so desperate for it to happen.”

Referencing the disappointment of losing his Derby ride, the jockey added: “With a backdrop of what has been a productive six or nine months, through the winter into this year, everything was going pretty swimmingly.

“Then it’s well documented what happened and it’s tough, obviously it’s tough, losing your seat on a horse and a very good one at that. That’s tough.

“It just makes you hungry to go out and do it on the rides that you do keep. I would’ve hated the narrative of my year to be getting jocked off a horse.

“It needed to be about the horses I was riding and this is a very special horse.

Royal Ascot 2024 – Day Five – Ascot Racecourse
Isle Of Jura en route to victory (David Davies/PA)

“He’s a wonderful horse and he just has that innate desire to win. It was an amazing performance and he was just very, very good.

“The natural step is Group Ones now, he’s earned his place in them. He keeps improving, he hasn’t let us down yet and I’m proud of what he’s achieved so far.”

With his voice faltering slightly Shepherd also mentioned the death of his friend and fellow rider Stefano Cherchi, who lost his life after a fall aged just 23 and whose fate has provided a poignant point of perspective for his own troubles.

He said: “We give life and soul to get everything we can out of the sport, my friend Stefano Cherchi quite literally gave his life.

“How silly would it be if I’m moaning and sulking because I’m not riding a horse when you consider what his family have had to go through?

“We put everything into this sport to get the most out of it and I’m lucky to be doing what I’m doing, I’m lucky to be riding this horse.

“That was an amazing moment and it meant a lot to a lot of people, that’s what you do it for and it just felt amazing.”

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