Horses have always been a part of my life, and I knew as a teenager that I wanted to become a racehorse trainer.
In my teens, I used to go to York’s Ebor meeting with friends who had racing connections. This is where my interest and passion for racing began, and I was fascinated! I will never forget watching Music Boy win in the 1975 Gimcrack Stakes.
On leaving school, I joined Barry Hills as a lad; this was a good grounding for me. He was ideal to work for, as he was disciplined and had a no-nonsense approach to horses and staff. He was the sort of person you wanted to work hard for and he instilled in me the message that your job is what you make of it.
After a year with Barry Hills, I went to work for Robert Armstrong in Newmarket. Compared to Lambourn, it was a huge difference to be working at this large training centre but it was a great learning curve.
The love of the Lambourn Downs took me back to Henry Candy’s stables a year later. I worked as his assistant for three years. Whilst I was there, Henry trained one of the great racemares of the twentieth century in Time Charter. It was hugely exciting, as I watched her grow up from a yearling to become a Classic winner.
I learned a huge amount in these three years which gave me the prefect grounding to start training on my own. My friend Colin Brown said to me that his cousin Tom Marshall was ready to pack in training but if I was interested, he would leave me some horses, so I really couldn’t say no.
I got my licence in November 1983 but had my first runners in 1984. I remember my first year very well, as I had great success with Portogon and Mystery Ship, who won the Sweet Solera Stakes at Newmarket, which was a big advert for me. I have trained in and around the Lambourn area ever since and have trained over 400 winners.
I am now based in Rowdown Stables in Upper Lambourn.
Chantelle joined Rowdown as the Racing Secretary at the end of 2017 and makes sure that the Office runs both smoothly and efficiently.
Dave has worked at Saxon House and Rowdwon for the past nine years. Dave first came to Lambourn at the age of 15 after leaving school where he worked for Paul Cole for 12 years; he has been our Head Lad since the beginning of 2021 and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this vital role.
Racing Highlight: Leading up a horse called Polly Daniels that came second in a group race.
Q&A with apprentice Jockey Izzie Francis, May 2020
1. What age did you first sit on a horse?
I had to ask my mum this question, because I honestly cannot remember there being a time when I wasn’t on board a horse. I was first plonked on top of a horse at around 18 months old. By the age of 3 I was riding independently, getting on any of the riding school’s sensible ponies that were available at the time.
2. When leaving school if you hadn’t been an apprentice jockey, what job outside of racing would you have done?
Before racing, I was aiming to go to university to become an accountant. My favourite subjects at school were mathematics, physics and economics. I took all three of these at A-Levels, but didn’t complete them. During the start of my second year, at the age of 17, I had a hard think about what would really make me happy in the future. Sitting at a desk from 9-5 really did not fit the bill. It had never occurred to me that you could make a career out of a life long hobby that you love; horses. It was only then that I discovered horse racing and the British Racing School.
3. How easy was it to get into racing?
Very easy. I applied to the British Racing School in October 2013, and by the end of the month I had completed the interview and fitness tests required to be considered. A letter came through a couple of weeks later and I was given a start date for the 9 week course in Newmarket to commence March 2014. I was placed with Mr. Hughie Morrison at the end of my course to begin my career in horse racing and have not looked back.
4. What drives you to be a jockey?
I am extremely competitive and my love for horses is infinite. Honestly, it is a match made in heaven that I can combine the two so perfectly.
I have always been sporty, taking part in every club possible at school, and in addition ballet, tap, athletics, cross country running, full contact rugby, along with the presence of horses throughout my life. I do not come from a horse racing back ground what so ever. However, there’s a possibility I have inherited a few characteristics that can certainly be applied to becoming a jockey.
My grandad and two uncles on my mother’s side previously raced sidecars ( not the Wallace and Gromit type) and motor bikes on tracks throughout the country and around the world. From a very young age I was allowed to go with them if they were going to Brands Hatch for a few days to race. Unfortunately, for my car anyway, I didn’t pick up any mechanic skills.. but what I did pay particular attention to appears to be very relatable now. The adrenaline, the build up, the care of the bikes, the planning, analysis, team work. The blood, sweat and tears.
My Nanna, on my fathers side, was an incredible dancer and an actress in the West End for many years. Growing up, she would produce local plays and pantomimes for children to take part in during the summer holidays. My two younger sisters and I were always part of them, one way or another. This is applicable as a jockey, as we are often in the spot light, standing in front of many people that are waiting to hear our words, our thoughts. We have to conduct ourselves appropriately and professionally. I suppose; we have to perform.
It wasn’t until I rode my first ever piece of work that I set my heart on becoming a jockey. Before then, I wanted to be trainer. I still remember it. Aboard a then 2yo filly Sweet Selection, upsides an unnamed Dutch Art filly, doing a good canter for 5f. It wasn’t relatively fast looking back on it, although it was the fastest I had been in my short time working in racing. It was such a thrill, and from then I was hooked. That same rush of adrenaline hits me every time I race. It truly is addictive.
5. Do you follow a diet?
Since moving to Lambourn in October, I have been working extremely hard to become stronger, healthier and a little heavier. Being a natural lightweight, I can afford to put on the muscle mass. The team at Oaksey House have been superb. I have had consultations with the IJF nutritionist, and have had one to one weight training sessions with IJF trainers Rob Trevis and Gavin Egan. My diet consists of high protein foods, full fat dairy products, and plenty of vegetables and fruit. I will have a protein shake after any intensive gym sessions too.
6. Which jockeys have given you the most support and inspiration?
The jockey that has given me the most support has to be my partner Charlie Bennett. I know that Charlie will be fair and honest with me when I call him up to go through races, but he will also be the first person to congratulate me after a successful ride. Charlie was the first person to say well done to me after Misu Pete won at Kempton this year. You can see this on the replay of Pete winning, as we are pulling up around the bend. Hollie Doyle, Josie Gordon and Hayley Turner have been very supportive too. I have asked each of them on multiple occasions for advice whether that’s about a horse, trainer, the racecourse or just day to day life. They are very down to earth, and are genuinely delighted for me when I do well.
I look up to many jockeys, my biggest inspiration is Hollie Doyle. Hollie is unbelievably tough, strong and determined. Being so small, she has had to work so hard to become as strong as she is now. I’ve been told there are very few jockeys in the weighing room that would be able to lift the same weights that Hollie can. Before racing had to pause, Hollie was racking up doubles and hat-tricks left right and centre. The new record achieved by herself of 116 winners in a calendar year for a female rider 2019, certainly looked attainable for her, all being well. Watching Hollie break the boundaries and going from strength to strength, whilst staying incredibly humble and being her usual positive happy self is truly inspiring.
7. Do you ever go racing socially and what do you think of the music nights?
Yes, I enjoy dressing up and going to the bigger race meetings such as Oaks and Derby day, along with a day at Royal Ascot. I went to The Arc to witness Enable as she attempted to make history. I have previously attended Newbury for the Henessey (Ladbrokes trophy) three years in a row, and have been to Cheltenham on New Years day.
The music nights are a great way to attract a younger, wider audience whom may not have ever visited a racecourse otherwise.
8. Is it easy in the public eye or do you feel you have to be careful?
Of course you have to be careful when you are in the public eye. Social media is a great platform to promote and sell yourself, especially being so easily accessible to the general public. You will never know who is looking, therefore it is best to ensure what you post/do is appropriate and suitable for anyone to see.
9. Can you still remember the feeling of your first winner?
Yes!! Lingfield 12th May 2017 7f on the grass, Duke Of North. It was only my 6th ride in public and I shall never forget it.
10. Favourite winning ride?
Peace Prevails over 1m4f at Epsom Downs, the first time I won on her 01/08/2019. I really enjoyed the thrill of sitting last throughout the race, storming around Tattenham Corner full of horse, and cruising passed beaten horses. I knew the filly well from home, and everything fell right for her this day. Epsom is my favourite racecourse to ride at.
11. If you could ride any horse past or present what horse would it be and why?
The horse that I would love to ride would be Enable! A horse that everyone around the world admires, respects and can appreciate. Enable has earned that after everything she has done in this country, conquering in America and having two Arcs to add to the impressive CV. She is breathtaking. The way she battled with Crystal Ocean in the epic 2019 King George VI. To ride a horse as genuine, versatile and incredible as the queen Enable, I cannot even imagine how it must feel. Just watching her gives me goosebumps.
12. Naughtiest horse you have ever ridden?
Haha. Considering all of the big racey fresh racehorses that I have sat on and fallen off of in the last 6 years, none compare to a certain temperamental grey shetland pony called ’Sparkles’ that my sisters and I shared. I was 6 or 7. She took no prisoners. Whether that was when she bit us, kicked us, dropped a shoulder or took off with her head between her legs until I came off. I remember one day jumping tiny cross poles on her in the small school, the school was slightly flooded due to the rain. This day Sparkles would ping over the jump, and then bury me in a large puddle two strides later… Of course I was fearless and bounced at that age, so I just kept getting back on. And on.. and on. Sure there were days when Sparkles was good, although she was more likely just plotting new ways to cause havoc.
13. Just my favourite horse?
Showtime Blues will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve never met a horse as honest, gentle and kind as he.
14. Do you feel in the present day it is still harder for female riders and do you think you have to work harder than your male counter parts?
This is a tricky question because I believe it is a yes and no answer.
I don’t believe it is ‘harder’ for female riders compared to males. I believe that it’s a tough world for everyone.
Right now there are more women riding than ever before, the chances are out there. Look at how well Josephine Gordon has done. Nicola Currie, Hollie Doyle smashing the record for most winners in a calendar year for a female jockey, Hayley Turner having a Royal Ascot winner last year. It would be very uncommon to have an apprentice race nowadays without at least 1/3rd of the riders being female. The times are changing and women are proving it every day that they are more than capable of competing with the men.
I don’t think I need to work harder than my male counter parts in particular. I do believe however that if you are going to be the best at something then you need to work harder than your opposition. My opposition is mixed, therefore it applies to male and female. I quite like the phrase “Don’t be bitter, be better”.
15. What are your hopes this year when things get back to normal?
My target this year is to get the ball rolling and ride out my 7lb claim.
Cyril joined Mark at Saxon House in 2010 having previously worked for Peter Walwyn and Marcus Tregonning; he is a key man in the Yard organisation.