You and Dan have combined to become the most successful sibling trainer-jockey combination, importantly, with the support of your father Nick, the Olympic gold medal-winning showjumping legend. What part does dad play and has his work ethic rubbed off on you both?
Dad plays a massive part. He is still very busy even though he’s retired from competitive riding. The nature of him is work. He’s given us this leg up, Dan into training and me as a jockey.
Dad is always there whenever we need help or advice, whether it’s about a horse or how to approach a certain matter.
We do a lot of jumping with the horses from breaking them in at three and we have learnt a lot about the correct jumping technique from dad.
We’ve been learning from him since we were kids on our ponies. He worked for a very tough showjumper, the late Ted Edgar, and dad’s father was a very hard-working man.
They would all send out the same message: ‘You’ve got to get up and got to go to work.’ That’s definitely rubbed off; dad certainly doesn’t like you sitting around for too long!
What is the secret of running a successful close-knit family business? And what happens when you don’t all see eye to eye?
The biggest positive is that there’s never a boundary as far as questions are concerned. I can ask Dan anything and he can do the same with me without any fall-out.
I’m not in fear of him sacking me if I put a delicate issue to him, whereas a lot of jockeys might be fearful of raising certain topics with their boss. We don’t want to leave any stone unturned, so we chat freely on any subject and that gives you confidence.
If we don’t agree on something Dan has the final say. His name is on the licence and I have to shut my mouth, which can be quite hard! Most of the time Dan is right.
The family connection extends to your wife, Bridget Andrews, who is also a jump jockey. How do you help each other professionally with all the ups and downs during a season?
We both have a very busy lifestyle with so many horses . It is very helpful that she understands the highs and lows.
She won’t let me dwell on things for too long, particularly the lows and that’s got to be important. We are both very competitive.
It’s not often we’re in the same race, but we have been competing on ponies from a very young age. Bridget’s family have always had horses and it’s always been about going out there to win.
Is it possible to switch off completely from the pressures of race-riding? What would be the ideal day-off for you and Bridget?
It is very hard to completely switch off, but now I am a bit older I think it’s a bit easier. You can’t worry about what everyone else is doing, only worry about what you’re doing yourself.
If I’m not race-riding on the day there is plenty of work that needs to be done in the two yards. And that brings us back to dad! There’s no time for sitting around here and you wouldn’t find me in front of the TV watching racing all day.
Bridget and I occasionally walk with our two whippets to Broadway Tower, where there is a nice coffee shop. That gets us away, but we also like to go to the point-to-points and watch Bridget’s brother Jack, and sister Gina, and meet up with family and friends.
You have ridden three Cheltenham Festival winners – Superb Story (2016 County Hurdle), Roksana (2019 Mares Hurdle) and Ch’tibello (2019 County Hurdle). What effect did those Festival moments have on you personally, and your career?
Superb Story, the first one, was definitely a relief. It took a while coming. It was the first real chance I had at the Festival and he was trained to perfection by Dan. It was the monkey off my back.
Everyone is watching during the four days; if you ride a winner there you come away with that feeling and knowing, ‘I can do it’. It gave me more confidence and gave owners confidence in me.
Roksana was our first Grade 1 in the Mares Hurdle and it was great to do it for an owner-breeder of ours, Sarah Faulks, who puts a lot into the sport.
Bridget has also ridden a Cheltenham Festival winner, Mohaayed (2018 County Hurdle) which meant a lot to you. Does she get the opportunities she deserves?
Yes, Bridget does get the opportunities she deserves and her Festival win on Mohaayed gave me that winning Festival feeling as well.
She certainly deserved the amazing experience of crossing the line first and walking back in front of the packed grandstand. I know how much it meant to Bridget, and to me.
She doesn’t have an agent, she doesn’t ride out anywhere else and is fully committed seven days a week to Dan and all our owners, like I am.
If there are horses I can’t ride the owners are happy to put up Bridget. At the end of the day we know these horses inside out and she is a very talented rider.
How do you cope with criticism, especially on social media?
It depends on who it’s coming from. You get criticised in sport and have to take it. Generally, it doesn’t affect me because I listen to criticism and advice only from professionals closest to me, those who understand the business, have been there and done it.
Sometimes I could have a difference of opinion when my dad is pointing something out to me. I might disagree at first but then come round to his way of thinking.
Social media doesn’t affect me in the slightest because I am older now and the opinions don’t matter, though they might affect the younger generation.
The vast majority of your winners are trained by your brother, his support helping you to achieve centuries for the past four seasons. Why don’t you have more outside rides?
I’d love more outside rides. I’d love more winners. But the fact is that I have 150 horses to ride here at home and it is a family business.
This is where I am committed; I know I am putting all my eggs in one basket, but I believe it is worth it. I want to win for Dan and my family; it is sweeter when we win but harder when we lose.
Ian Popham, my agent and best friend, is doing a brilliant job but my loyalties are here with the horses I have to ride. I did a bit of riding out for Paul Nicholls in the autumn but, as we know, he has jockeys of his own.
Having spent five years at Ditcheat with Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh, what did you take away from that experience?
Even now when I’m riding, I often think what Ruby would do in a certain situation. There were always little things Ruby would say to me, not in many words, but always worth listening to.
He always tried to help and I’d watch how he’d ride certain courses.
Paul always said Rome wasn’t built in a day; it all takes time with patience and hard work. He insists you have to stick to a plan and that’s one of the many things Dan learnt in his time with Paul.
I was lucky enough to school the five best: Kauto Star, Denman, Big Buck’s, Master Minded and Neptune Collonges. Dan and I will always be grateful for everything Paul did for us.
How important is it for jockeys to promote the sport and how can we raise the profile to a wider audience?
It is very important to show racing in a good light and educate the younger generation and maybe even encourage them to find a job in racing.
It is brilliant the way schoolchildren are brought on racedays [through Racing to School] to learn how a racecourse operates, even getting a glimpse of what happens in the jockeys’ room.
Maybe at the same time linked into a maths lesson of sorts and working out pounds for lengths. The kids walk around wearing racing colours, enjoying themselves and that’s got to be a big positive.
How should racing handle criticism from the wider world around use of the whip and horse welfare?
We have to take on board what the critics, those outside racing, are saying and at the same time our governing body, who are doing a good job, must listen to the professionals within the industry.
At the end of the day we have the knowledge and first-hand experience. After all, horses have been our lives and we love them.
The BHA must take on board what we have to say because we are the ones that care for the horse. The stick must be used on the racecourse for correction, encouragement and safety because half a ton of horse is a lot more powerful than a human being.
We have got to try to pass on some of our knowledge. Educate people better, take them to places like the British Racing School, studs, stables and retirement centres, so they can see for themselves how we look after the horses, from birth to the end of their careers.
I follow other sports, but I don’t know enough about Formula One to make qualified criticism and that’s the same for people outside racing.
The daily discipline of riding out at 7am, driving 70,000 miles a year and constantly watching your weight must take its toll. How do you cope? How much does the weighing room camaraderie help?
I love it, I really do; riding the young horses at home in the morning, schooling them and getting excited about the future wondering how they will progress.
Driving is a very difficult part of the job, but we are well located in Warwickshire within a two-hour drive to most racecourses, though some are three to four hours away.
I’m lucky with my weight and can do 10st. Bridget is a very good cook and we eat well and sensibly, but we do love a pudding now and again.
The weighing room is like one big family with a lot of banter flying about. You can go in feeling a bit down and soon get a lift, particularly from the valets, who quickly take you out of a bad mood with a laugh and a joke.
Bridget and I will chat through the good and tough times, and of course that helps.
You say you have “never touched alcohol”. Is that the result of following the iron-willed dedication of teetotaller AP McCoy?
Yes, I did follow AP’s example. As a young lad I always wanted to be like him, but soon realised it wasn’t that easy. I don’t find it tough not having a drink.
I’ve never done it, so I don’t miss it and don’t need it to have a good time. I have seen what drink can do to people and that almost scares me a little bit.
There are lots of things I have learnt from watching different jockeys.
I completely admire what AP achieved and what Dickie [Johnson] went through, finishing second to AP for so many years. And now as champion, Dickie is still wanting it. He’s incredible.
Has the Cheltenham Festival become too predominantly the ‘be-all and end-all’ of the British jumps season?
No, I don’t think so. The whole meeting is brilliant – maybe I would say that because I have had a taste of success there.
It’s our Olympics, a massive four days and everyone gets geared towards the Cheltenham Festival, which never fails to bring together the best of the best.
You couldn’t ask for a better advert for racing. As for adding a fifth day, why not? There’d be more chances of a winner!
Was there one performance at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown that caught your eye?
Faugheen was just brilliant to see. He’s been through the mill, keeps coming back and loving his job. He’s a great example of a horse showing how much he enjoys life at 12.
If Willie Mullins thought Faugheen wasn’t performing or enjoying himself he’d have retired him.
The fact is he sent him over fences at such a late stage because he’s showing that sparkle at home and now still winning Grade 1 races at his age.
What are you looking forward to riding at this month’s Festival?
I think I’ve got the strongest bunch of rides I’ve ever had. Allmankind is favourite for the Triumph Hurdle after his three wins, including the Finale Hurdle at Chepstow. He hasn’t run for a bit and will go there fresh and well.
Oldgrangewood goes for the Plate, Roksana heads back for the Mares Hurdle, which she won last year, and Protektorat is being lined up for the Coral Cup.
Beakstown has been running well but the soft conditions haven’t played to his strengths. He wants a bit of nice ground in the novices’ handicap chase on the Tuesday.
Do you have one burning ambition?
I’d love to be champion jockey. It takes so much graft over a whole season to ride more winners than anyone else and puts you on top of the game.
Of course, you want to win Gold Cups and Grand Nationals but being champion would be very special.