“Oh it’s a little bit.” Lot 186 is up and as soon as Havana Gold strolls into the sales ring the bidding starts. After some confusion with the auctioneer, Mark and Hugo make a late bid. “That’ll do, that’ll do.” “That’s enough.” But is it enough? “Well done.”
“Well done.” For $80,000 Mark finally gets his horse. Now it’s down to Hugo and his team to try to turn this young colt into a champion racer. For Havana Gold, a new life awaits of racing and ritual. But he won’t be going far.
He’ll remain in this distinct corner of England, along with 3,000 other race horses. Behind me is the town of Newmarket. It’s surrounded by wide open expanses which has led to it becoming the home of flat horse racing in the U.K. This is a town where the pecking order between horses and humans is a little blurred. And it will be no different for Havana Gold while he’s living at Hugo Palmer’s yard. “I suppose in many ways we’re like a private school that the owners, or in the school’s case, the parents send their child, horse, to a school to be educated.
So we take them in here just when they’re about one and half years old, so they’re immature but they’re probably 90% of their adult size and strength and we work out which ones are the scholarship pupils and are likely to be turning up at Royal Ascot and which ones are, you know, are less so.” In his eight year career Hugo has established himself as one of the leading trainers in the business. But what’s it like for young trainers just starting out and the challenges they face? We’re headed today to meet George Scott, a young trainer whose only actually in his third season but he has had already some big successes.
We’re going to go have a look at his yard and see what he does everyday to make sure his horses are in peak condition. “You can’t imagine the amount that goes into getting that horse in the afternoon wearing the silks at a big meeting. The amount of work, effort, concentration, time.” A lot of pressure being a horse race trainer?
“If you push yourself to try and be successful and want to achieve something then there’s always going to be pressure.”
Routine for a horse race trainer I can imagine it’s sort of early starts, long days… “I mean up at 5:15 and, we’d work through then till 1 o’clock and then get home for a bit of lunch and I always have to have a sleep in the afternoon, without fail, have to have a quick sleep and then back in the afternoons or go racing.” When you don’t have winners, how hard is that? “It’s hard but I mean it’s part of the game. You have to take the rough with the smooth and you have to remain level.” Is this your dream job?
“Yeah definitely, I don’t really know what I’d do if I wasn’t a trainer. I don’t get a rush out of anything else other than the racing. You know I like football, I like rugby, I like cricket, yeah yeah but I love racing. Dave, just save a little bit for the hill. Those are mine crossing now so we need to get across.”
What are you going to be looking for? “I like to see them just get up the hill nicely. I like to listen to their breathing. The horse in second is just struggling a bit but he hasn’t been up here at all before, the horse in front’s doing well. And we’re going to walk across and talk to them. So I like to get a comment from each rider.
Are you hanging on in there Fletch? She’s done well hasn’t she?” What’s it like to have a winner?
I mean that feeling where you’ve spent days, months with this horse and got to know it quite intimately and then it wins this race with thousands of people watching. “Yeah it’s absolutely unbelievable, like it’s the best feeling in the world. You know I stand there with huge anticipation and I enjoy sharing that moment with friends and family and it’s all consuming in that one moment. And it puts all of the bad days out the back door. It’s an incredible moment.” That moment of crossing the line first, riding a horse at nearly 40 miles an hour is an experience felt by only a select few. Fran Berry has been a professional jockey for more than 20 years.
“I can still remember my first winner like it was yesterday and I think if that buzz you get leaves you, then it’s time to give up.” The routine of a jockey must be pretty brutal, losing weight and keeping yourself fit and strong at the same time. How tough is that? “It is quite tough. I’m 37 now you know, I kind of know what I can and can’t do but the biggest thing is, as a jockey, is your weight, to find the time to keep yourself right and eat and do everything properly. You know it takes a bit of application.”
Eating disorders amongst jockeys, is that a thing? “Yeah I don’t think it’s any secret, maybe it’s more prevalent in the United States. They call it flipping, suppose which is a form of bulimia but I’ve come across it worldwide and it is an issue.” What have you had today for instance in terms of food and drink? “I had a two egg omelet this morning, that wouldn’t be every day.
Some days you’re a bit restricted. I’ll exercise more and cut down on the fluid intake. I’ve done a few laps of the track, just to get my weight back to its normal level.” So you would have sped walk the track or run the track?
“Speed walk, speed walk with plenty of clothes on me to get a good sweat up.” Can ask how much you get paid per race? “It’s about £150, 140 and then with deductions it probably works out at £100 net before your tax and you’ve got to pay your own diesel and expenses.” So for instance you’ve raced two horses, you’re not making a great deal of money today? “No, no, not today. Some days you can have ten rides, some days you’ve got two.
Travel expenses are quite high and riding fees for me pay my bills, pay everything that keeps the show on the road at home but you’re relying on your win prize money and your place prize money really to make money.” It’s an interesting sport isn’t it? You’re kind of on your own. “Yeah, yeah, you know even golfers have a team of lads around them or something you know.
You got to kind of do everything for yourself in a way, and if you don’t do it nobody else will.” What injuries have you had in the past? “Erm, have we got time?
I’ve broken both my ankles. I’ve dislocated my right ankle, fractured my left. I’ve had a T9 fracture. C6 displaced fracture. My vertebrae’s had a T3 compressed fracture.
Fractured sternum, fractured shoulder blade, 9 ribs on one occasion in the same fall So yeah I’ve had more than your average flat jockey injuries. Some days you’re thinking you’re having a bad day. You’ve got five or six rides and they all get beaten and maybe people aren’t happy with you or something but if you can get into that car and drive home you haven’t had a bad day and that, you’re safe and sound.”
Fran is risking life and limb doing this job, for sometimes minimal financial reward. I’ve learnt it’s the love of horses and racing that keeps him and many others invested in this game coming back. And for such an old sport, which can sometimes be at odds with the outside world, it’s still after all this time the thrill of winning that continues to captivate and entertain.