Well, where to start? It was obviously a very emotional day for me at Newton Abbot on Saturday. We’d hoped to go out on a winner but that wasn’t to be. I wanted my last ride to be for Philip [Hobbs]. Him and Sarah have shown me such loyalty over the years, as has Henry Daly, and I will never be able to put into words how much that has meant to me.
Where it all began
I suppose now is a good time for reflection and I have to start with my first ever winner, Rusty Bridge at Hereford in 1994. He was owned and trained by my grandfather Ivor and my dad Keith had won the Midlands Grand National on the dam in 1982, so it was an incredible moment which I’ll never forget.
To ride a winner at 16-years-old was such an amazing feeling but I was in complete shock. I’d ridden Rusty Bridge in my first point-to-point and he was pretty slow, you had to push him most of the way. He was the perfect horse to start on because I learned so much. The Duke [David Nicholson] congratulated me after the race but gave me a bollocking at the same time! I had my stick in the wrong hand and let him drift all the way across the track! It was a fantastic day and I could never have imagined what would happen in the future.
Anzum was my first Cheltenham Festival winner in the 1999 Stayers’ Hurdle which was extra special because it was also the Duke’s last. He was the man I started out with and he gave me such a good grounding which I’ll always be incredibly grateful for.
Again, it was all a bit of a shock, Anzum was 40/1 and beat the two hotpots, Le Coudray and Lady Rebecca. We’d hoped he’d run well but you don’t go into a race on a 40/1 shot at the Festival and expect to win. It was a huge moment for me at that stage of my career, it propelled me into the top level of the sport. All of a sudden you’re getting more opportunities and everyone needs that at some point.
Winning the Gold Cup the following year on Looks Like Trouble for Noel Chance, who is now my father-in-law, was another very special day. I only got the ride two or three weeks beforehand and then suddenly I’m coming into the winners’ enclosure after the Gold Cup. When I rode Native River 18 years later it dawned on me how big a moment it was and how hard they are to come by. Looks Like Trouble is 29 now and lives with us at home, he’s a huge part of the family.
To win the four big Festival races within four years was the stuff of dreams but I didn’t know how lucky I was. When you’re young you don’t understand, you think it will carry on forever.
Rooster Booster’s Champion Hurdle was amazing. He had developed with Philip, going down the handicap route before his biggest day. Everyone loves a grey and he became a household name after that. What he did shouldn’t happen really, a horse shouldn’t be pulling your arms out coming to the second last in any race at the Festival, especially not in a Champion Hurdle, but the further I went the better he travelled. I remember Simon Holt saying he was “jet propelled at the last” and he really was.
I feel very privileged to have been involved with all these horses. Menorah was another. He won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which was great in itself but it was more about his longevity. The first year I was Champion Jockey he won the Oaksey Chase at Sandown and to get the trophy that day was such a special moment. He’s at home with us next to Looks Like Trouble and it’s lovely for all the family to have him. The partnership I’ve had with the Hobbs’ has been so strong, built on horses like Menorah.
Mighty Man was an absolute star who I loved riding. He was another around for four or five years and won at Aintree three years running. I’ve actually ridden for Henry longer than I’ve ridden for Philip, I think it’s been around 24 years. However long he’s trained for I’ve ridden out for him. I feel very lucky and proud to have had those two special long term relationships.
What more can I say about Native River? Simply, he is just an incredible racehorse and I will dearly miss riding him. We had some amazing days together but obviously the one that meant the most was the Gold Cup. He showed all his class, guts and determination that day – it’s a day I will never forget.
AP and Dave Roberts
I’ve ridden against some brilliant jockeys over the years but the one I have to highlight is AP [McCoy] who I finished runner up to in the championship a few times! Our agent Dave Roberts played a huge part, there was no conflict of interest and I think it worked really well together.
I enjoyed riding against AP. He was a great jockey but he was also very fair. When you went upside him, there was no inch given but he was a very good man to ride against. He’s been a great role model for the generations growing up and he showed that if you work hard and give it 110 percent every day, you will succeed. He helped me a huge amount and I hope I helped him because I wouldn’t let him coast along. Unfortunately I could never quite get past him!
As a few people have highlighted, it was ironic that my last ride was Brother Tedd, the horse who I won on in AP’s last race at Sandown. He’s a horse I’ll never forget. He’s not a Festival winner, not a Grade One winner, just a lovely horse. That’s the thing, you have this immense connection with the horses. Some of them aren’t the best but you love them the same. It was an emotional moment when I gave him a pat after the race.
So what will I do next? The family is the most important thing now, they come first. They’ve given up so much for me, I haven’t been around like a normal father would be for things like sports day. I want to be there for them and that’s my main priority. We have the farm at home and lots of horses. As a jockey, riding seven days a week, you just focus on that, you don’t really know what’s next after you stop riding. I’m a bit nervous but looking forward to a different daily routine.
The first thing I said to Philip after my last ride was that I’ll be going down to see him very soon. I can’t ever imagine not being involved in racing. I definitely won’t be a trainer, but with the breeding side and my strong connections with a number of yards, I’ll certainly be keeping my eye in.
Thank you to everybody
Like I said in my statement, there really are too many people to thank. All those trainers and owners I’ve ridden for, the jockeys I’ve ridden against, my agent Dave Roberts, physio Kate Davis, my sponsors, the Tote and the ROA, the media and obviously all of my family and friends. But I really want to thank the entire racing community. I’ve had support from every angle – from Sedgefield to Newton Abbot to Cheltenham and I feel very privileged to have had that. Thank you to everybody, I’ve loved every minute.