Five years ago, Joe Anderson had only just sat on a horse for the first time — he now rides one of the most famous National Hunt horses every day. That horse is Altior (pictured with Joe), who recently enjoyed a run of 19 consecutive victories, accumulating £1,249,710 in prize money during his career so far.
Joe’s story of how he has come to find himself aboard one of trainer Nicky Henderson’s most successful horses every day wouldn’t be out of place in a film script.
“I grew up in Liverpool,” explains Joe, who is now 23 years old. “My family weren’t horsey at all and my mum worked long hours, so I spent a lot of time at my nan’s house.”
It was there that Joe got his first taste of horse racing.
“My uncle used to watch a lot of racing on TV at my nan’s, so I would sit and watch it too. Somewhere there’s a video of me when I was very young, sat on the arm of a sofa with half a snooker cue in my hand, pretending to ride a finish as I watched Edredon Bleu win the King George in 2003. I was mad into it.”
But then, as is the case with many boys growing up, Joe lost interest in anything horse-related.
“Then, when I was about 14, I started watching it again and would sneakily have the odd bet,” says Joe, who then discovered the British Racing School at Newmarket. “When I was 17, I started the 14-week foundation course there. I had never sat on a horse before.”
This course teaches students everything from riding to yard work and the video below shows Joe on his first day in the saddle.
“When I left there I could get a horse up the gallops, but I was told by one of the instructors that I was the only person to leave the school who would be better off on the ground than on a horse — I left in February 2015 and I think I was worse at riding than when I arrived. I was hopeless!” laughs Joe.
Still Joe decided he wasn’t going to give up that easily and by September 2015 he was working for National Hunt trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
“I spent my whole time trying to emulate the style of the boys who rode there, like Sam Twiston-Davies for example, and one day the penny sort of dropped.”
In 2016, just two years after his first riding lesson, Joe rode in his first point-to-point for a trainer local to the Twiston-Davies’, Andrew Campbell.
“I pulled up on my first ride, who was a 40/1 shot, but I took rides on whatever I was offered — I was just mad keen.”
Joe went on to start in 26 points, recording his sole victory at Mollington in May 2018.
“Then one day Nigel asked me what I was going to do the following year — I thought he meant, where was I going to work, but what he was actually getting at was whether I wanted to ride under Rules, as he was looking for a 10lb claimer. I couldn’t believe it,” says Joe in his Scouse accent. “I never thought I would actually get there.”
In the 2018/19 season, now a conditional jockey, Joe rode in 17 races, clocking up three second placings along the way. And in May 2019 he made the move to Nicky Henderson’s Lambourn yard to broaden his knowledge and experience. Then in June, something thousands of people would dream about actually came true for Joe.
“I was down to ride one horse for second lot and then I was told: ‘the boss has changed it and put you on Altior’,” he explains. “I was so nervous because all I could think was ‘oh my God, don’t fall off and be the person who let Altior get loose’!”
Altior’s former daily rider, Toby Lawes, had left to set up his own training venture that month, something Joe has capitalised on in spades as it means he now exercises one of the most prolific horses in training.
“Altior is such a professional in every aspect,” Joe explains when asked what is it like to ride such an equine megastar. “He does everything with so much ease and never wastes any energy. I’ve never ridden anything like him. He’s fast, really fast, and makes other good horses look average. I’m just very lucky.”
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Joe has continued to ride under Rules this season with seven starts under his belt so far, including two for his boss.
“The dream is to get a couple of winners and to then start establishing myself as a jockey,” says Joe. “There’s no doubt I want to make it my career.”
And I don’t doubt him, after all, this is the boy who simply followed his dream from ‘riding winners’ with a broken snooker cue in hand in Liverpool, to now riding one of the most remarkable racehorses in recent history. That doesn’t happen by accident — remember his name.
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