Twenty-five-year-old Toby Coles is Britain’s newest — and youngest —trainer. He is writing a weekly diary for HHO about the trials and tribulations, the highs and the lows, the work and play of a young man trying to make a go out of training racehorses.
Welcome to my Horse & Hound Online diary. This week I thought I’d introduce myself to you all.
I was lucky enough to grow up in the borders of Scotland where I did nothing but play with my pony during the school holidays, be it hunting in the winter, or riding round the farm with my terrier in tow during the summer. I was never allowed to go to Pony Club camp for some reason, which did not really bother me as plaiting and grooming my pony didn’t really interest me. Galloping flat out, chasing a covey of partridges or pretending to have Emperor Napoleon’s army on retreat did!
My school days were spent longing for the countryside and the freedom that came with it. It was at school where I decided my future lay in racing. However I did far better than was expected in my A levels, and was persuaded to go to Newcastle University.
In fact I got my results when leading up Factor Fifteen at Beverley for Ed Dunlop on 14 August 2003. I remember the day well as I put the phone down on my housemaster for thinking it amusing to give me someone else’s results, in fact he had not, it was just those who marked my exams had taken heed of the note at the top of the page: “Please give me an A”. Either that or they were has high as kites when they put pen to paper!
Working in England
After just a year my tutor thought it better I leave university! I did so, and was lucky enough to get a job with the Newmarket trainer Sir Mark Prescott. To this day I will be eternally grateful to my tutor for throwing me out.
It was at Sir Mark’s that I learnt from the bottom up. I started by mucking out and polishing taps, and the month before I left after my two-year schooling, I was sent to three Group One races in three countries. My luck started here; I looked after Sir Mark’s first Classic winner, Confidential Lady, who won the 2006 French Oaks.
I spent the following year as assistant to Ed Dunlop, also in Newmarket, where we had up to 120 horses in at any one time. It was a real baptism of fire, for with Sir Mark we had had a maximum of 60 horses. It was an experience that has given me the skills to juggle the turmoil of such a large yard.
I decided that before I was to settle down in this country I needed to broaden my horizons and travel the world, and the best way to do this was to do it with horses. I used my two previous jobs to get me in with Christophe Clement on the East Board of the United States as an assistant.
It was here where my luck continued. I became associated with Mauralakana, who went on to win five races that year including the Grade One Beverley D Stakes and over US$1,300,000, along with many others in the who’s who of US turf racing that year!
The next year and half I spent on the other side of the earth working for numerous trainers learning their differing techniques. However it was there where I was given the chance to train — not in my name, but still the chance! Murray and Bjorn Baker, a father-and-son team from New Zealand, asked if I would train their Australian string for them.
This was an amazing opportunity that once again had its share of luck, but this time some bad luck. Harris Tweed (NZ) won a Group Two race and came second — beaten just a head — in the AJC Derby (the Australian Derby, run at Randwick in Sydney). But the very next week Mountain Road (NZ), who was favourite for the Ipswich Cup, shattered his near fore while galloping at Randwick four days before the big day. Harris Tweed went on to be fifth in last year’s Melbourne Cup at 100/1.
It was time to come home. My foreign adventures ended back in the States when working for David Duggan for just six weeks last winter in New York. The reasoning behind this was to learn how to train in the cold, and was it cold!
On my return to England I tried to get a job as an assistant, but no one would employ me, not even in France. It was interesting to see those who bothered to reply!
This left me with only one option, which was to have a go myself. I took all my courses that I had to take, and somehow managed to drum up the support to gather three horses to train.
I moved into a barn at Chestnut Tree Stables on 6 April 2010, and within two weeks I had had a real baptism of fire — one horse was kicked and put down, another fell down a drain and have 30-odd stitches, and lastly, I bought a horse that the owner refused to pay for. But things come in threes, and this was a bad three!
Littlemisssunshine lifted spirits to win at Brighton on 22 June. She was my second runner, and she won her third start for me. I was overjoyed, but I have to admit that it was also the biggest relief ever!
I am very lucky with the owners that I do have, they are very supportive and massively encouraging to me and my one staff member, Sammy Cobley, who is worth her weight in gold.