Who Will Follow In The Footsteps Of Billy Loughnane?

Features | 1st May 2024

A seriously talented crop of young riders will battle it out to be Champion Apprentice Jockey this summer.

The Apprentice title race kicks off this Saturday, the same day as the QIPCO 2000 Guineas, and the winner will be crowned at Ascot’s glittering end-of-season Champions Day celebrations on October 19.

The Apprentice Championship has launched the careers of dozens of top jockeys. Will Buick, Oisin Murphy and Tom Marquand are all on the prestigious roll of honour.

Here’s a look at five of this year’s contenders.

Tommie Jakes

For as long as he can remember Tommie wanted to be a jockey.

The 17-year-old comes from a racing background. Both his parents worked in the sport, with his dad having been a work rider for Michael Dickinson.

He rode for the ground-breaking trainer in the glory days, when he had the first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup. That was more than 20 years before Tommie was born.

Although it was always his ambition to be a jockey, the teenager only had one ride on the pony racing circuit. It wasn’t a bad one, as he won that Warwick race by 12 lengths.

His first winner as an apprentice came on 12-year-old Suzi’s Connoisseur when just four years older than his mount.

Now attached to Alice Haynes’ Newmarket yard, he has since ridden enough winners to reduce his weight claim to 5lbs. Now the apprentices’ title is in his sights.

Connor Planas

Every apprentice craves the exposure of big-race wins.

Connor put himself in the spotlight in front of the ITV cameras when twice partnering prolific sprinter Quinault to victory in heritage handicaps last season.

Those wins were the highlights of a successful season for the 20-year-old.

His 29 winners put him in fourth place in last year’s apprentice jockeys’ title race behind Billy Loughnane, Benoit de la Sayette and Harry Davies.

Attached to Tom Clover’s Newmarket yard, he also rode winners for the likes of Richard Hughes, Ed Walker and Ollie Sangster last season.

The 3lbs claimer will be one of the more experienced apprentices in this year’s championship. That could give him the edge over some of his rivals.

Morgan Cole

When Sir Mark Prescott has the confidence to give an apprentice winning opportunities then it is worth taking notice.

The hugely-respected Arc de Triomphe-winning trainer has supplied Morgan with 11 of her career victories.

Now based with Ed Dunlop, the 24-year-old enjoyed her best season last year with 14 winners.

As well as Prescott and Dunlop, she was successful on horses trainer by Marco Botti, John Butler and Roger Teal.

She is an excellent judge of pace and is a skillful race tactician. Those talents earned her a call up to join Team East – managed by Frankie Dettori – in last summer’s Racing League.

This could easily be the year the 5lbs-claiming rider’s career really kicks on.

William Pyle

Last year couldn’t have started much worse for William.

He was on the sidelines having fractured his back during the winter but 2023 turned out to be a breakthrough season for the northern-based rider.

His 21 winners was enough to see him share eighth place in the apprentices’ title.

It came after joining Craig Lidster at his state-of-the-art base between Thirsk and York.

His first winner came on Bankawi for his then bosses Mick and David Esterby. It was a landmark success for several reasons, as it was the father-and-son team’s first victory with a joint licence.

Last summer, the 21-year-old from Lincoln, landed a hat-trick on Iain Jardine’s Novak. He also impressed in winning twice on Katie Scott’s Gweedore.

With good support from a range of trainers across the north and Scotland, he could easily be a live contender for the Champion Apprentices’ crown.

Joe Leavy 

Ryan Moore, Hollie Doyle and Tom Marquand all served their apprenticeships at Richard Hannon’s powerful Wiltshire stables.

Joe is the latest young rider to join the Classic-winning trainer and he has made a great start to 2024.

He landed the apprentices’ race at Doncaster on the opening day of the turf season on Bustaam for David O’Meara.

The following month, he saw off Rossa Ryan and Oisin Murphy in a driving finish to spring a shock on Talis Evolvere, owned by footballer Charlie Austin, for his boss in the valuable All-Weather Championship Mile Handicap at Newcastle on Good Friday.

A successful winter has already seen the 18-year-old reduce his apprentices’ weight claim to 5lbs, when he struck up a particularly fruitful partnership with Worcestershire trainer James Evans.

Joe could easily be the next Champion Apprentice out of the Hannons racing academy.