Hartlepool jockey Tony Hamilton landed the first showcase race of the new Flat season last Saturday, steering home 25-1 shot Brae Hill in the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster.
It is the biggest purse Hamilton has ever scooped for connections - but on a personal level he hopes it proves to be the launchpad for a successful campaign with trainer Richard Fahey.
Here, in the first part of our exclusive feature, he talks to the Mail’s chief sports writer CRAIG HOPE about his aspirations for the season ahead …
IT is a race unaffectionately known as the “stinking Lincoln” - a one-mile cavalry charge of twenty-plus runners which has punters scratching their heads and, invariably, emptying their pockets.
For the men tasked with guiding home the runners it can be as much about good luck as expert jockeymanship.
But, for Tony Hamilton, the pressure was on.
Despite lengthy odds of 25-1, Brae Hill was well fancied by its stable.
And, with Hamilton having recently succeeded champion jockey Paul Hanagan as Richard Fahey’s number-one rider, all eyes were on the 28-year-old.
Edging the six-year-old gelding to the front of the 22-strong field some three furlongs from home, he was, in his own words, a “sitting duck”.
But the horse, and Hamilton, found just about enough to hold off the challengers as they made it first past the post to land the £62,250 prize for connections.
“The pressure was on a bit with Paul (Hanagan) not riding him,” Hamilton said, having seen his close friend take the unmissable opportunity to ride for the Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum racing empire.
“If I’d been beaten people might have said ‘well, we would have won with Paul on board’.
“So once I got him to the front I was determined to stay there.
“We were a bit of a sitting duck if I’m honest, but we held on and I was over the moon because it’s my biggest win ever in terms of the prize money.”
The winner was the 349th of Hamilton’s 12-year career in the “Sport of Kings”.
While that may seem like a head-spinning amount (in comparison, the Premier League’s all-time top scorer, Alan Shearer, bagged just 260 goals), for the former Manor schoolboy this is just the beginning.
“Paul won’t be riding for our stable as much this year, so this is a very big opportunity for me,” said the married father of two who now lives in Malton, North Yorkshire, close to Fahey’s yard.
“The longer the season goes on the more chances I will get, so to make a start like this is brilliant.
“This year is about riding as many winners as I can and establishing myself as a better jockey.
“I’ve got a great relationship with Richard and he’s a brilliant boss to work for, he knows what he’ll get from me and I’m happy here, I’m in a good place.
“We probably don’t have the horses to compete at Group 1 level, but we’ve got some very nice types and this is a big, big year for me.”
So how did a young lad from Hartlepool come to find himself in the world of horse racing?
“I was always quite small and at about 12 I started riding locally,” he explained.
“I enjoyed it, was quite good at it and so I went to racing school.
“From there I was picked up by trainer Dandy Nicholls and started competitive riding as an apprentice when I was 16.
“I was doing well and then got offered to chance to join Richard, which I couldn’t turn down.”
Hamilton, though, has had to show patience.
But now, with Hanagan, rider of 177 winners last season, engaged elsewhere, the field has opened up.
Hamilton will find himself on board some fancied mounts this term, and he couldn’t have made a better start.
For him, the “stinking Lincoln” has never smelt so sweet.