An Interview with Aidan Coleman

Good Evening!

Welcome to a new post here at zoelouisesmithx.com. Before we get into today’s post I want to mention Lorna Brooke as this is my first post since hearing about her tragic death. My thoughts are with her family, friends and anyone who knew her personally. It’s a heart-breaking time for the sport and anyone involved in the sport in any capacity. Jockey’s put their lives and bodies on the line every single day and people should appreciate that more than they do.


On to today’s post… I got the chance to speak with the Grand National 100/1 runner up, Aidan Coleman this week and after an incredible effort in the Grand National I am very grateful to get the chance to have a chat with him about all things racing, so let’s just jump right in. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I have!


Me: You’ve rode some incredible horses in some incredible races such as Paisley Park, Put The Kettle On, Epatante and so many more, but what is your favourite race of your career, win or lose?

Aidan: Erm, I suppose it’s tricky, as I say, you’ve alluded to some great ones there. I suppose any of Paisley’s 3 Grade 1’s were special. Obviously the first one was our first Grade 1 which was brilliant because it took so long to do so that was special. His next one was the Stayers Hurdle at the Festival, he was one of the bankers so that was amazing, then also his last Grade 1 in the Long Walk just before Christmas, that was brilliant for a few different reasons, in the fact he was on a comeback trail after what happened to him in the previous Stayers Hurdle, so it was great and very satisfying to get him back and how he did it as well, he just pulled it out of the fire late on and that was very satisfying and a great thrill to win the race.

Me: The one question I think everyone wants me to ask is how is Paisley Park now after being pulled up at Aintree?

Aidan: Yeah, he’s great. I just looked after him, he ran brilliantly at Cheltenham and although he’d been showing the right signs at home, you never know until you get on the track and he was just feelings the affects of Cheltenham basically, so we looked after him and I have no doubt he’ll come back in great form next year and get back winning again.

Me: And we have to speak about what happened just over a week ago when you came second in the Grand National to Rachael Blackmore, which is brilliant in itself, but how did you really feel knowing you was so close to winning it for the first time?

Aidan: Terrible. Absolutely gutting. I’ve never been so down after a race as I was that. Look, its great to be involved in the race. I rode Henry’s other one and he had the 1-2 so it’s great to be a part of it, delighted for everybody but from a personal point of view to get that close and be doing so well turning in and nearly thinking you’re going to win the National and not, it’s very tough to take.

Me: If you could ride any horse that you never have, past or present, what horse would you choose and why?

Aidan: Kauto Star. He was just brilliant, from 2 miles to 3 miles 2 Gold Cup and longevity as well. Definitely Kauto Star.

Me: One question I like to raise to the jockey’s that I speak with is the discussion surrounding banning the whip, what are your opinions on that?

Aidan: I think it shouldn’t be a discussion. I can see where people are coming from but it’s not really a whip, it’s foam cushioned, it’s foam padded, it does not affect a horse, there’s no element of pain. It’s used very much as a safety measure. You have a lot of people say about the whole horse welfare thing but I think without the whip you’d have a lot more horse welfare accidents to be honest. I think it’s essential and it does not harm the horses.

Me: You’re now Olly Murphy’s number 1 stable jockey, can you tell us a little bit about how that partnership came to be?

Aidan: I suppose, Richard Johnson was his number 1 jockey, he didn’t have a stable jockey then over the years he’s built up a really exciting team and an ever growing team as well and it was getting to a stage where he needed a little bit more continuity. I think it was a hard decision for him because it was nothing to do with Richard – it was the opposite – it was nothing to do with Richard’s riding, he just had too many commitments basically. His team and the quality of horses he was building, he needed some more consistency. And as Richard was so popular and so good, that wasn’t always the case, so he needed someone more available.

Me: Who do you look up to in the weighing room?

Aidan: Erm, well it would always be Richard Johnson to be fair so if we did this a couple of weeks ago it would be easy. But look, I have a lot of respect for everybody who does the game over a long period of time. I think Richard was the ultimate professional and ultimate role model and I think especially with how things are these days with young lads – they don’t really understand it all. They’re very nice kids but it’s just a different generation, they don’t really get what it takes to do the job over a period of time. I think anyone who rides over jumps deserves a lot of respect but the years they ride and the more they ride, the more respect they get because they’ve done the hard graft. The more you do it, the more respect you deserve because it’s not easy.

Me: And on from that a little bit, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given by another jockey, trainer or owner?

Aidan: I suppose it’s not really advice for racing, it’s just advice in general… Just work hard and try your best, I think that’s the same in any walk of life and racing is the same. You get out what you put in, if you work hard and conduct yourself in the right way in any walk of life, the rest will fall into place.

Me: What is the one race you haven’t won that you would love to?

Aidan: The Grand National. Very very easy. The Grand National.

Me: If you could choose a horse to watch for the next season or two, what horse would you choose?

Aidan: That’s a good question. But if you’re watching it then you want to be riding it if you get what I mean? So I’m going to have to dodge that question I think Zoe.

Me: You’ve rode for some massive owners within racing including JP McManus in the famous green and gold silks, do you ever feel more pressure when you’re riding in silks like those that are so well known within the sport?

Aidan: No, simple as. Look its great to ride any good horse in any race and every owner is very important and the riding fee is the same so they all deserve for us to go and try our best. But on the other side, when you’re riding for owners like JP that you mentioned and some other big owners, these people have been in the game so long that ultimately, it’s not less pressure because you still have to go out and try your best but if things go wrong, they have been there and it’s happened and they’re very very understanding and you know, it’s almost, they’ve just been in the game so long and understand what can go wrong.

Me: What’s your favourite racecourse to ride at and why?

Aidan: I suppose it has to come to Cheltenham because it’s one of those places where it really matters, the Festival is magic. I suppose if you’re going midweek, I really like Uttoxeter, I do quite well around there. There’s not many tracks I don’t like, I’m quite happy to go to most of them, there’s a few that I won’t name that I’d happily never go to again, but because it’s nothing personal, nothing against the tracks or those that run them I won’t name them, it’s more that I just don’t like riding around them, but most tracks are very well run and as long as you’ve got good rides then you’re happy to go.

Me: And obviously over the past 12 months there hasn’t been any crowds allowed, personally have you found it easier or harder?

Aidan: I suppose at first it was a bit odd and we had to get used to it, but we’d just came back from 3 months without racing so we were just happy to be there and that was fine. I suppose after that you just get used to it like you get used to anything else in life don’t you? But we will welcome them back and we can’t wait for them to come back.

Me: With the end of the season being so close and the Jockey Championship being so competitive this year, who do you think will be crowned this weekend, Harry Skelton or Brian Hughes?

Aidan: Look, it’s very important for Brian to have a good Perth, it’s up north, he’s got 3 days at Perth to hopefully have a few winners. It’s very hard, I get on well with the both lads, they’re both top class. I’m being very diplomatic here, but it is very hard and I’ll be gutted for whoever loses because they don’t deserve to lose, whoever that may be Harry or Brian, there’s gonna be one of them… A draw would be fantastic to be fair, that would be the ultimate. It would be fantastic to be fair but it’s not usually how these things work, so yeah, it’s gonna be hard for whoever doesn’t win. Look, Brian’s been champion before, this will be Harry’s first go, but I don’t think Brian Hughes will only be Champion Jockey once in his career, I think he’ll have a few more championships before he retires and probably the same for Harry as well.

Me: What is your best advice for a young person with a passion they want to follow whether that be in racing or otherwise?

Aidan: I think it goes back to the best advice I’ve been given… Just go for it. Work hard and try your best and conduct yourself in the right way. You need to have a good attitude and try your best and you’ll get something out of it.


As always, I want to thank Aidan for taking time out of his day to speak with me. He was very honest, open and informative during our call and that makes my job as an interviewer so much easier. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Aidan and getting a real insight to all things racing through his eyes and it is always brilliant to hear a horse like Paisley Park is okay and healthy back home. I have the upmost respect for jockeys, they put their bodies on the line every single day for the sport and I think we all take that for granted when we shouldn’t.

I will see you all Saturday morning at 11am for my next post!

An Interview with Richard Pitman

Good Evening!

I hope you’ve all a brilliant final day of the Cheltenham Festival. Today I am super excited to bring you an interview with Richard Pitman. I had the honour of speaking to Richard this week about all things racing including that race Crisp vs Red Rum. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking to Richard and I hope you all enjoy!


Me: You obviously won some incredible races in your career, but what was your favourite race, win or lose?

Richard: I’m afraid it’s pretty obvious, but it was 40 years before you were born, it was Crisp in the 1973 Grand National finishing second to Red Rum. And the reason being, Aintree is just a magical cauldron and for him to have made the running and jump the fences as if they were hurdles, until all the steam ran out… He won the Queen Mother Champion Chase which is run at the Cheltenham Festival and he won by about 20 lengths and then just to nearly win the national, it was an amazing ride.

Me: The one question I wanted to ask about that Grand National was how did you feel at the time when you got beat by Red Rum and did those feelings change over the years when you realised just how special Red Rum went on to be?

Richard: Well, that’s a good question. You see, the good Champion jockey’s… I was second in the jockey Championship twice but didn’t win it… The good Champion jockey’s, McCoy, Francome, Scudamore, Dunwoody, Dicky Johnson – Their tunnel vision, like Usain Bolt in running races. But I was more of a cavalier, I just enjoyed riding so although it was devastating to be caught – and I could hear him coming, it was fast ground so you could here his hoofed feet and he was a high blower so every time he exhaled his nostril flaps, so it got louder and louder but it was only the last two strides that he swept past me. So utter devastation but only a minute to recover and be elated because it was a ride money couldn’t buy, I had earnt it and it was my ride. Okay, I’ll be blamed for being beaten for many many things. Going on was one of them but that was our plan. He was such a bold jumper, in behind 40 horses he’d have jumped on someone else’s back so that’s what we had to do. I made a wrong decision taking my hand off the reigns to give him a whip half way up the running. You know, he was a big horse, tired, gone… I should’ve kept hold of his head, but there you are, you can’t go back. I remember every blade of grass in that race but I admire Red Rum… So much, you couldn’t not. I rode him for the BBC, I used to do lots of stunts afterwards around Aintree in the build up to the National, so I rode Red Rum with two other horses on the flat track there and Ginger McCain who was a larger than life, micky taking man, said “now then Pitman, you seen his backside in 73, you can look through his ears now lad” and gave me the leg up.

Me: Another question following on from that, I wanted to ask was how did you feel when history essentially repeated itself when your son Mark Pitman got beat on Garrison Savannah by Seagram in a similar fashion in the 1991 Grand National?

Richard: Yeah, good question! Well Mark was heavier than me, I was always a chubby little fella who had trouble with my weight, but Mark was taller and had more trouble. He used to be in his sauna from 5am to 7am in the dead of winter in his garage and then go out and ride 5 or 6 lots on the gallops in the freezing cold, it was really hard work and he was a good jockey. His mother would have hated it but he and I did discuss how to do things and I’m sure she would have done with him many times. And he asked for my advice and I said “Mark you won’t believe how quickly horses lose their petrol up the running if stamina comes into play.” And at elbow he hadn’t gone for Garrison Savannah and I put my coat on as I was working for the BBC and Bill Smith was with me, I said “Bill the replay is yours I’m going to see Mark come in” and as I got my coat on he said “you better turn around, the picture has changed” and as he got to the elbow, again he just flattened out. Once they go at that distance and lose their stamina, they just walk. He was beaten by Seagram who was very cleverly rode by Nigel Hawke coming wide and not challenging close up so not to galvanise Garrison but Garrison had gone. But he rode a great race.

Plus, he had won the Gold Cup 3 weeks before and two hours later was in Cheltenham general hospital with internal injuries and a fractured pelvis, but rode 3 weeks later in the National. But that was nothing to do with him getting beat because he was on plenty of pain killers, but I was so proud of him… I still am.

Me: If you could ride any horse currently in training now, who would you choose and why?

Richard: Aw, there are so many aren’t there? I think Cloth Cap is the biggest certainty we’ve seen in the National for years, providing nothing goes wrong. If you look at the previous videos of McCoy on Clan Royal going down to Becher’s for the second time, five or six clear, on the bridle, two loose horses run across him and force him into the wing of the fence. I mean… It’s such a race where you don’t know what’s going to happen. But Cloth Cap at Jonjo’s, I love the way he jumps, he goes on the ground, he gallops with his head quite low, not overly low, but quite low – which I love. It means a horse is looking at the bottom of the fence, rather than head up, fighting the jockey. So Cloth Cap for me, is the one horse I’d love to ride.

Me: And from your point of view, you retired many years ago, but how do you feel about the discussions to ban the whip? And how important was the whip for yourself when you were riding?

Richard: Right, now… I should not have used my whip on Crisp half way up the running at Aintree, it unbalanced him, I took my hands off the reigns. I think it did more harm than good. And I challenge anyone, anywhere to come up with a video showing me where the use of a whip has stopped a horse from running out or being the aide it’s meant to be. Of course, it’s meant to be used to encourage, but to me it puts a lot of horses off. That’s why I love watching the flat as well, the ground is so much better and there is a lot less use of the whip. I’d agree, let them carry it, but only give them a slap down the shoulder for encouragement, I would not want them to take their hand off the reigns or give them one behind the saddle. I am very strong on that and yet people say to me “but you used it” – Yes I used it, but not in excess. Fred Winter, my trainer would always say “you can give them two, but don’t give them three.”

Me: What was your favourite racecourse to ride at and why?

Richard: Probably Cheltenham because I was born there. I could always see the course and I have a field with my sister now on Cleeve Hill looking down into the racecourse. Cheltenham really grabs me and I rode a lot of winners there. I got beaten and should’ve won two gold cups but didn’t, so… Cheltenham is really mine.

Me: A lot of jockey’s don’t go into the TV side of things, what made you make the decision to do so?

Richard: Well, I’d been offered the job as a paddock commentator for the BBC 2 years before I retired but then I had 5 of the best horses in the country, now you wouldn’t give 5 horses up for anything. I didn’t care what the future was. But two years later I was offered the job again and if I turned it down a second time, it wouldn’t be available so I went to Fred Winter on the muck hill, where we were making the muck hill tidy in the morning, and I said to him this is the situation and he said for the first time ever John Francome shared the job with me, he was 10 years young and he was good but I was welcome to ride half the horses as long as I wanted to. But there was only 2 of my good horses left by then and I said to him would you run one in the Grand National, he said no his legs are dodgy so he wouldn’t subject him to it. So I said “well in that case, thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me” I shook his hand and joined BBC.

Me: What was your favourite or most memorable moment whilst working with BBC?

Richard: Well, I was involved for 35 years so there was so many. But Bob Champion and Aldaniti was a fairytale that will be hard to match. And if Aldaniti hadn’t won that day, the second was ridden by John Thorne who was 54 years old, he owned the stallion, owned the mare, bred it, trained it and rode it. So that would have been another fairy story. Another was the void race for two false starts and then of course the one that was put off due to the bomb scare and ran on the Monday.

But the two false starts one was just incredible, I finished my build up to the race, handed over to Peter O’Sullevan and then there’s these two false starts and a group of horses carried on going. The producer said to me ‘Pitman get off your backside and get out there and find out what can happen’ so I ran out of my little pod in the paddock, slipped on the scaffolding boards and I was winded, but we had floor managers so my guy, a great big ex rugby player, picked me up with one hand and pushed me through the crowd, knocking people out of the way as I was trying to get my breath back. I said to the starter “Keith, the whole world is watching, Hong Kong, Australia, America… What can happen?” and he said “I can tell you exactly what will happen. Only the 9 that didn’t fall or complete one circuit can run.” So we’d got the news. I thought I’d done a good job, so I was wondering back and the producer said “okay Pitman that was good but find a steward.” The stewards area that day was an area four ladders high up on some scaffolding and at the bottom was a soldier with a sword and big feathery hat on. He said “you can’t come up here son, it’s stewards only” and I said “I’m sorry, we’re BBC and they’ve asked us to come up to give us the news.” Well when we got one camera and sound man up there and knocked on the door of the porter cabin, out came Patrick Hibbert-Foy who was the stewards secretary he said “yes Pitman what do you want?” and I said “well Patrick, the whole world is watching and we need to know because the next race in Hong Kong can’t run until we’ve got the result of this one.” And he said “You will be told when the people on the racecourse are announced and told first. They’re the paying customers.” And I said “we’ve got 600 million people around the world” and he said “You’ll be told.” And that’s how they viewed it in those days. It was quite an amazing race, I won’t go through it but it had to be stopped. It was the second false start and it had to be stopped. And they put cones across the front of the chair fence which is the 15th and one of the officials stood in the middle of the fence in the cones and waved his arms trying to stop them, but the 9 guys who had carried on thought it was anti’s trying to make a demonstration and they galloped over the chap and through the cones and went around again. And of course once you had gone around once you couldn’t go again if it was raced later on. But it was so exciting.

And the bomb scare, well that was hairy. We kept losing TV positions one by one as they evacuated us along with everyone else and the last man standing was Jim McGrath commentating from a scaffolding very very high down by Becher’s Brook and he spoke for 28 minutes without drawing breath whilst mayhem was going on up in the stands.

Me: How much do you think racing has changed ssince you were riding?

Richard: Oh 360 degrees! I mean, we didn’t ride on Sunday’s, we didn’t have evening racing, we had 2 months off in the summer to recuperate. The styles have changed, we rode longer, we had some pretty good stylists in our day but before that they rode full length, the style has changed. The quality of racing has changed, we’ve had plenty of Gold Cup winners run in the Grand National, but the depth has changed. When I rode Crisp I had 12 stone, top weight, along with L’Escargot (Tommy Carberry) who had won two Cheltenham Gold Cup’s. But we were giving 25 pounds away to Red Rum. You know, it was a few at the top and a great void down the bottom and horses were running off 8 stone 9, they had to carry 10 stone, therefore you had to be rated 110 to get in the race. Now you have to be rated 140 and you still might not get in. So the general overall figure of the horses running at Aintree has improved tremendously. I just love it. I think jockey’s, we were cavaliers in our day, now they’re professionals. They’ve got drivers, nutritionists, people who look after your minds, psychiatrists. You know, like golf and tennis, they are top sportsmen.

Me: And on from that, how much do you think social media and new technology has changed racing?

Richard: Well, it’s very very good to come home and look at your races as a jockey and see what you’ve done wrong. I mean, (AP) McCoy was the most brilliant because he would come home having won 4 races and look to see why he hadn’t won the 5th but also look back at the 4 races he had won and thought should I have done anything different in that race, not to win further, maybe win easier. It’s a tremendous tool, accept with social media it allows people to be anonymous and be absolutely vile, are they called trolls? Now, that isn’t very fair and mentally it pulls people down. My answer to that is, if you’re being targeted by idiots, don’t look at it. Turn it off. It’s a hard enough game mentally, the weight loss, the travelling, the riding is great, but it’s a hard enough game without being pillared on social media.

Me: You mentioned AP McCoy there, do you think there is any current jockey riding who will come close to or beat his records?

Richard: Be very difficult, because Brian Hughes has been around a while, Dicky (Richard) Johnson won’t be going long enough to do it, I think if Dicky (Richard) Johnson’s body holds up, because he’s young, he’s fit, he doesn’t have the weight, no he’s not young sorry, he’s forty something now, his body is trim, he doesn’t have weight which is a huge advantage, but the falls have been taking it’s toll over the last few years on him. He could actually ride more winners than AP rode in history, as long as his body holds out. But we’ve got some great young jockey’s, but again for Sam Twiston-Davies, Tom Scudamore, Aidan Coleman, there’s a stack of very very good jockey’s, have they been riding long enough to get into the same mode as AP… He was Champion Conditional and then for the next 20 years Champion Jockey so right from that early start before he lost his allowance he was champion. You know… It’s going to be a very difficult thing to do.

Me: And talking about Champion Jockey’s, this year we have Harry Skelton, Harry Cobden and Brian Hughes all very close at the top, who do you think will get the edge?

Richard: Well, that’s difficult, I think Brian Hughes will because it matters to him, for example, he’s freelance, he can go anywhere, he’s popular, he’s the go to jockey. For instance, the first two days of Cheltenham he rode in the North so that means he wants winners, not particularly quality winners. In fact, the trainers he rides for don’t necessarily have these top ones. Whereas Cobden will have to go where Paul Nicholls wants him to go for the big races. And the Skelton’s have been amazing haven’t they? How they’ve come on in such a short time, quality and quantity.

Me: And for the final question, what is your best piece of advice for a young person who wants to follow their passion?

Richard: Right, you’ve got to be dedicated of course, but you’ve also got to enjoy it. If you enjoy a job, it isn’t work. Even though in stables it is hard graft and being a jockey, you know, I used to get up very early in the cold and drive with the sweat suit on to lose even more weight, you know it’s a hard old graft but the passion has got to be there, you’ve got to want it. My advice to any young person who goes to riding school is to look at the trainers and see who gives a chance to young people and go to them and make sure they’re not a 10 horse trainer because with a big trainer the crumbs off the table are big enough to feed you because if a senior jockey gets hurt then you come in and get your chance.


So there we have it, I want to say a massive thank you to Richard for his time, it was an honour speaking with him. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I hope everyone else has too! I also want to say a massive thank you to everyone for the support this week, I am so grateful to anyone who’s taken time out to read my work this week and I will hopefully see you all tomorrow at 11am for my final post in my 7 in 7 days series which is an interview with Eoin Walsh which you do not want to miss!

Native River: What Makes a People’s Horse?

Good Evening!

Welcome to a brand new post here at zoelouisesmithx.com, today’s post is a little different, but I am hoping to make this into a potential new series called ‘What Makes a People’s Horse?’ And I thought after a brilliant weekend of racing, there is no better time to focus in on one horse who finally found himself back in the winners enclosure and who happens to be my all time favourite horse, which is, of course, Native River. Social media on Saturday was absolutely buzzing with happiness after seeing him win at Sandown and I wanted to write a post, breaking down some of his achievements as well as thinking about how he’s become such a popular horse amongst racing fans. So without further ado, shall we jump right in?

So, first things first, who is Native River? Native River was foaled 4th May 2010, by Indian River (FR) out of Native Mo (IRE). He was bred by Mr Fred Mackey in Ireland and in November 2010 he was consigned to the Tattersalls Ireland National Hunt Sale. He was brought by John Dineen for just €6000 who found owners, husband and wife, Garth and Anne Broom, better known as Brocade Racing.

Native River then began his racing career on the amateur point-to-point circuit. On 17th March 2014, he unseated his rider at a meeting at Dromahane before being sent to England to Colin Tizzard’s yard to start his professional career.

He didn’t get off to a bad start, finishing third out of seven in a National Hunt Flat Race at Newton Abbott on 10th October 2014 under Brendan Powell, before winning his first Novices’ Hurdle just three weeks later on 30th October 2014 at Stratford under Brendan Powell again, at 8/1 beating the 11/4 favourite Mount Haven. The good streak continued, when on 29th November 2014 he won again, this time at Newcastle in a Class 2, again under Brendan Powell, this time at 10/1 beating the odds on 8/11 favourite Definitly Red.

Native River then got stepped up in class for his first Grade 1 at Newbury, maybe a little too soon, as he came 6th out of 6 runners in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle on 29th December 2014. The next time he ran was at Cheltenham on 24th January 2015 in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle where he fell 2 out. His next race came pretty swiftly, on 8th February 2015, this time at Exeter where he returned to his winning ways, winning at 9/2, beating the odds on 4/5 favourite Emerging Talent. Next up for Native River was the big one, the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. A very good line up set to run, after making a mistake and losing places, he finished 9th in the race.

So, where to next? Novice chasing was the way to go and that is exactly what the Tizzard team did. His next race came on 10th October 2015 at Chepstow in his first Novice Chase, where he did not disgrace himself at all, finishing 3rd at 10/1, before very swiftly winning his first Novice Chase just a couple of weeks later on 3rd November 2015 at Exeter as the 11/8 favourite under Brendan Powell again, this time winning by a massive 16 lengths. An interesting fact, in this race he beat Abracadabra Sivola, who was actually rode by Native River’s now jockey, Richard Johnson.

He was then stepped up in class for the Worcester Novices’ Chase over three miles at Newbury on 26th November 2015. He took the lead approaching the final fence before pulling away to win by almost four lengths from 6/4 favourite Un Temps Pour Tout. After this race one of his owners Garth Broom had said:

He’s only five and giving weight away against older, more experienced horses… He’s got it all. He can stay and he can quicken.”

https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/nov/26/colin-tizzard-winner-native-river-newbury

He was then made favourite for the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton’s Boxing Day meeting. After a couple of awkward jumps he finished third as 6/4 favourite, with Tea For Two winning under Lizzie Kelly. His next race came just over a month later on 6th February 2016 at Wetherby in a Grade 2 Novice Chase where he came third at 11/4 behind winner Blaklion (4/1) and second place Definitly Red (3/1). Next up was the Cheltenham Festival where he rode in the Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase on the Tuesday of the festival, 15th March 2016, where he did not disgrace himself in the slightest, coming second behind Minella Rocco (8/1), under Mr Michael Legg at 7/1. He then went onto Aintree on 8th April 2016, for the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase, where arguably one of the best partnerships in horse racing began, winning under Richard Johnson at 11/2.

Native River then started the new season, surprisingly to some, in a Grade 2 hurdle race at Wetherby on 29th October 2016, coming second under Richard Johnson again, at 5/2. Next up was a big one though, the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase over 3 miles 2 furlongs at Newbury on 26th November 2016, where he went on to win as the 7/2 favourite, again under Richard Johnson. This was swiftly followed up by a race just as big, if not bigger, the Coral Welsh Grand National over 3 mile 5 1/2 furlongs at Chepstow on 27th December 2016 where he went on to win as the 11/4 favourite under Richard Johnson once again.

Then into 2017, Native River had a month before his next run which came on 11th February 2017 at Newbury in the Denman Chase, where he won, this time under Aidan Coleman at 11/10. Interesting fact to mention, the brilliant Bristol De Mai, who has had some brilliant races with Native River over the years, ended up coming third in this race as the 10/11 favourite. Next up for Native River was the big one at the Cheltenham Festival, on 17th March 2017 he competed in his first Gold Cup Chase over 3 miles 2 1/2 furlongs. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be, however, again not disgracing himself in the slightest, Native River finished 3rd at 7/2 back under his now regular jockey Richard Johnson, behind winner Sizing John (7/1) and Minella Rocco (18/1).

With the Gold Cup being an extremely gruelling race, Native River then took a 330 day break. During his break, I actually conducted my first ever interview which was with Champion Jockey Richard Johnson, which you can read right here: https://zoelouisesmithx.com/2017/10/20/worcester-races-exclusive-interview-with-richard-johnson/ and during that interview he said the following:

I would love to think Native River could come back in the Gold Cup and go two spots better than he did last year. He was 3rd in the race last year and ran really really well. Erm you know, this season we will be geared for him to be running in the Gold Cup again so I suppose he’s my big hope.”

Bare that quote in mind for a few minutes!

Native River then made his return to the track to retain his Denman Chase crown on 10th February 2018, winning as the 8/11 favourite under Champion Jockey and now best friend Richard Johnson, after using that as his prep run, next up The Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup.

Arguably, my favourite race to watch back over and over again and also the first time I was there to witness a Gold Cup in person so definitely a day I will never ever forget! Friday 16th March 2018, the Grade 1 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase where Native River went on to win at 5/1, beating 4/1 favourite Might Bite. The duel between these two horses is one never to be forgotten, a brilliant battle between two incredible horses. Side note: I do want to take a second to wish Might Bite the happiest of retirements from racing and I wish him the best in whatever he goes on to do next, an incredible horse and I am so glad he’s been retired on his own terms.

Native River then went on to take a 253 day break before returning on 24th November at Haydock in the Betfair Chase, again, the first time I had been to Betfair Chase Day and what a race it was to watch! With only 5 horses competing, but the best in the country in my opinion, favourite Might Bite (Evens), Native River (5/2), Bristol De Mai (13/2), Thistlecrack (10/1) and Clan Des Obeaux (11/1). Native River finished second behind the incredible Bristol De Mai. Then going in to the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, finishing 3rd at 9/2 behind Clan Des Obeaux (12/1) and Thistlecrack (15/2).

After a 79 day break, we go into 2019 and straight into the Cheltenham Gold Cup to try and retain his title, however it was not meant to be, not to be disgraced, he finished in 4th place with reining Gold Cup Champion Al Boum Photo winning his first Gold Cup at 12/1. Native River then took a long summer holiday with a 267 day break.

During this time, I was honoured to have been able to visit the Colin Tizzard team at Venn Farm where I met my absolute hero Native River. You can read all about it right here: https://zoelouisesmithx.com/2019/11/22/vip-stable-visit-to-colin-tizzards-venn-farm/. But in brief, I was able to watch Native River on the gallops, before then walking him off the walker to his stable, where I fed him and put his blankets on. I was asked to do this by their team as they knew how much I adored him and I can honestly never thank them enough for it, to them it was nothing, but to me, a girl who had followed this horse, travelled to see this horse and just absolutely love him, this was a dream come true. A day I will never ever forget truthfully.

He then returned on 7th December 2019 at Aintree for the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase, where he won as the 5/6 odds on favourite.

Next up was 8th February 2020, the Denman Chase at Newbury, however regular jockey Richard Johnson was unfortunately injured at the time so the Tizzard team called up conditional jockey Jonjo O’Neill Jr for the job where he easily steered Native River around to win as the odds on 2/5 favourite.

However, bad news struck for the Tizzards and Native River fans when just 11 days later on 19th February 2020 it was announced that he was being ruled out for the rest of the season with a suspensory tendon injury with Joe Tizzard telling Racing TV:

Unfortunately we’ve had to scratch Native River from the Gold Cup this morning – he’s picked up a suspensory tendon injury, which means his season is over.”

https://www.racingtv.com/news/injured-native-river-out-of-gold-cup

Bringing joy to so many, Native River finally returned to the track after a 301 day break on 5th December 2020 at Aintree for the Many Clouds Chase where he came 3rd at 9/4 behind Lake View Lad (16/1) and favourite Santini (13/8).

Then this weekend on 6th February 2021, Native River showed his class once again, returning to the winners enclosure when he won the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown at 13/2 where he beat 9/4 favourite Bristol De Mai.

So, now that I’ve caught you up on a crazy career, I want to just explain a few facts about Native River which I researched this weekend and I couldn’t get my head around. If you follow me and have for a while, you’ll know that this horse is a horse that I absolutely adore and have travelled the country up and down to visit, but I did not realise just how good the statistics are.

So firstly, I am going to go through Native River’s race record of all of those races I have just went through:

U/3116F19/3113321/21113/11/234/11-31

So, summing it up, apart from 1 unseated, 1 6th, 1 fall and 1 9th – all in his p2p/hurdle days, Native River has always been within the top 3, with 1 4th in the entirety of his career and since chasing he’s only finished outside of the top 3 once.

So, as explained above, Native River started his chasing career on 10th October 2015, he did run one hurdle race in 2016 where he came 2nd, this has not been including in these figures, the following figures are purely chasing figures:

20 Races
11 x 1st
2 x 2nd
6 x 3rd
1 x 4th

Which includes winning:

2 x Grade 1’s
6x Grade 2’s
2 x Grade 3’s

Now, Native River’s professional career as a whole, hurdling and chasing, not including his one point-to-point:

28 Races
14 x 1st
3 x 2nd
7 x 3rd
1 x 4th
1 x 6th
1 x 9th
1 x Fall

Overall, I think the statistics speak for themselves. In his career, he has made over £1 million but also made so many fall in love with him. He is a horse who wears his heart on his sleeve and will give you a million percent every single time and I personally think that is why people love him so much. He’s a horse that as a racing fan, you might not choose to bet on every single time he races, but if and when he does win, you love to see it. (Personally I do bet on him every single time he runs but that’s just me aha). I have loved seeing so many lovely tweets about him this past weekend and I had to share his story and stats!

When I went to the Tizzard’s yard, Joe was very open about how loved he is, he told us how he’s one of the calmest horses in their yard and people are always drawn to him when they visit. You can just see how loved he is by his team and racing fans in general.

On a final note, if Brocade Racing, Colin Tizzard, Joe Tizzard, Richard Johnson or any other connections read this, when he retires I volunteer to take him off your hands if you do not already have a plan. (Cheeky little plug, but if you don’t ask you don’t get, right?)

Thank you so much for reading this post, a little different for me, but I want to take a chance in 2021 and really venture out and try new things, I did put on Twitter this weekend all about my new series and I received over 100 suggestions of horses that people want me to research and look into and write up about, so I have plenty more of this content to come this year and probably into next with the amount I was sent! I am super excited for this series as it is all about opinions, the words ‘people’s horse’ can be interpreted in so many ways, for me a horse like Galileo is a people’s horse, but more for what he’s done since retiring from racing opposed to whilst racing, but then you have the greats like Kauto Star who is known for the unreal racing career he had, but then Native River like today’s post who is still going and is still performing to his best. There are so many ways you can look at why a horse is so popular and that is why I am going to love this series so much as it’s a range of ideas, suggestions and opinions from racing fans. If you do have any other suggestions of horses you’d like me to focus on then do send them my way and I can add them onto my list, the list is very very long but I will be trying to get through them all at some point!

I will hopefully see you all in my next post!