Sunday, 13 April 2014

From Aintree to Avebury...

The last few weeks have been absolutely flat out with work, but terrifically exciting and interesting at the same time. 

I was up at the Crabbies Aintree Grand National meeting to celebrate the Injured Jockeys Fund's 50th anniversary and we were incredibly privileged to have HRH The Princess Royal with us for the day. As Patron of the IJF, she takes a strong and enthusiastic interest in everything that goes on, has sound opinions and suggestions and is such a positive influence on everyone connected to the charity. She spent the day chatting to many of the IJF's beneficiaries which I know gave so many of them such enjoyment and motivation. 

HRH The Princess Royal chats to jockeys past and present
The sports media are always so supportive of the IJF and I spent much of the day at Aintree arranging interviews and photos. Trying to get a lot of busy jockeys out of the weighing room, across the racecourse and into position at a specific time (which kept changing as HRH was slightly behind schedule) was an interesting challenge! It couldn't have been achieved without the wonderful Peter Scudamore who was in situ in the weighing room waiting for my call and then led the jockeys like the pied piper across a busy Aintree racecourse at exactly the right time. Scu is simply one of the nicest people in racing, and certainly one of the most helpful.

The whole of the Crabbies Aintree meeting was brilliantly executed and a wholly positive meeting as there were no equine fatalities over the three days. Whilst we all accept the risks in racing, the team at Aintree in conjunction with welfare groups, have done so much work to minimise the risk, and this is extremely important at the one meeting which invites in the wider world and is played out under such media scrutiny. I expect some of the 'antis' were pretty disappointed with this outcome - which says it all in my opinion! 

I was also particularly pleased to see jockey-turned-TV-presenter, Sam Thomas, doing so well as part of the C4 Morning Line team. Sam has had a tough time in the last few years and yet he is now turning his hand in a new direction - both as a TV presenter and working as an assistant trainer. He has certainly come on in leaps and bounds in front of the camera and is a good new face for the C4 team to have. Their coverage of Aintree was brilliantly done and I wish people would stop their constant criticism of it. Racing is so lucky to have one terrestrial broadcaster showing our sport every single weekend and the industry should get behind this and nurture it, instead of a constant barrage of negativity which has a damaging effect and achieves little.  

From Aintree to New Zealand (or actually, the depths of Wiltshire!), I was extremely privileged last week to spend the day at six time Olympian and World No 1 eventer, Andrew Nicholson's. I was there with Racing Post photographer Edward Whitaker for a project we are working on with Andrew later in the year and we spent the most fabulous sunny day at home with Andrew, his family and his horses. Andrew's 'place' is like the man himself - beautifully up together, beautifully unpretentious and beautifully relaxed - and to see him go about his business in his own quiet, but industrious, way gave me one of the most enjoyable work days I've spent so far this year. We saw him work both his young horses and his superstars - on the flat and over jumps - as well as attempting to organise his kids into an orderly line to 'cavalry charge' in formation across the field! 

Edward Whitaker's extraordinary work
The picture above is just one example of why I love working with Ed Whitaker and why he is one of best equine photographers on the planet. As soon as he arrives in a situation, he knows exactly the pictures he wants to capture and goes about getting it in the most straightforward of ways. Him and Andrew together were a joy to behold - two masters at their work and yet both making the others job as easy as possible. If you think this picture is good, just wait until some of the ones that will be revealed later this year... My favourite is of a stunning man on a stunning white horse (which just happens to be Avebury) against a stunning Wiltshire skyline...!

Equally as exciting (albeit at a slightly lower level!) my two ex racehorses, Lord's Bidding and Kings Troop, are providing me with such a lot of fun, and with a friend, Megan Jenkins, we're managing to get out almost every weekend to do something new. When you work in racing and know how tough the industry can be, to have two of your own at home to look after and to bring on is such a positive and fulfilling experience, especially when they give you as much back as you have to put in to keep them healthy and happy! In Sarah Mitchell-Sheppard I have found a brilliant instructor who has worked wonders on both my horses - and me - and given me so much confidence to start competing them across both dressage and jumping disciplines.
My two!
So this week the fabulous rollercoaster that is my working life will take me to Horse Whisperer Gary Witheford's for another Edward Whitaker shoot on Tuesday and then onto Newmarket with my friend Jilly Cooper who will present the prizes to this year's Martin Wills Awards winners at the Craven meeting on Wednesday. There is never a dull moment...!