Former Flat jockey Richard Perham on talent-spotting, and swimming a Derby runner alongside hippos in Kenya
At the British Racing School, we train and assess young jockeys for amateur and professional licences. The curriculum has evolved to include sports science, substance abuse, race-day procedures, simulator sessions, studying form, diet, nutrition, and cooking over two weeks.
We’re trying to promote jockeys seeing themselves as professional athletes. Simon Milton is a former footballer who lectures here about making the most of your career. He says athletes should only fail in professional sport through lack of ability – rather than not being fit enough or under-prepared.
My simulator isn’t motorised or spring-loaded; every forward and back movement is from your push. I’ve taken away everything you can balance on other than stirrups. You learn to be so balanced you’re not compromising the horse.
I raced in Saudi Arabia one winter. Willie Carson came to ride in the King’s Cup and invited me to his hotel for dinner. I was quite starstruck, he’d ridden four Derby winners, he was an absolute god in the weighing room. I sat and listened for hours. He said, “You’ve got to do something, or your career will flatline.” That’s what happened. I was getting opportunities to ride in good races but couldn’t take the next jump up, I wasn’t outgoing enough.
The soft skills are important; 50% of what you do is based on your physical attributes, but a lot of sport is played in the mind, as well as dealing with owners, trainers, media, now social media, presenting yourself. The riding’s a doddle!
My favourite horse was Desert Green. I rode a Glorious Goodwood winner on him, but I’d be happier with four rides at Salisbury than Newmarket for the 1000 Guineas. It was less pressure. Worlds away, I also rode in Kenya and swam my Kenyan Derby horse in the lake, bareback in shorts, two days before the race. Afterwards I asked why the assistant trainer was throwing pebbles in the water and was told, “To keep the hippo away”.
It took me 10 years after I retired before I could even look at a sauna; just the smell of the dry wood made me feel sick. I will not go near a bath, after all that time sitting in a hot bath in a sweatsuit and bobble hat, sucking an ice cube.
I’m proud of what I did as a jockey, but I’m disappointed I didn’t do better. Now I see my mistakes and share them with my students; I wasn’t ever fit enough.
Some young jockeys just stand out. Richard Hughes, son of champion jockey and trainer Dessie Hughes, was three-time champion jockey and is now a successful trainer. He came to Richard Hannon’s yard at 18, where I was an apprentice.
A senior jockey said to me, “Dickie boy, watch him. He’s been sitting around the breakfast, lunch and dinner table with owners, trainers and jockeys since he was two. He knows the time of day.”
Five years back, Tom Marquand jumped out more than anybody. I knew him through pony racing and, even when he was 14 I thought “wow”. He has everything required; he’s a good person, likeable, intelligent, enthusiastic, curious, the right physique, he could ride, and he had the mental ability to want to do it without being arrogant. He’s the next champion jockey in waiting.
More recently, trainer Jamie Osborne’s daughter, Saffie, has got most of what we’re looking for. I like to see them coming through the pony racing circuit, like Formula One drivers starting in karting.
Times are changing; Hollie Doyle is a jockey, not a lady jockey. Hollie and Tom Marquand have been an item since their days of pony racing. They feed professionalism and brilliance off each other. Apparently their first kiss was here on pony racing camp behind the theatre.
Ref Horse & Hound; 6 August 2020