So this weekend I went down to Newmarket where I spent the morning with Phil Mcentee and his family at their Racefield Stables, I can honestly say it was one of my favourite mornings. Even though we were in the middle of a storm, it was an amazing morning and the whole family are just lovely.
When we arrived Phil explained to us that there are only four members of staff and he is one of them. It is a small operation with currently 19 horses in training. Phil has been at Racefield Stables for 10 years now and it is a lovely set up that he has. Shortly after arriving Bernie’s Boy was getting ready to leave for the first at Lingfield, where we now know he finished second with Grace on board, which is another brilliant win for the whole family.
One thing I noticed about Phil’s yard is it is very much a family occasion, the whole family are involved in one way or another and I think that is so special, as each winner is a huge family victory.
We then went up onto the famous Newmarket gallops to watch a couple of horses exercising. Phil explained on a day like today they will do an hour on the walker then a run up the gallops for around 4 furlong and then back into their stable for some food and rest.
Of course, we also got to go around Phil’s yard and meet all of his horses, which is always brilliant.
The one thing I did notice during the tour around his horses is how passionate Phil is for every horse he owns. You can see he loves them and they clearly love him too.
One thing many people don’t see is the hard work that goes into getting a horse to the racetrack and what I absolutely loved about the visit was seeing how hands on Phil is with his horses. Some trainers aren’t as hands on with their horses, but Phil told us he makes up 25% of his workforce so therefore he has no choice but to be hands on, but he also said he loves his job so he doesn’t mind doing the, not so glamorous, things.
After a lovely cup of tea, I was then able to sit down with Phil and Grace and interview them. Here is what they had to say…
Me: What is the best advice you have received from another trainer or another jockey?
Phil: For me, I would say… I think Olly Murphy quoted this one, it’s the old one we’ve all been told. Keep yourself in the best company and your horses in the worst. But, no listen, as long as your horses are healthy that’s the most important thing. Work hard and as I say, place them properly.
Grace: I’d probably just say patience is key really, you’ve gotta be patient. It doesn’t just come straight away, you’ve got to work hard at it. But when it does pay off it’s worth the wait.
Me: This question we have already spoke about briefly, but where do you stand with people that say the whip should be banned?
Phil: Erm, yeah, I mean I’d be anti banning the whip absolutely. The problem is, the perception is probably, people that don’t really truly understand the thoroughbred or the horse at all are the ones that want the whip banned. In the long term, the whip has got to remain a part of racing, it’s there as a corrector. My view on going forward, what’s the best way to get rid of the whole whip debate, I personally think you should disqualify the horse if the jockey goes over and I think that very soon you’ll see a huge change in what happens with jockey’s that go over using the whip.
Grace: I think if you ask most jockey’s in the weighing room every single one of them would say they don’t want to go out there without a whip, because it is there as a guidance to the horse, it’s not necessarily used to tell them off, it is just a guidance, so if you’ve got one hanging, you can correct them. And I don’t think it really should get banned as it doesn’t even hurt them, it’s cushioned and I don’t think a lot of people realise that.
Me: If you could pick one horse that you haven’t had any involvement in from the past or present, what horse would you choose?
Phil: For me, jumping, it’s a horse I was involved in, I worked for David Elsworth from 86 to 89 and Desert Orchid, I got to ride him out. The head lad at the time used to ride him a lot, well all of the time, but on the odd Sunday when he wasn’t around I got to sit on him a couple of times. He was really keen and there was just one canter he used to go up and, without blowing my own trumpet here, but obviously Elsworth obviously thought I was good enough and had good hands. When I was an apprentice, I used to ride Desert Orchid very occasionally. So for me, the time I was at Elsworth’s Desert Orchid was in his prime and that was brilliant. And on the flat, I’ve got to say standing in the Grand Stand at Newmarket when Frankel went 8 clear in the Guineas, that was something I’ll never forget. So for me, Frankel and Dessie.
Grace: Yeah, obviously I’d have to choose Frankel. I think he’d be most people’s favourite just because of, no other horse being like him. So I’d have to say Frankel.
Me: What racecourse do you love to go to? What is your favourite?
Phil: I’ve got to say, erm, Cheltenham is just around the corner, so to go as a spectacle, four days at Cheltenham, every horse in every race trying for it’s life, the absolute best in all the disciplines is right up there. And I was very fortunate, I was a rubbish jump jockey for a couple years and I got to ride a winner at Cheltenham, So the feeling of jumping the last and coming up that hill at Cheltenham is second to none, so for me I’d say Cheltenham.
Grace: I’d probably say Ascot, my favourite day’s racing their is Champion’s Day and I just think the track itself an the atmosphere, I’d say it’s my favourite track.
Me: What is your favourite race of your career, win or lose? What sticks in your head the most?
Phil: I’m going to say when Emily Goldfinch…
Grace: I was going to say we’ll both say the same.
Phil: Again, it’s all personal with us, you know, every horse I train… I’ve got some brilliant loyal owners and every winner we’ve trained for them has been really good. Grace rode a winner at the Rowley Mile, last year, two years ago?
Grace: A year ago, yeah last year.
Phil: On Emily Goldfinch, owned by her sister, in her colours, trained by me, Grace’s first ever winner of the Rowley Mile. And my first as I’d had winners at the July course but not the Rowley Mile. So, yeah that was a special day.
Grace: Yeah that would be mine. It’s kind of, I think that was possibly my third winner for Dad and obviously my sister owning it, at our local track, it was just the highlight of my career so far.
Me: If you could choose one horse, who is in training with someone else, to ride or train, what horse would you choose?
Phil: The problem is you all want to train the superstars don’t you? On the flat, Enable, what she’s done, Breeders Cup, Arc’s, you know, she’s been an unbelievable filly. And we get to see her every morning on Newmarket Heath too as well. That’s the glory of this game, especially training here at Newmarket, I’ll be sat waiting for the horses to come up and all of a sudden Enable comes past you and Stradivarius. At the moment the horses in Newmarket are brilliant, so on the flat Enable. Over the jumps, gosh there’s been so many good ones over the years, but Native River – horses like that the longevity you get out of horses like that, with jumps horses, we don’t really have that so much over the flat so yeah I’d say because she’s in Newmarket and I see her every day Enable would do me, a trip to the Arc and the Breeders Cup.
Grace: I knew we was going to have the same answer to a lot of these. Just for the same reasons, we will ride past her in the mornings and she’s just one of the best there is. I’d love to ride Enable but the chances of that happening are very very low.
Phil: We see them and get close to these horses even though they’re not yours.
Grace: Yeah, they’re almost famous in their own rights.
Me: With people like Joseph and Donnacha O’Brien retiring from the saddle due to struggling with their weight, how difficult is that for you to keep your weight to a healthy weight? Have you found that difficult or quite easy?
Grace: To begin with my weight was quite good and I could more or less eat whatever I wanted. But as I have got older I have got slightly heavier, erm so like Monday just gone I went to speak to a diet nutritionist, so there are plenty of people out there who can help you out and keep your weight but doing it in the right way. Obviously a lot of jockey’s sweat and it’s not the best thing for you, so trying to sort out a diet, it’s more kind of trying to maintain that weight.
Phil: Yeah you have to be disciplined in doing it. But ultimately of course the sacrifices have to be made. Grace is lucky that I can know a week or two in advance if there’s going to be a light one pop up and also she realises now, it helps that she’s just lost her seven pound claimer, but with 48 hour declarations, you might get a call up and have to lose a couple of pounds.
Grace: I’d say that in a jockey’s life, that’s what is the most stress for them. Every single day that’s all you’re worried about, jumping on the scales and checking your weight and doing it the right way. It’s part of the job and you know going into it it’s something you’re going to have to deal with but it’s worth it when you have the winners.
Phil: With Donnacha and Joseph, they were riding classic winners, so it’s slightly easier going to Southwell on a Tuesday, but they all have to make their sacrafices.
Me: Obviously here you have a small team, but you can see just how loved every single horse is, what would you say to someone who thinks horse racing is animal cruelty? For me, you can see how much they are loved by everyone here, but a lot of people still have those comments to make.
Phil: Yeah, I mean, the problem is they’re making a judgement call on 60 seconds or 90 seconds they see on a Saturday where they think the horses are being abused. They are looked after like…
Grace: They’re literally pets at ours. We don’t see them as just horses, we see them as our pets. Like we have bonds with every single one of them and we would be absolutely devastated if anything happened to any one of them or they had to get sold.
Phil: I think it’s the treatment they get, they get fed three times a day, they have duvet rugs on, they get groomed, they get lovely bedding, they get nice feed, they get the best of everything these horses. They have the best of everything. There are a lot of humans around the world in a lot worse condition than these horses are, trust me. They are so well looked after and loved by the people who look after them and ride them, the people that own them. As I say genetically over hundreds of years these guys have been bred to race and that’s what they’re here to do. And as we said, the whip now is cushioned and people have no idea the concept of what goes on behind the scenes.
Me: Obviously every jockey and every trainer has a dream, what is the big dream for you? What’s the one race you’d just love to win?
Phil: Erm, listen, the reality is I’m probably never going to have a classic horse or a Gold Cup horse, trainers are only as good as their owners budgets really. But this year we’ve got a filly we got from Book 1, a little yearling and we’ve never had a Book 1 yearling before, by Golden Horn and I’ve acquired her and I own her myself so erm, she’s a bit of an ugly duckling at the moment, but the dream, who knows? With her pedigree, her grandmother was a champion, her dad was a champion, so this year the dream is could she go and do something spectacular? It would be brilliant if she could. And as I own her and Grace to be on her, if she’s any good and could be good enough to run in a group race with Grace to ride her. I won’t set the goals too high but to have a group winner with Grace riding it, anywhere is my dream right now.
Grace: Yeah, I would love that dream. But realistically for me now I just want to ride as many winners as I can. There’s no specific grades…
Phil: Well if you can win the Hands and Heels series today.
Grace: Yeah and possibly the All Weather Championship for apprentices. My main goal is just to ride my claim out really and have a safe career and just enjoy it and get what I can out of it.
Me: So obviously you rode out your 7 pound claimer this week and Phil told us earlier he got very emotional about it, how special is that for the both of you to share that relationship by riding out your claim on one of your dad’s horses and obviously seeing your daughter succeed like she is on one of your horses and being able to succeed together?
Phil: Yeah, for me, two or three years ago when Grace got her amateur license she was going to college and she wasn’t going to be a jockey.
Grace: Yeah, it was a dream from when I was a young kid but as I got older I wanted to do eventing and I wasn’t as interested in racing as I once was when I was younger. But then I started working for dad and I fell in love with it again.
Phil: Yeah, exactly. To be able to share this with Grace and as you’ve seen my daughter has just gone off racing and my other daughter and we’re all off going there today. So yeah, it’s really good. It’s given it an extra buzz every day coming in the yard. We’ve got horses here that are winning and the yard is in good form and to know potentially you can have a winner or two and to have Grace riding them is brilliant.
Me: And Grace your dad told us earlier you’ve grown up around a lot of successful women, Josephine Gordon, Hollie Doyle, how inspirational is that for you as you’re coming through the ranks, being able to work with such successful female jockey’s?
Grace: Yeah, they’ve just proven it can be done. Josie was champion apprentice, Hollie has won over hundred winners so they’ve proven that is can be done so it gives you hope and faith that you can follow in their footsteps as it has been done before. There is people out there who do believe in girls and want to use girls so yeah, it’s just good really to have them as a guide to follow.
Me: And what would be your horse to watch for the season?
Grace: I think Split Down South when he gets on the turf, I think he can improve even more from what he has done on the all weather. I think he’s one to look at on the turf and see how he goes.
Phil: Yeah, with him, the grey horse race at Newmarket is definitely on his radar, it’s on ITV, it’s a Saturday race and there’s good prize money on offer. I think when he goes in a straight line on the turf he’ll be nice as well. I think, as I mentioned earlier, the Golden Horn filly, she’s an unnamed two year old at the moment, she’s the one, the golden ticket. Because as you’ve seen, we are a very small team, there’s not a lot of funds floating around the yard at any stage, so I managed to acquire her and I own her myself and with her pedigree if she wins a maiden or does any good she might be worth a bit of money, so who knows? We might get to go on holiday.
Me: And my final question, what would be your one piece of advice for a young person with a dream or passion they want to follow whether that be within racing or outside of racing?
Grace: I’d say just give it time. Things don’t happen over night, just stay at it, keep trying and just be patient. That’s all I can say.
Phil: Yeah, never give up on your dream, whatever you want to do in life. Speaking in the horse industry, there are so many avenues to get into it and when you are in it, it is so rewarding and so many highs and lows and the every day stuff, it’s a brilliant industry to be in. But ultimately as a youngster, you have to work hard and never give up on your dreams.
I want to say a massive thank you to Phil, firstly for allowing us to visit his gorgeous set up and a massive thank you to Phil, Grace and the whole team for a brilliant morning. I thoroughly enjoyed this visit, it was incredible to see such a small team compared to others I have visited, but they care so much about these animals and I love to see that. For me I think Phil is an incredible trainer and the passion he has for the sport you can see a mile away. Grace is a ridiculously talented rider and in my personal opinion I would love to see more trainers give her the opportunity to ride in the bigger races because she could give any male jockey a run for their money and I hope more trainers do take notice of how well she is doing and give her those opportunities.
Overall we had an incredible morning and as discussed with Phil, we will hopefully be working together again in the future which will be very exciting.
Thank you for reading, I thoroughly hope you have enjoyed reading!