The correct choice of trainer is vital. Some trainers only train flat horses while others train only jumpers. Others train both. Some trainers are very good and some are very hopeless.
Some may find it attractive to have their horse educated by a member of the aristocracy, such as Sir Mark Prescott or Sir Michael Stoute, both fine trainers, based in Newmarket, the headquarters of British racing. Selecting them would offer the opportunity to remark, casually, ‘As I was saying to Sir Michael the other day,’ or ‘Sir Mark was telling me’ or even, ‘Evidently the Queen took a liking to my filly at Sir Michael’s.’
The size of ponds and fishes is worth bearing in mind. At leading Flat trainer Mark Johnston’s yard, at Middleham in North Yorkshire, you could be a small fish in a large pond. Much of it taken up by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum’s enormous collection of racehorses. Similarly at leading jumps trainer Nick Henderson’s yard, at Upper Lambourn in Berkshire. It’s likely that you would be a minnow swimming with sharks, or friendlier aquatics, with names such as JP McManus, Robert Waley-Cohen and Simon Munir.
On the other hand, McManus is a noted gambler and the bluffer could then find himself saying. ‘I was talking to JP at Nicky’s the other day. He was telling me about one they’ve laid out for a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival. I’ve taken 16-1. Love to bring you in on it, but mum’s the word, I’m afraid.’ At this point, a gentle tap on the site of your nose wouldn’t go amiss.
Jockeys are supposed to follow the instructions issued by the horse’s trainer. Sometimes there aren’t any instructions, sometimes they don’t make sense, sometimes they can’t be carried out, and sometimes the jockey just ignores them.
Opinions are influenced by outcomes. Winning a race is generally regarded as a good thing, reflecting well on the winning jockey, whereas losing a race is liable to provoke a search for riding errors.
Flat jockeys keep going for decades. Frankie Dettori is in his 40s while Piggot, a law unto himself, retired in 1985 when he was 50. He then returned to win the 1990s Breeders’ Cup Mile on Royal Academy. Then, aged 56, the 1992 2000 Guineas on Rodrigo De Triano. He finally retired at the age of 59.
On the flat, learner riders are known as apprentices and are given a weight allowance as an incentive to trainers to give them rides. As the number of winners they ride goes up, the weight allowance goes down. Capable apprentices can be in great demand and it is enjoyable and rewarding to try to spot promising young riders. Especially before their talent is widely noticed.
Horses carry bigger weights in jump races so jockeys can be larger, without being fat. It is a dangerous sport, in which injuries are common. Jump jockeys are what is known as ‘the salt of the earth’. As they regularly displaying qualities such as courage, resilience, compassion, modesty and generally setting a fine example of what sportsmen should be like.
These are jump racing’s version of apprentices. They are probably called conditionals because, conditional on them being good enough and not complaining too much about broken bones, they will become proper jump jockeys.
They aren’t professional jockeys and don’t get paid for riding. They do it for fun.
Both on the flat and over jumps, there are some races restricted to amateur riders. Although over jumps, amateurs also ride regularly against professionals. The standard of riding has improved considerably over the last 30 years and amateurs now approach the sport in a more professional, less cavalier, way. If their weight permits, they sometimes turn professional.
It seems unimaginable now but in 1966, Florence Nagle had to take legal action to force the Jockey Club to end their practice of refusing to issue training licences to women. Until then, women trainers were obliged to ask a male assistant or head lad to apply for a licence, with the yard’s horses running in his name.
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