Meet this Classic-winning groom who rides her retrained racehorse bridleless: ‘You’ve got to enjoy every moment’

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  • When the Roger Varian-trained filly Elmalka swooped from last to first to win the recent 1000 Guineas at Newmarket under jockey Silvestre De Sousa, the loudest cheers on the track were coming from the filly’s devoted groom Kerry Humphries.

    “I lost my voice!” she says of that “really special day”.

    “I was over the moon and so proud of her and the way she did it – she was out the back most of the way then flew home, it was brilliant. When she started getting closer, we started jumping and cheering. Then when she crossed the line in front, we all ended up hugging each other.”

    Kerry says the emotions flowed as she led Elmalka back to the winner’s enclosure.

    “I couldn’t stop shaking. These special days are why you work in racing and you don’t win a Classic every day, so it makes it all worthwhile. You’ve got to enjoy every moment and make the most of it.”

    Kerry Humphries: family ties

    Kerry has looked after Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum’s Kingman filly since Elmalka arrived on the Newmarket yard last year, jumping at the chance having previously looked after her older half-sister Madaara.

    “Madaara was a very big horse whereas Elmalka’s really small – they’re complete opposites,” says Kerry of the daughters of Selkirk mare Nahrain, who gave Roger Varian his first Group One winner back in 2011.

    “Elmalka is really sweet, she loves a cuddle, her polos, her carrots and her apples, but she has a bit of sass about her at the same time!

    “Sometimes when you’re brushing her over she’ll throw a leg out at you, or when you’re washing her off – she keeps you on your toes! But on the whole, she’s really sweet.”

    In the run-up to the Classic race, the signs were there that Elmalka might well out-run her odds of 33/1 on just her third racecourse appearance.

    “She is ridden at home every day by Beth Dixon, who has ridden her from her early days and adores Elmalka. On the day before the Guineas she actually ran off the end of the canter with her – she’s never done anything like that before so we said she’s definitely in good order!” says Kerry. “We were confident she’d run a good race anyway. She’s a tough filly and we always knew she’d be doing her best late on. It was amazing to watch.”

    Kerry Humphries is riding in the Macmillan ‘Ride of Their Lives’ race in memory of her mother

    Kerry Humphries rode in the Macmillan Ride of Their Lives race in memory of her late mother.

    A twist of fate: “It was right on my doorstep”

    Kerry was brought up around horses as her mum had a horse, but she only came into racing by chance.

    “My dad is a roofer and had been working on the roof of the Northern Racing College in Doncaster,” recalls Kerry. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school and he said how about applying there. Growing up, my mum and dad would take my brother and me racing quite regularly, so I had an interest in it, but I didn’t know the racing college existed, even though it was right on my doorstep.”

    Kerry has now been working for leading trainer Roger Varian for the past 10 years and met her “absolute world” One Pekan on her first day there, crediting the horse for helping her deal with the grief of losing her mother unexpectedly in 2021.

    After dual Epsom winner One Pekan retired from the track in 2017, Kerry jumped at the chance to take on the racehorse whom she adored. The devoted duo have been enjoying showjumping, cross-country and pleasure rides – and “he’s still a monkey!” she says.

    “Last Sunday I noticed everyone posting lovely pictures of their pristine horses in showing classes and so on, when I’d taken mine on a 10-mile pleasure ride and five minutes in, he’d got down and rolled in the mud with me!” she laughs. “He’s 14, yet still does things like that!”

    Riding a former racehorse without a bridle

    So close is their bond however, that Kerry can ride her former racehorse One Pekan at home without a bridle.

    “I don’t know what was going through my head, but one day I thought I’d take my bridle off and canter round without it and he was brilliant,” she says of the Retraining of Racehorses personality of the year finalist. “He listens so well to my voice – I can lunge him without a lunge line and I can get him to walk, trot and canter round in a circle just through my voice.

    “But if I take him out cantering in the fields, he doesn’t listen to me at all!”

    Talking about the joy of owning a former racehorse, Kerry explains: “I’ve looked after Pekan from my first day working at Roger Varian’s, so we’ve gone through the whole process of working together within the racing industry to me giving him a home after racing. He is such a character and very quirky, I adore him.”

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