Monday, 23 July 2012

Legends, horses, jockeys, and a goat!

Finally, I get round to writing my next blog.  The major gap since February is testament to the unbelievably busy year that I’ve had.  In the current climate though, I shan’t be complaining for a second and am undeniably privileged to be doing the work I do.

So here’s a quick summary….

On John Smith’s Grand National Day we held the Aintree Legends Charity Race in aid of The Bob Champion Cancer Trust for the second year running – with a new line up including Mick Kinane, Adrian Maguire and Richard Pitman.  Mick, looking as fit as he did when he was sat on the great Sea the Stars for the last time, won in fine style on the Paul Nicholls trained American Trilogy.

All smiles as Mick romps home on American Trilogy
But the winner in heroism would have to go to Richard Pitman. 

Pitters looking stylish coming round the outside!
With only one eye and one kidney and at the age of 69, he still looked pretty damn stylish. His participation did mean the stewards called the jockeys in BEFORE the race though – and they were all given a talking to about fair play!

Always an amazing event to be part of, but involving a few sleepless nights in the organisation process, one of the funniest moments was due to the fact that one of horses taking part, Just Lille, has to travel with a goat.  With Aintree stretched to the max for stabling during the Grand National meeting and us not liking to ask for too much, we had to request permission for the goat to be stabled along with the horse.  A few days later we had to additionally inform Aintree that this horse needed to run in cheek pieces.  We received the response: “Will the goat run in them too?” 

As soon as we’d gathered breath from Aintree, we were straight on to ‘An Evening with Sir Henry Cecil’ on 3rd May at the Bedford Lodge hotel in Newmarket, in association with Juddmonte and again in aid of The Bob Champion Cancer Trust.

Two incredible people

Brough Scott and Mike Cattermole hosted a memorable evening, with many of Henry’s key owners and friends attending.  As well as a video collage of Henry’s incredible training career, Henry candidly answered questions about his life and talked about some of his best horses, not forgetting the mighty Frankel.   One of Frankel’s racing plates was the star item in the auction raising £16,000. 

My bid for this wasn't enough!
The morning after the dinner I was also lucky enough to ride out at Henry’s again as well as to see Frankel, the world’s best racehorse, putting the final touches to preparation for his seasonal comeback.

Newmarket gallops watching Frankel with Brough, Jilly and Jane Cecil
From Newmarket, I headed to Newbury on May 19th which was not only Frankel’s seasonal debut on JLT Lockinge Day, but also the launch of the Racing Post’s Richard Hughes autobiography, A Weight off My Mind, written with the help of one of our star journalists, Lee Mottershead.

Hughsie relaxing at home!
For launch, as well as a multitude of media interviews, we held various social and signing events, and the book is selling brilliantly.  It opens with Hughsie in the toilets at Ascot having drunk a bottle and a half of champagne and taken 14 pee pills:
“Never in my whole life had I been so desperate to pee… After peeing for at least 30 seconds, the agony was over.  And then I passed out.”
Brutally honest, funny, serious and un-put-down-able, I recommend everyone reads it.

As the flat racing season galloped towards the Investec Epsom Derby, we galloped on to the launch of another major title and our own tribute to the Queen in her jubilee year.  Julian Muscat’s Her Majesty’s Pleasure: How Horseracing Enthrals the Queen was launched with a photo exhibition in conjunction with Racing For Change at Sandown and then on to Derby Day itself.

Her Majesty doing what she loves best!
We have also recently launched an excellent biography of Clive Brittain by the brilliant Robin Oakley, another must for anyone interested in the art of training and understanding horses.

There won’t be any let up for the rest of the year either as we have a stellar line up of autumn titles including Brough’s biography of Sir Henry Cecil, tributes to Kauto Star and Frankel, an anthology of Racing Post writer, David Ashforth’s genius work, and a ‘Secrets of Pricewise’ book.

My work for the Injured Jockeys Fund has also been fascinating with the competition we’ve been running with Channel 4 racing to create an IJF amateur photographer’s racing calendar for 2013 – results will be announced in September and I’ll post some of the winners pictures up then.  We are also now starting to focus on 2014 which will celebrate 50 years of the Injured Jockeys Fund.

2012 so far has proved to be the white knuckle ride I knew it was going to be.  In spite of the immense pressure of juggling everything that needs to be done, when your job is also your passion, I get far fewer ‘Monday morning’ moments than I ever did in doing previous jobs that were always ‘work’ and never ‘play’.
Combining work and social! 
I also find that the most switched off I ever am is when I’m actually riding the racehorses themselves rather than just them being at the heart of what I do. So my Saturday morning trips to Alan King’s remain the highlight of my week.

Friday, 3 February 2012

And we're off!

2011 ended brilliantly.
Warrior: The Amazing Story of a Real War Horse surpassed all our expectations, and got (and has consistently remained) in the Amazon Top 50 and the Sunday Times Bestseller top 10. As a small publisher this is an achievement that I, and everyone at the Racing Post, is thrilled with. Its success continues in 2012, and last week Matt Baker from Countryfile went down to the West Wight and charged about on the downs in Warrior’s footsteps. He was absolutely exhilarated by it and this piece will go out on BBC1 on 12th February, and then a few weeks later Channel 4 will air a special documentary they have also made on the ‘Real War Horse’.
Matt Baker in Warrior's Isle of Wight hoofprints!
2011 was also a brilliant year for one Sir Henry Cecil and I had the privilege to be asked by him to go and ride out at Warren Place in December. I had an absolutely amazing morning and will be able to say for the rest of my life that I rode out in the same string as Frankel, perhaps the greatest racehorse we will ever see. To be honest though, I didn’t have much time to gawp at Frankel when he came into the covered school (where the string go before they head to the gallops) as I was concentrating on staying on my colt. Fresh horses they were, buses they were not! I had a wonderful few breezes up the gallops though and at breakfast suggested to Henry that my first lot was rather fresh! “Yes, he hasn’t cantered for a while”, he said. I thought we’d keep you on your toes!” 

I was again at Warren Place last week and am extremely excited about the forthcoming year in which I have two Cecil projects to work on. The first is Brough Scott’s celebratory book about Henry’s life and career, due out in the autumn. The second is ‘An Evening with Sir Henry Cecil’ at the Jockey Club Rooms on 3rd May in Newmarket, which Henry has kindly agreed to participate in and which will raise money for The Bob Champion Cancer Trust.  Both of these will involve research into the 100+ group winners that have shaped Henry’s 40 year career as well as hopefully gaining an understanding and insight into the unique talent that has enabled him to first get to - and then return to - the top of his game when it so easily could have been otherwise. I simply can’t wait.

Another huge personality I shall be working with in the Spring is the top flat jockey, Richard Hughes, on his forthcoming autobiography, A Weight Off My Mind. This promises to be a shockingly honest account of his battles with mind and body. Too tall to be a jockey, too heavy to be a jockey but too talented a horseman to be anything else, Richard will talk in detail about how his use of extreme methods to control his weight and the descent into prolonged and deep alcoholism that stemmed from his attempts to defy nature. It is going to be a sensational read, made more so by the fact that Racing Journalist of the Year 2011, the brilliant Lee Mottershead, is helping Richard to write it. 

Along with the Hughes and Cecil books, Racing Post Books also have a biography of Clive Brittain out in the Spring, as well as a book to celebrate the Jubilee and the Queen’s lifelong passion, and relationship with, horses. More about those in my next blog.

The Bob Champion Cancer Trust will be returning to Aintree on Grand National Day in 2012 for the second running of the John Smith’s Aintree Legends Race, again the first race on the card and run over one mile five, starting and finishing in front of the stands (giving the 70,000 crowd a chance to really see their heroes of yesteryear). As well as many of the jockeys who rode in the race last year returning for another crack (I don’t think you can beat that buzz of riding at Aintree!) we have a few new faces to add to the line up this year. These include two of the most successful flat jockeys ever, Mick Kinane and Pat Eddery; the best jump jockey never to be Champion, Adrian Maguire; and BBC presenting legend, Richard Pitman, second in the National twice, including the most heartbreaking National ever when Red Rum pipped Crisp at the post in 1973. Again, people will be able to sponsor their favourite jockey – see – and one of our most fun, if ever so slightly challenging tasks, will be to match the jockeys with suitable horses. As you can imagine, the edge of competitiveness still burns bright and I’m sure I’m in for a few ear bashings before John Smith’s Grand National day dawns!

The Weighing Room, John Smith's Grand National Day 2011
The other event to note is that this Saturday 4th February, the Injured Jockeys Fund will launch their really exciting ‘Photo Finish’ Calendar Competition on Channel 4’s The Morning Line. Members of the public are always asking the IJF how they can help support their excellent work and this offers the chance for budding photographers (or frankly anyone who owns a camera or a mobile) to send in pictures across a range of different categories. The 12 winning pictures will then form the 2013 IJF Calendar with a spectacular Cheltenham Festival prize package for the overall winner. People have until June to get their pictures in and Channel 4 will regularly showcase some of the entries as they come in. We will also be encouraging all the jockeys, who continually are posting pics to Twitter anyway, to send some pics in and we hope everyone really gets behind this.  For all details and how to enter watch the Morning Line on Saturday and see

Finally, I just want to say how thrilled I am that the Alan King string is in flying form with some big Saturday winners in recent weeks and a treble at Cheltenham last Saturday. I’ve been riding out there for almost a year now and absolutely love feeling part of Alan’s great team and riding some fantastic horses. With my Kings Troop on his holidays, my most regular ride is probably the terrier-like little Secret Edge, and I went absolutely mental when he came third (with Alan’s Batonnier winning the same race) under a great ride from Charlie Huxley at Cheltenham last weekend. He doesn’t know how to run a bad race and as only a 4 year old, hopefully has more improvement to come.
My own horse, the ex racer Lord's Bidding (just turned 7) has also come on in leaps and bounds recently and our plan is to start getting out and about with him in the next few months. He still retains a certain sharpness from his racing days, so I shall be armed with my ‘sticky’ breeches as we venture out into the competition world!

When you work for yourself, it’s really hard to take time out and to get away, but I forced myself to book two weeks in Thailand over the New Year and get some much needed R + R.
As well as having a fantastic time, I was excited to come back to crack on with 2012 and as I read this blog back, I realise why. It looks like being pedal to the metal all the way, but boy, it’s going to be some ride!

A long way from Barbury Castle at minus 10 on a Saturday morning!