How difficult is it managing the racing interests of Prince Khalid Abdullah, one of the biggest owners in the world, and overseeing York, in many eyes the best racecourse in the land?
It is a balance. Prince Khalid very kindly allowed me to become Chairman of my home course. You make time for the things you want to do and I enjoy both jobs so much. I try and put in 100% with both assignments and think how lucky could I be.
It’s not really pressure because I always think pressure is self-created. It is in the interests of Prince Khalid and York that we all strive for excellence, and I could not have better support from York’s Chief Executive William Derby and his team.
Did you grow up watching racing at York? And what are your earliest memories of racing generally?
My first experience of racing was when David Swannell was clerk of the course in the early 1960s. My father loved racing and I was always desperate to go – we used to have days on the Knavesmire when I was about ten or 12; I remember Alignment winning the Ebor . I was also there on that dramatic day Roberto defeated Brigadier Gerard.
I used to go to other Yorkshire courses like Ripon and Thirsk, and, when my father was stationed in Malta he ran the racing there, so there were occasions when I used to go.
How many of Prince Khalid’s horses are you responsible for worldwide? How many trainers does he have? And how do you keep up to speed with them all?
Generally there are about 250 in training at any given time. He has 14 trainers worldwide – seven in England, four in France, one in Ireland and two in the United States. Keeping up to speed with them is my job and quite frankly that’s exactly what I enjoy doing.
I realise how lucky I am to be part of a breeding-racing operation that produces so many good horses. I am in constant touch with all our trainers.
In the States, Garrett O’Rourke, the Farm Manager in Kentucky, does all the day-to-day arrangements with the trainers and Claude Beniada keeps me in touch in France. I do the English and Irish pretty much myself. It all finally comes through me because that makes it easier for Prince Khalid when he receives one co-ordinated report each night.
During the season I speak to him every single day. Prince Khalid watches everything, absolutely everything, specially the ones you don’t want him to watch, the disappointments! Wherever he is he will watch all his races because he likes to follow all his horses.
You always speak very openly with the media and yet you are representing and protecting a very private man as well as the commercial and breeding interests of his horses. How difficult is that?
Prince Khalid recognises that we have a duty to keep the media informed about our horses wherever necessary or suitable. He is very aware of the public interest. The importance for me is to keep him fully up to date with what’s going on; I don’t want him to read anything that I haven’t told him well in advance. Prince Khalid will have a good understanding and knowledge of everything that goes out into the public domain.
Then we can draw a line between what is considered the private and the public perception of news concerning the horses. We certainly don’t want to be secretive. Equally, we try and put out the news if we think there is likely to be a significant effect on a horse’s performance.
After you’ve had a Group 1 winner it is always easy to be relaxed with the press, but on the other hand if a horse has run a stinker then it’s not much fun fielding the questions.
How difficult was it dealing with the world’s non-racing media attracted by Frankel’s amazing feats?
It was rather a weird process. We started off talking to the local racing press, then the interest spread from Channel 4 to the BBC, ITV, the Today programme and ITN. Then it exploded into CNN, Bloomberg TV, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. I even did two hours with Algeciras Television. I also did monthly radio shows in Australia hand on South African TV.
It was phenomenal and Prince Khalid was incredibly supportive. He said we have this wonderful horse and he is to be shared in this respect. The interest in Frankel was overwhelming.
If I had a pound for every time I was asked, ‘How is Frankel?’ I’d be a seriously wealthy man. Luckily, the real beauty of it all was that there was only good news to report.
Having raced the world-beater that was Frankel, along comes Kingman. Were you surprised at producing two superstars in such close succession? And who would have won in a match over a mile on fast ground?
I always think that when things are going well it’s like a big wave and you’ve got to ride it as long as you possibly can before it all comes crashing down. The circle of fortune in racing is inevitable and to have two such outstanding horses in the space of a couple of years was very spoiling.
Who would have won over six furlongs would have been an interesting question, and I’m not sure I know the answer. But I do know there will never be another Frankel, but there might be another Kingman.
Kingman was exceptional, his turn of foot was really something, but the power of Frankel would have been overwhelming and made it very difficult for Kingman over six furlongs or a mile.
There is sure to be plenty of attention when Frankel’s yearlings go under the hammer. From what you have seen of the Juddmonte yearlings, do you think they look like future Guineas or Derby winners?
He got an extraordinary book of mares worldwide. I was in Hong Kong and someone came up to me and said, ‘I’ve seen the most fantastic Frankel foal in South Africa’, I turned round and someone else told me they’d seen another, Stacelita’s foal in Japan. The worldwide interest in him and support has been extremely pleasing.
As far as the Juddmonte stock is concerned, we are incredibly excited about what he has got. In terms of what they look like, there is a pretty good mixture. I always thought personally that Frankel would have been effective from five furlongs to a mile and a half given the right considerations.
That was the extraordinary thing about him. On pedigree he’s got a mixture of speed and stamina, Galileo on Kind. It’s all slightly dependent on the mare. When you’re managing young stallions you have to try to see where they do well initially with their foals, and it is a learning curve after that.
Now that James Doyle has moved on to ride for Godolphin, what is the jockey situation for Prince Khalid’s horses?
Our view at the moment is that if we have good horses there will be plenty of jockeys wanting to ride them. For this season we’ll be going for the best available. After all, we had seven or eight years without a retained jockey between the days of Richard Hughes and James Doyle, so it is not a must-have.
In 2013 it was announced that Khalid Abdullah would be scaling down his bloodstock interests. Is there any more you can tell us about the future of Juddmonte, in the UK or elsewhere?
I can tell you that Prince Khalid’s passion is undiminished. There has been a very gradual reduction in broodmares who, in a homebred operation, drive the available numbers we put into training. That has been the conscious cutback, nothing dramatic, just enough so that the operation makes sense to everyone involved.
The broodmare band drives the requirements of the stud farms in Kentucky, England and Ireland, and is the absolute rock on which Juddmonte has been built.
Sir Henry Cecil and Bobby Frankel were very different personalities but both achieved huge success with Prince Khalid’s horses. What made them so good at their job?
They were both single-minded, instinctive and they had great intuition. It is always difficult to pinpoint genius or exceptional talent. All top-class trainers have that to varying degrees. Henry would walk round the yard as if he was in a daydream, but in fact he would be picking up the rhythms of the yard, and that’s one of the reasons why he never had a mobile phone – he didn’t want to be distracted.
His horses were his friends and, yes, he probably was even better with horses than people. It was said that Bobby loved his horses and staff more than anything else, and he certainly looked after them as if he did.
Henry and Bobby had that instinctive mind of what they wanted to do with a horse, and exactly when. And they also recognised the slightest hint that something wasn’t right.
What in your view has made British racing so attractive to the massive Middle East investment?
The three foundation sires of the thoroughbred, Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian, and Godolphin Arabian, trace back to the Middle East. Their history and the cradle of the thoroughbred was nurtured on these shores. I’m sure that has played a big part in attracting and stimulating the interest from the Middle East.
The fact that the Queen is so passionately involved in the sport has been magical and encouraged a lot of owners and breeders from abroad. The tradition and diversity of our racing provides an allure and charm that cannot be matched in any other sport.
Have you ever found yourself getting attached to a certain horse in its early days and then being either vindicated or let down?
I am an eternal optimist. From that point of view far too many don’t quite make the grade as you’d hoped they would. But that is the very nature of the game. You always have huge hopes for young horses, especially as you have seen them as foals and known their mother and father. Like your children you want them to be outstanding.
The great thing about Frankel was that he was no great surprise from birth – a very nice foal and by the time he went into training as a yearling there wasn’t a day when I didn’t want to ring up Henry and ask how Frankel was. Everyone at Juddmonte was incredibly excited about him from a very early stage.
How much are you affected by nerves on the big occasion? Is there one race in particular that stands out from the rest?
If your heart doesn’t beat on the big occasion then you don’t really care. I woke up early on the morning of Frankel’s Juddmonte thinking if things go badly today I could lose the only two jobs I’ve got! When I was waiting for Prince Khalid to arrive at York I must have shaken a thousand hands, with people asking, ‘How is he?’ One man was even wearing Prince Khalid’s silks.
The Yorkshire crowd was unbeatable, bursting with enthusiasm, and Henry was putting on such a brave face when he was not very well at all. It was a day none of us will ever forget.
Enjoying those big times, rather than being nervous, is what the job is about. We come into racing for these moments and I would hate to think I miss any of them because I have allowed the job to get on top of me.
Another special moment in my life was Haymaker’s VRC Derby in Australia in 1974, when I drove 14 hours overnight from Lindsay Park Stud to Flemington to back him – but the winnings were soon given back I hasten to add! Also Mrs McArdy, bred by my father, winning the 1977 1,000 Guineas. That was a great day for the family.
Do you switch off easily, and how do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?
Yes, I do switch off easily. I always say racing is my pleasure, while figuring out how to get down a mountain in one piece is hard work to me.
Can you give us a two-year-old, three-year-old and older horse to follow this season?
I must pre-empt this by telling you that I am well known among my family as the worst tipster of all time. The two-year-old is Forge, a Dubawi colt, trained by Sir Michael Stoute. The three-year-old is Criquette Head’s Epicuris, who will be aimed at the Prix du Jockey Club.
The older horse is Kingman’s half-brother Remote, who missed last year with a bit of pneumonia but is back with John Gosden. We’ve always had a big opinion of him.