When I arrived at Captain Tim Forster’s as a 16-year-old I’d never spent a night away from home.
It was men’s final afternoon at Wimbledon and all the lads were absolutely battered, so it was a rude awakening for me. Michael Caulfield and Richard Dunwoody were among my contemporaries and I became best friends with Adrian Rolls, who is now assistant to [trainer] Graham Motion.
One of the first horses I looked after was Lefrak City, who won the Tingle Creek. I still say they were the happiest days of my life.
It was a military style operation and the work ethic was immense.
We lived life to the full, but we were never late for work. I’m a bit of a partygoer, as people know, but I’m still never late for work, whatever state I’m in.
That’s definitely down to the work ethic instilled at Letcombe Bassett. Later on, when I was running The Blowing Stone pub and employing people for the first time, rather than being employed, I realised that the majority of workers will do slightly less than the bare minimum. I just couldn’t cope.
We all start off in racing wanting to be champion jockey, but I soon realised that wasn’t going to happen.
I’m tremendously proud of what I achieved, though. I’d largely be riding bad horses day-to-day, and often when I got a chance on a good one against better and fitter riders, I might not have ridden a finish for three weeks.
I wasn’t the best, but nobody tried harder, and I had a Cheltenham Festival win on Taberna Lord in the Coral Golden Hurdle [now Pertemps Final] and a Welsh Grand National on Cool Ground.
I also had some great rides on Katabatic, who could take off a stride and a half further back than any other horse I’d ever ridden. I’ll never forget the feeling he gave me as the turbo kicked in the day he beat Waterloo Boy and Golden Freeze at Cheltenham’s April meeting. It was unbelievable!
When Barney Curley rounded on me and Big Mac at Folkestone and described me as “an underachiever” as a jockey, it didn’t hurt me at all.
I’d never met Barney before that day and I thought at first he was going to punch me. After 30 seconds or so, I realised I was going to be part of television gold and so I started goading him. I give a lot of stick, but I can take it, too. Ironically, I actually think I was an overachiever.
I did a bit of punditry while I was still riding and in my last year I would do interviews with colleagues, but moving from the weighing room into the press room wasn’t easy.
I still had a jockey’s attitude and there were people in there that might have affected my career, so I’m very conscious of that as a broadcaster. In my early days, Richard Pitman was brilliant to me on the Racing Channel, and then I got a big break with Radio 5 Live.
Starting off there I was doing a 5.20am bulletin from Broadcasting House, and so I was leaving home at 3.30am, however late I’d got in, and then going on to the races afterwards.
I was doing other stuff, too, and I remember one day falling asleep at the traffic lights in Wantage and knowing things had to change.
I learned so much at the BBC.
They didn’t want any jargon, as they were aiming for a wider audience, so I’ve taken that on board with ITV. I’m not a big form man and I don’t try to be, but when it comes to the horses themselves and the people who own, train, ride them or muck them out, I think I know as much as anyone.
I’m privileged to be in racing’s inner sanctum. I ride out every day, and I know lots of lads, so I know lots of things others couldn’t possibly know.
When I was up for Broadcaster of the Year at the HWPA in 2017, I had given no thought to a speech as I genuinely believed I had no chance at all!
I was drinking all afternoon, which I wouldn’t have done if I thought I could win, but I hadn’t had that level of excitement since I’d last ridden a good winner. I went home shell-shocked, having managed to leave the trophy in a pub that I don’t remember going into. Luckily Rob Dakyn of Sky Sports reunited me with it; I’m very proud of it.
I’m going on holiday at the end of the year, driving down Africa’s Skeleton Coast, but I’m never happier than when I’m with a horse.
It doesn’t matter if it’s mucking out, picking scabs off legs or riding over the Lambourn gallops on a Sunday morning. It hit me very hard when my point-to-pointer ‘Eric’ [real name Raised With Praise] broke a leg on just his second start for me at the beginning of January.
I loved him from the moment I saw him, and I’d invested so much effort and emotion into him, which is something that helps in the job as I can relate when one makes a mistake or falls. It’s a terrible feeling when you’ve been behind the screens and you are walking back to the lorry with just his brushing boots and bridle.
You would be a hard person if you didn’t cry, but I’ve no regrets and I’ll probably get another horse. It’s just the way it is.