Contrary to what you might think reading the newspapers, it’s not all about Cheltenham.
The most valuable race at Sandown on Saturday 31 January went to Invicta Lake, trained on the old racecourse at Lewes, East Sussex by Suzy Smith, 38. She is no stranger to success at Royal Ascot or near misses at Cheltenham, and punches above her weight with her 20-horse string.
You started out as a riding instructor — that’s a slightly alternative route into racing?
I was brought up in Epsom and started riding out on weekends and holidays from the age of 14. I soon became hooked and knew then exactly what I wanted to be — a trainer. My mum was an English teacher and dad a financial adviser. I’ve completely converted him now and he’s even selling shares in horses for me. However, at the time they thought I should have a qualification I could fall back on if it didn’t work out, so I took the exams between 16 and 18.
How did you transfer to racing?
A few trainers recommended I do the course at the National Stud. There was no Darley Flying Start then so it was the National or Irish National Stud courses. It was as high as you could go and I’d recommend it to anyone starting out.
What were your first jobs?
I worked for Gardie Grissell and spent a summer with John Hammond in Chantilly. My French is OK — I can still just about make myself understood. When I came back I assisted the late Denis Caro and then Clive Bennett with his pointers. He gave me almost a free rein, which really helped. But I had set myself a target of training aged 25 and that’s what I did. I had five horses and did it all myself.
What horse gave you your big break?
I was very lucky to have Material World, who won a bumper at Market Rasen in my first season. She became well known because she had one eye. She was second in the Pertemps at Cheltenham, beaten by half a length.
Aimigayle, another mare, was also second at the Festival, while I suppose our biggest winner was Missoula in the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2008. So we’ve done well with mares.
Invicta Lake is out of a half-sister to Material World and cost only €6,000 (£4,500). If I have a relation of hers at that price I can always sell it. Dad is now selling shares in Material World’s offspring.
Lewes racecourse — could they copy Great Leighs/Chelmsford and turn it back into a racecourse?
I doubt it now. The grandstands have been turned into houses and the middle of the course is now woodland. It can get very windy up here and the people I’ve spoken to who raced there all remember it as bitterly cold. Now Jim Best, Mark Hoad and I train here. Gerry Enright did until he retired last weekend.
Are you married?
No, but I live with my partner of 14 years, Sergio Gordon-Watson, a nephew of the bloodstock agent Charlie Gordon-Watson. He’s a big part of the operation. I have no children but two lurchers, Lurch and Trixy.
Cheltenham seems to be on everyone’s mind. Is it on yours for Invicta Lake?
No. We might go to Liverpool instead but I don’t usually go to the big meetings just for days out, only if we have a chance.
Not much in the winter. I don’t really get much time for anything other than socialising with friends.
What was the last book you read?
The Psychopath Test. It’s not what it sounds. I was recommended it and would do the same.
If we gave you tickets to a concert tonight who would you see?
Anywhere in France and there’s a place we’ve been back to a few times in Cuba.
Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 February 2015