I have had a full licence for eight or nine years, so this is still a relatively young career.
It’s seven years ago that Seeyouatmidnight was beating Regal Encore at Hexham, with Ryan Mania in the saddle. The next afternoon Seldom Inn won the bumper at Newcastle. That was the start of it all really, although Netminder had won the novices’ handicap chase at the Scottish Grand National meeting the previous April.
Brian Hughes and Ryan [Mania] are two very different jockeys. Brian tends to like to scrape the paint and stick to the inside, is very strong in a finish, is good at doing his homework and knows the ins and outs of his opposition – he’s often got his laptop out when he is here.
Ryan is very good over a fence, very aware of what’s going on in a race, and if the horse is good enough you have always got a very good chance with Ryan. They are different but both are very good.
I was very happy for Yorkhill at Newcastle, where he won the Rehearsal Chase at 66-1. Aintree hadn’t gone to plan but he’d been off for a long time and it was his first run for us.
Confidence is a big thing and it can take time to get it back. We also have some nice novice chasers; we have three rated 134 or 135 – The Ferry Master, Empire Steel and Elf De Re – and in addition there is Seemorelights and Sir William Wallace.
Staying chasers tend to be the types we buy, and have success with.
I think there are 15 former point-to-pointers here and 14 have won; Little Mo, who won at Hexham the other day, is one of them. They tend to suit us very well. The horses stay well with the way we train them, and my family has always done well with breeding and training staying chasers, such as Half Awake. They’re the type of horses we want.
We’re very fortunate – we’re trying to improve the quality and quantity and are about 50-strong at the moment.
There’s always room for more, and you have always horses coming and going, but 50 is a nice number. We’ve had a few setbacks, but on the whole the horses are running well, which is good. There’s nothing worse than when they’re not. With the numbers we have, training is full-time; it’s been five or six years since I did any farming, it’s all subcontracted now, we haven’t the time.
I’m lucky with the team of staff we have here; they are getting older and that might be a problem in five years’ time.
Younger staff don’t seem to have the same amount of riding experience as in the past; there’s a lack of hunting or common riding in their backgrounds. I’m looking for an amateur to ride one in about three weeks’ time as we speak and I just don’t know of one in the north; they tend to turn conditional. As of now we have good riders here, and good riders make good horses, there’s no doubt about that, on and off the track.
Our experience during Covid-19 has not been too bad in terms of owners and horses, and we’re coming through it.
Luckily we’re still being sent horses and our owners are very sound. We don’t have too many syndicate-owned horses in the yard, and I think that is an area that perhaps may be suffering a bit more due to the pandemic; it’s your average man in the street who before may have been able to afford a share but might not any more.
Racing in Scotland is in a reasonably healthy state, I would say.
The tracks mainly all do a good job and put what money they can into prize-money, and do what they can for owners. Ayr is the biggest disappointment. Owners get a great lunch, but it goes downhill rapidly from there. It’s a scrum for owners and trainers and annual members, and the prize-money is poor for a Grade 1 track.
My late father [David] was chairman for many years at our local course Kelso, which is ten minutes away, and they put a lot of their money into the races. The ownership experience has perhaps not quite kept pace with where it was ten years ago, say, but for a course like that it’s more of a choice between prize- money and facilities; it’s probably not feasible to improve both at the same time.
The odd course takes the mickey a bit and gives you as little as they can get away with; people would mention ARC, and Wetherby.
It’s a bit frustrating at the moment for horses rated, say, 125 to 140; that is where a few problems lie as they’re racing for £10,000 to £12,000 when it should be £16,000 or more. It’s a shame for those horses and their owners. The Northern Lights series was a good initiative, and it was such a shame that racing got shut down shortly before the finals were due to take place at Musselburgh in March. Each race would have been run for £35,000.