Ben Curtis will ride “more and more” for Mark Johnston’s record-breaking Middleham stable this year – and his odds for the 2021 jockeys’ title are in freefall.
Despite a season ravaged by the COVID-19 crisis, the 31-year-old Irishman had a 2020 to remember, with a calendar-year total of 170 winners – more than any jockey in Britain.
And Curtis’s rise – including a success board the Johnston-trained Nayef Road in the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes at Newmarket last June – has caught the eye of the North Yorkshire-based Scot, who in August 2018 overtook the now-retired Richard Hannon snr as the winningmost trainer in the history of British racing.
“We don’t have any formal arrangements with any jockeys – the last formal retainer I had with any jockey was Kevin Darley, and that ended in about 2006,” said Johnston, whose Kingsley Park yard uses the weighing room’s top talents, including stable stalwarts Joe Fanning and Franny Norton.
“Both Franny and Joe are 50 and neither has given an indication of slowing down, or retiring.
“But they can’t go on forever and, when they do retire, there want to be other jockeys coming along behind that ride regularly for us.
“Ben Curtis is right in there – at the top of the list – we get on very well with him and he’s done very well for us.
“So, if he continues to be available and continues to ride winners for us, you will see him being used more and more.”
Curtis’s stellar 2020, which also included a first Royal Ascot triumph – aboard the Karl Burke-saddled Dandalla in the Group 3 Albany Stakes – ended prematurely when he was knocked unconscious in a horror fall at Wolverhampton on December 8.
But, since his return to the saddled 23 days later, Curtis has picked up where he left off, with five winners since the start of the year.
“It was absolutely a very successful season for him,” added Johnston. “We used Ben quite a bit last year and he would have ridden more for us if he had been more available.”
The tie-up with Johnston’s prolific operation has seen Curtis’s odds to dethrone reigning champion jockey Oisín Murphy plummet.
William Hill, who on Tuesday laid 14-1 against Curis lifting the rider’s crown, have now slashed him to 4-1. Ladbrokes go even shorter, at 7-2.
“The fact that Ben Curtis rode more winners than any other jockey in Britain means he's not exactly a dark horse for the title,” said Ladbrokes’ Jon Lees.
“He has spoken of his ambition to be champion jockey, and, following the news that he will be riding more for Mark Johnston in 2021, he’s likely to be in the mix.”
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