William Jarvis’s retirement this month marks the end of an era both for the family name and for Newmarket, for there have been Jarvises training in the town since the 1880s. William was following in the footsteps of his father Ryan when he started training at Phantom House Stables in 1985, having broadened his racing education with Australian greats Tommy Smith and George Hanlon before assisting Henry Cecil in a golden era for the stable. Among more than 700 winners in his 38 years holding a licence have been Grand Lodge, who won the Dewhurst and the St James’s Palace Stakes, and Lady Bowthorpe, the popular winner of the 2021 Nassau Stakes. At only 63 he is retiring sooner than planned, but he has cited economic pressures and has said there simply aren’t enough horses’ heads looking over the doors.
My father didn’t want me to be a trainer as he said it was too hard. Perhaps I should have listened, but I couldn’t ever see myself doing anything else. I graduated to riding racehorses on the Heath when I was only around 12 or 13 and although I looked like a cross between Brod Munro-Wilson and a mounted policeman, I was lucky enough to be given a couple of steering jobs as an amateur. As I was only 18 when my father retired in 1979, I was too young to take over straight away, so I went to Australia for a year, working initially as a strapper for Tommy Smith and then being given much more responsibility by George Hanlon, who was a wonderful man. I then assisted Henry Cecil at Warren Place, and that was arguably the best five years of my life. There were so many good horses there at the time, including Ardross, Fairy Footsteps, Le Moss and Light Cavalry, and it was fantastic to be able to learn from a trainer as gifted as Henry.
It was a privilege to train my first winner for Sheikh Mohammed, but the delight for me in those early years came in training for some of England’s oldest established owner-breeders. People like Lord Howard De Walden and Jim Joel never sold a foal, or a yearling and they gave every horse a chance, but things have changed enormously and sadly those true owner-breeders have pretty much died out now. Weld was a very good stayer I trained for Lord Howard, winning five in a row including the Queen’s Vase, the Lonsdale, the Doncaster Cup and the Jockey Club Cup in 1989, and Grand Lodge, who was the best I trained, was also one of his.
Grand Lodge was a beautiful looking horse with a great temperament. We identified him as a good horse very early on. He bombed out on one occasion at two, in the Acomb when it turned out his blood was wrong, but after winning the Somerville Tattersalls and the Dewhurst, for which we had to be brave and supplement him, he ended the year as Europe’s champion juvenile. Pat Eddery, who rode him in both of those races, looked after him in the Craven as he was a gallop short, but then he wasn’t available for the Guineas and so Frankie Dettori, who had ridden him in his first two races, got back on. Frankie gave Grand Lodge a fantastic ride to be beaten just a short head by Mister Baileys, but with such a narrow margin I was slightly disappointed and looking back now I can’t help wondering if Pat might have won on him. He was a tough horse who danced every dance, and thankfully redemption came in the St James’s Palace, where Mick Kinane lifted him home in a thrilling finish. It was Mick at his best – he’d never even sat on him before.
Winning another Group 1 with Lady Bowthorpe after such a long gap was just as good as the first time, and it was made particularly special as this time my children were old enough to appreciate it. It was also special because of my long association with the Banks family. After Julie Cecil retired, I’d had some great times training for Emma’s uncle, Michael, and I hope I’ve now helped set Emma on the right path to being a successful owner-breeder with Lady Bowthorpe.
Racing has become more polarised than when I started out, with the big trainers getting bigger and bigger while those in the middle and lower tiers have a battle on their hands. I was lucky to inherit a yard, and so I had no mortgage or rent to pay, but it’s got harder and harder for all except those at the top. The beauty of it is that every now and then a Shaquille or a Regional comes along – or a Lady Bowthorpe for that matter – and that’s what we all get up for. But if someone came along now and offered me 40 horses to train, I’d be worried about where I’d get the staff from. Prize-money aside, I think securing and retaining good staff is a racehorse trainer’s biggest problem.
There haven’t been that many horses to distribute and they are mainly staying in Newmarket. Dylan Cunha has been renting boxes here for a year or two and the plan is for him to take over the yard, but I’ll be staying in the house. These are tough times, but I hope he does well. He’s got at least one good horse in Silver Sword, who is well above average and won a handicap at the Ebor meeting.
Racing politics annoy me more than they interest me, but I’d like to stay in the sport. You have to have the right mindset to train for as long as I have, and I feel I could be of benefit to an organisation looking for someone with my depth of experience – someone who knows all the ins and outs of the sport and is resilient enough to take its ups and downs. A role like the one Chris Wall has found for the owners of Eldar Eldarov and Vandeek would be perfect.
Would I do it all again? Absolutely, without hesitation. I’ve had some fabulous days and I’ve travelled the world, meeting many wonderful people. I’ve enjoyed 98% of it – and the other 2% I’ve forgotten.