As breeders of racing pigeons and pedigree cattle, what made you turn your hand to horses?
It was a natural thing to do. I have always bred animals and birds and been a stock person, so this was a natural progression for me. What you have to be as a breeder – of any type of stock – is a realist and luck plays a significant part in breeding quality stock, whether you are breeding goldfish or racehorses.
For example, when we had racing pigeons the theory was to put the best to the best or inbreed closely and then outcross in order to create hybrid vigour but, believe you me, that did not always produce the best results.
The beauty of the thoroughbred is a far cry from owning quarries and running a waste management and recycling centre. Is your involvement in racing a pleasure, business or both?
My racing and breeding involvement is most definitely a business but I must say I am sure there is no other business in the world that also gives so much pleasure.
You had never set foot on a racecourse until nine years ago. What was the initial appeal?
A friend of mine had some tickets available for one of the Friday night summer meetings at Haydock Park. Reluctantly I accepted his invitation to join him. We went to the winner’s enclosure, to watch the winner and placed horses come in, and I was immediately smitten.
Of course, I have been around horses and ponies on my parents’ smallholding all my life, and my own children have had ponies all of their lives, but I had never seen race-fit thoroughbreds in the flesh before that.
What were your ambitions when you started breeding racehorses and how many broodmares do you have now?
Our ambition was as simple as to breed winners. We have eight broodmares at the present time all living at Highfield Farm in Chorley, Lancashire.
Do you have a particular breeding or naming policy at Highfield Farm?
The plan is to breed sprinters that will make two-year-olds but will hopefully have the scope to race on as three-year-olds and older. We presently name a lot of our horses after local landmarks and local road names but, to be perfectly honest, we don’t have a set policy.
Is it viable for you to breed commercially and is your operation subsidised by success on the track?
From our own experience, at this moment in time, trying to sell our yearlings at the sales does not stack up as commercially viable. Therefore I made a decision to switch my policy and my current methodology is to race our homebreds and try to enhance their value on the racetrack.
Of course, the poor ones outweigh the good ones and again we are getting back to realism. I am happy at the moment with this policy but I am certainly not saying that we would not sell yearlings at the sales in the future.
When you are buying do you purchase on your own judgement or through an agent, and is there a limit on what you would pay?
I do not always make purchase decisions on my own as I also work with my unofficial agent and good friend Robin O’Ryan, and we have a great understanding. In my opinion there seems to be quite a rich vein of quality horses at present at the yearling sales in the £50,000 – £100,000 bracket.
However, that certainly does not exclude horses under £50,000 as there are plenty of good winners in this bracket, such as the Clive Cox-trained Reckless Abandon, who cost £24,000 at Doncaster.
Winning the Group 1 Darley July Cup with Mayson must have been the culmination of all your dreams. But there was a sad and difficult start to Mayson’s life…
Indeed, Mayson had a difficult start – at three months old we sadly lost his mother due to cancer. However, he was soon going forward again and was always good to go.
How pleased were you to be able to give Richard Fahey and Paul Hanagan their first domestic Group 1 wins?
With regard to Richard Fahey, he is honest, straight-talking and a very good horseman. He is a great people person and is a good friend to me and my wife Emma. Richard has been a trainer for 19 years and has had over 1,350 winners and it was an absolute honour to have given him his first UK Group 1.
We used to have horses with other trainers but for the last few seasons all of our horses have been with Richard. The system at Musley Bank suits me well. As for Paul Hanagan, the dual champion jockey, you could not meet a nicer, more down to earth and honest lad.
What is the plan for Mayson now?
The plan is to continue racing Mayson until the end of this season. We had a lot of interest in him from various studs after his July Cup win and I am delighted to have concluded a deal with Cheveley Park Stud to stand him.
They have purchased 75% of Mayson and I have retained 25% and I feel that he will get the best start possible to his stallion career with Cheveley Park, which is of course a world-renowned and very successful operation.
Most of your horses in training are sprinters. Are you not excited by staying horses?
I enjoy all distances of racing but on my initial entry into the sport, and after studying for a little while, I thought it best to concentrate on one sector. However, I am certainly not saying that I would not like to own a high-class miler or a quality stayer.
If you could wave a magic wand and alter British racing overnight, what would you change?
One thing is obviously the prize-money, which during our short time in racing – 2012 is our ninth season – we have seen deteriorate. Secondly, although it does not bother me personally, I think that some of the facilities for the owners and trainers across the country fall short of the standard that should be expected.
This does not give a good impression for newcomers and most definitely we need to attract new owners to our sport. Finally, I think there is a lack of opportunities for the higher rated (90+) three-year-old horses to race against their own age group.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your time in racing?
When I first started out a certain gentleman told me never to refuse an offer for your horse, as it will never be worth that much again. I must say that I did not take this piece of advice very seriously at the time, but two years later we had a filly that won first time out and we were offered a substantial amount of money for her.
I declined that offer and in her second race, where she was the odds-on favourite, she fractured her pelvis. That gentleman’s comments came readily to mind.