I met a lot of interesting people in his yard but I had a burning desire to go and work in America. Horse racing there might not be as prestigious as it is here, but it’s a massive industry and they do things very differently. Most of the racing is on dirt tracks, so the demands on the horses are different and the veterinary care is very advanced.
Racing in America is a bit like a travelling circus. Over here, we send our horses to meetings around the country from a single stable. Over there, trainers have strings of horses that they send from meet to meet to meet. Big trainers can have five strings around the country, which was great for a young guy like me – you get a lot of responsibility. I started in Florida, moved to Kentucky, then went to Belmont on the outskirts of New York.
That’s where I got my lucky break. Sir Henry Cecil was the greatest flat racing trainer of all time – a legend adored by everyone in the industry. I didn’t have any connection to him, but I did have huge admiration for him. I’d chanced my arm on a couple of occasions when I’d bumped into him, telling him I’d love to work for him. One day in Belmont, I remember it was raining and raining like it does out there and my phone flashed up that Sir Henry had died. I was devastated, but thought nothing more about the news until a couple of weeks later. I got a phone call: Sir Henry’s widow, Lady Cecil, was going to carry on training under his licence for at least a couple of years and she needed an assistant trainer.
It was an incredible two years. A lot of Henry’s owners left the stable when he died, but two of his main patrons stayed loyal. We still had Frankel’s full brother, Noble Mission, who won the Champion Stakes at Ascot – the race that Frankel was so famous for. It was a fairy-tale time and, to be so directly involved, was a great platform for me. I could use the exposure to start something of my own.
Racing can seem like a closed shop from the outside. In reality, yes, there are trainers from wealthy backgrounds who can finance themselves, but there are also trainers from completely different backgrounds and with completely different ways of life, who have worked their way up through being a jockey or a stable lad. If you work hard and you have a knack for training, there are opportunities for you, wherever you’ve come from.
If it’s not a race day, I try to have an afternoon snooze. My alarm goes off at 5:20 and I’m in the office for 5:45. It’s a nice time of day because I’m sharp in the morning and the plans have been laid the night before, so I know exactly what’s going on. We have four lots of horses and the first lot of about 15 goes out for training around 6:15. Each lot can do different things: a gallop on the grass, a canter on the all-weather surface, or just a trot for the horses that are coming back from a race. At the same time, I’m talking to owners, jockeys, bloodstock agents, vets and everyone else – training is about teamwork and my staff are vital. By lunchtime, I’m ready to put my phone on silent for half an hour and try to sleep. Then I’m right as rain for an afternoon of checking the horses for injuries and race planning – working out who’s going to run where, with which jockey and how we’re going to get them there.