Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Michael Scudamore’s gorgeous Eccleswall Court in Herefordshire, so today’s post is all about that visit and some real insights from Michael into various racing issues, such as bookmakers sponsoring jockeys and trainers, the whip and the Little Rory Mac scandal.
Firstly, we arrived at Eccleswall Court and can I just say how gorgeous it is, there is such a lovely view from the top of the hill, it is in the Hereford countryside and it is truly incredible up there.
Michael and his team only moved to Eccleswall in 2003 and at the time it was literally just a farm, so he has had to put a lot of work into making it what it is today. Michael currently has 40 horses in training, including 8 new horses that arrived this week from another yard.
Michael firstly took us down to the walkers and wash down area, he currently has 2 walkers. Every horse does a 20 minute warm up on one walker, then goes onto the gallops. Firstly the circle sand gallop which Michael only recently got installed at Eccleswall, they do 4 laps right handed, 4 laps left handed. They then do a sprint up the hill gallop before going back to the wash area, being washed off, having their blankets put on and then put onto the second walker and doing a 20 minute cool down.
We were lucky enough to go up to the gallops and watch the horses on the sand gallop and the hill gallop. His horses all have incredible stamina and all of the work riders give top feedback to Michael each time they come around near him. For example one rider told him he could hear his horse had thick wind. Little bits of information which are vital to ensuring the horses get the best possible treatment and training they may need.
One thing I can say, nothing against any of the other stables/trainers I have visited, but Michael is definitely the most hands on trainer I have been to visit. Always involved in every step of the morning set up which I thought was very very nice to see. He doesn’t just put his name to the yard, he is hands on every single day. For example, when a horse didn’t want to know on the gallops and the stable lass was having a bit of trouble, Michael ran straight down to get the horse going and didn’t bat an eyelid in doing so. A small gesture, but something I had never seen in any other visit I had been on.
One of Michael’s new horses we did see was Fame and Glory, who looks as though he is gonna be a complete beast on the course. Good stamina, good speed and the stable lass was really impressed riding him for the first time.
Michael then took us up to the stable blocks where we got to meet all of his horses. One thing I can say, is every single horse was calm and affectionate, with one even sticking it’s head and neck out even further as we got closer to him to make sure we didn’t miss him out.
After seeing all parts of the yard, we were then invited into his house to have breakfast and a sit down chat where he answered all of our questions like a true gentleman.
One thing Michael did talk about and was very honest about was his opinion on bookmakers sponsoring jockeys and trainers. His viewpoint is that our sport is very much about betting whether we like it or not, and he believes that a bookmaker should not be able to sponsor a jockey or trainer as they get a massive insight into the people they are sponsoring and that may mean the sport isn’t as transparent as it should be with the racing public. He also told us he believes the BHA jumped the gun with the Altior situation this past week. He believes that if the BHA don’t trust Nicky to make a decision for the horses best interest then they shouldn’t have given him a license in the first place.
Another thing Michael touched on was the BHA not being as consistent as they maybe should be. He believes there needs to be a panel of the same people each week who get together and discuss the previous week and anything that may need looking into in regards to enquiries etc. With the whole Dan Skelton, New Years Day situation this week, he said that some stewards see it one way, others see it another, so there is no consistency. Whereas if a panel of the same people made every decision per week then there would be more consistency. Which is something I totally agree on. Horse racing can very much be down to an individuals viewpoint of how or why something happened. If it were the same people then surely we would get more consistent results each time something happened? Obviously on a race day we have different stewards, but if one group of people were to look over everything each week then that would be better for our sport? Following on from that, he also believes the sport needs to be more open and transparent to the general public. For example, horses being weighed before a race and being declared to the public, like many other countries already do. Which again, another interesting point he has made. If a horse has weighed 470 all season but then weighs 500 going into a race then you know the horse is unfit. The trainers are being more transparent to the general public and it would certainly stop trainers sending horses out just for a racecourse gallop.
Another very important point he made is that before the Cheltenham Festival and Grand National Festival horses are made to trot before BHA stewards/vets etc to make sure they are fit to race. Michael believes that this should be the case at every meeting or none at all. “What’s the difference between sending a lame horse to Cheltenham or down the road to Chepstow? It should be consistent regardless of where or what meeting.” To me, that makes total sense, why have this set in place at certain meetings, but not others?
Another subject I found interesting, was the fact he believes that if a jockey uses the whip more than permitted they should be disqualified as this is essentially cheating. He said if a horse comes second is only whipped 8 times but the winner is whipped 10 times, did those 2 extra disallowed whips win the race for that horse? He also said he doesn’t believe the whip should be banned as 99% of jockeys stick to the rules and only flick the whip to make a noise to prick the horses up. I thought it’s interesting to note, Michael’s is the first yard I have been to where the stable riders don’t ride with a whip in hand. Every other yard I have visited they all have a whip in hand, even if they never use them. Michael said, this was as he didn’t believe there was a need for a whip as most of the horses love their work and don’t need encouraging. The only time he allows his staff to take a whip out is when the horse is new in from their holiday and may be a little lazy getting back into work.
One thing, of course I had to ask him was about Monbeg Dude and how he came about working with Mike Tindall, James Simpson-Daniel and Nicky Robinson. He said that they were at the Cheltenahm sales and after some, (many drinks), that day Mike put his hand up for a horse, showing off, but he thought someone else would outbid him. Turns out, nobody outbid him and he was stuck with a horse he didn’t really want. Zara was apparently totally fuming and said he either sold the horse or got someone else to buy into it, that’s how it came about. Michael, James and Nicky all took to the horse and in the end, it wasn’t a bad decision was it? A ridiculously talented horse at a bargain price of £12,000 as the previous owners were brothers and both thought the other had set a reserve, it turns out neither had so they got the horse so cheap, it was pretty unbelievable.
Michael also commented on wind ops, he believes they definitely work but, in his opinion, you only see it really showing in the 2nd or 3rd run when the horse is more used to breathing easily.
Michael also commented that he believes Richard Johnson will win champion jockey this year. He believes he deserves more credit for what he has achieved over the years and the work he has done for the sport as well as always making time for everybody and being a gentleman even on his bad days.
Overall, Michael was a lovely bloke, his staff were all lovely and yesterday was just incredible. A very knowledgeable group of people and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of our visit. I think it was definitely nice to see a smaller yard in action. Every yard I have visited has worked slightly different. Others I have been to are bigger than Michael’s so I found it very interesting to visit a smaller yard and really see how similar but different things are. All in all, I cannot thank Michael and his team enough for a lovely morning with them.
I really hope you enjoyed this post, I have plenty of new things coming over the next few weeks so keep your eyes peeled.
Thank you for reading.