My first real purchase after bits of syndicates and shares was Vieux Lion Rouge, who was bought at the Arqana Sale.
I think everyone was at lunch, as we got him for only €42,000, and if I’d only ever had the one horse it would have been good enough as he’s been amazing. Then Dell’ Arca came along, also from Arqana, but he was a bit different.
I was sailing off the coast of Libya at the time, while David was at the sale, and while he was saying ‘he’s too much, he’s too much’ I still had one more figure in my head. With my last bid we lost radio contact, but we’d got him for €280,000 and he gave me my first big win in the 2013 Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Vieux Lion Rouge was the first horse at David’s to be given a big atmospheric photo on the back wall of his box.
It’s a beautiful photo of a forest, which gives him the sense of air and space, and the first thing he did was eat the grass in the photo! He’s the most extraordinary horse and very clever. He’s a total Houdini, so can get out of anything, and he’s very exuberant, so loves to roll. He’s also quick to suss people out, and he’ll notice if anything is moved.
He wants to go racing all the time, but it’s Aintree where he comes alive. He’s won two Becher Chasers and jumped 223 fences without falling, whereas at Chepstow in the Welsh National he was only half there.
The Grand National is the race I most want to win, and he’ll have another go, but I don’t think he’ll be winning it. He’ll stay at the yard when he retires, as he’s so happy there with Julie Bellamy, who has looked after him throughout. They have a very deep relationship.
While I enjoy watching Flat racing it’s not a patch on the jumps in my book.
I’ve had a couple of horses on the Flat, including Celestial Path with my very good friend Sir Mark Prescott. He wasn’t an easy horse – or a lovable horse – but he was fifth in the 2,000 Guineas despite having cracked his pelvis beforehand. I also had a total no-hoper with Dave Evans.
What I love about National Hunt is the bravery, the heroics and the generosity of it all. It’s a very quixotic sport and you write off the whole economic thing as soon as you get into it, and then just enjoy it, as you can’t make your money back.
I went to Cheltenham for all four days last March, and then to Kempton at the end of that week, but I felt at the end of it that I’d got away with it and had better toe the line.
I haven’t been racing since but I’m happy enough yelling at the telly. I’m shielding, but I have managed the odd careful trip to Pond House when the circumstances have allowed. I love the Pipe family, the jockeys, the work riders and the staff – to me that’s more important than winning. I’ve never looked anywhere else.
People who have horses with a lot of different trainers seem to be chasing the grass that always looks greener. When you have all of your eggs in one basket you risk being hit by a virus, but for me it’s about the whole spirit of the place and the mutual trust between David and myself. I’ve never been tempted to have horses in Ireland and wouldn’t unless I lived there.
Racing is in for a tricky time and we have to expand the ownership base.
I’ve had some horses solely in my own name and others in partnership with friends like Bryan Drew, but I’m also trying to do a little bit to broaden ownership.
For instance, we are sharing ownership of Adagio with eight friends of Bryan’s who are having their first experience of ownership – and they love it!
I’ve also introduced a Sudanese friend called Hadeel to ownership and we share a young horse called Red Lion Lad, who we hope to win the Grand National with one day. A third way I’m trying to help is by lending horses to David’s racing club, and Little Red Lion is one of those.
I’m enjoying a very good season, with Vieux Lion Rouge, Dell’ Arca, Adagio and others all doing well, but it’s not always like this.
Last season was tough, particularly losing Mr Big Shot and Warthog, who broke his leg the time after winning the Caspian Caviar. We obviously aim to retire horses sound, and last season we retired Champers On Ice, Moon Racer and Un Temps Pour Tout. They are now having the time of their lives pretending to be dressage horses in Gloucestershire with Claire Poole.
Racing is obviously a big part of my life nowadays, but I have plenty to look forward to in the art world this year through my black and white photography.
It’s the centenary of the birth of Joseph Beuys, an artist I photographed a lot and wrote eight books about, and very pleasingly the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin have asked for my works for their collection and an exhibition in May, after which there are exhibitions planned in Germany. I also still do quite a lot for conservation, having co-founded African Parks, which trains locals to run their own parks.