Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and New Year and we’re all back to make 2021 a good one. I am super excited to bring you my first post of 2021 which is an interview with ex jockey, now TV pundit, Mick Fitzgerald. Mick took time out of his morning Tuesday to speak to me all things racing, so I hope you all enjoy!
Me: What was your favourite race of your career, win or lose?
Mick: Favourite race of my career I think to win was the Gold Cup, it was the one race I wanted to win more than any other. I was 15 when Dawn Run won in 1986 and you know, it was one of those moments that you never forget. I always wondered what it would feel like to win the Gold Cup and to walk into that winners enclosure and thankfully I was able to win that.
Me: If you could ride any horse that is currently in training, what horse would you choose and why?
Mick: I think I would choose Shishkin, because those good horses, especially ones like him, they’ve got very high cruising speed. He’s a bit of a natural athlete in that he’s got a lot of scope jumping and he’s just, he’s already proven on a big stage, winning the Supreme at the Festival. Erm, but he looks like he’s a shining star.
Me: What are your opinions surrounding the discussions of banning the whip?
Mick: I disagree with it, I think that we need something that… People have to understand that when you’re in control of an animal that size, you sometimes need something that will give you the upper hand. I think when you carry a whip it is mainly for correction purposes. If you’ve got a horse that is being unruly or it’s a danger to other people and other horses, you need to be able to give it a slap down the shoulder to basically correct it to stop it misbehaving really.
Me: You obviously work for some of the biggest broadcasters in racing, some jockey’s never go down that route, why do you think you went into that? What do you enjoy about it?
Mick: Erm, why did I, I think in the past maybe, some jockey’s didn’t feel like it was an avenue they wanted to go down. I have always found working on TV enjoyable and I think as a pundit, having been there and done it, you know, I have an opinion that is valid in a sense that I know how it feels like to get it wrong and I know how it feels like to get it right. And I know, I’d like think with my coaching background now, I can kind of pin point areas where some jockey’s need to be better and areas where jockey’s excel. I enjoy it as a job, well it’s not really a job. I get to go racing at a time now, especially at the moment, when it’s a horrible time for a lot of people. If you’re an owner of a race horse you’re not allowed to go and watch your horse run, whereas I feel very privileged that I am able to work in a sport that I love and be able to convey that to the people who are watching.
And how do I feel? As you say, I have been very lucky. Ed Chamberlin – our lead presenter on ITV – is a great man to work with. He’s very… He’s not… It’ not all about him. He very much wants to get the best out of his co-presenters, whether it is Francesca (Cumani), whether it’s me, whether it’s AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh or Luke Harvey. He wants to get the best out of us, that’s what he feels his job is. Erm, and obviously when I worked for Channel 4 and BBC, I worked with Clare Balding, who was one of the best I have ever worked with. She is very professional and brilliant at her job and she has a great way of being able to talk to the person sat at home as if they were sat down beside her. She had… a super way. Nick Luck, obviously he is very professional and so natural. He is a very good communicator and he’s a really good operator. And then when I did work in radio, people like Mark Pougatch and John Inverdale, they are titans of their profession. Really really good presenters who are exceptional at what they do. Eleanor Oldroyd is another one I worked with on Five Live. She is a brilliant presenter, again, she has got a great… I think the key to good presenting is making the person sat at home, whether they’re listening to you or watching you, feel like they are the only person in the room and you are talking directly to them. That is what all of those people I have mentioned have done and still do brilliantly.
Me: You touched there on being a jockey coach as well, are there any upcoming jockey’s that you’re looking forward to that could potentially come close to AP McCoy’s record?
Mick: Oft, I don’t know about AP’s record, I think that… To put it into context Zoe, somebody has to ride 200 winners for 20 years consecutively to get near AP’s record… To get near it – not beat it. So that is a mountain and I certainly haven’t seen anybody that can be that dominant at the moment. But there is a good batch of young riders coming through, you’ve got Danny McMenamin who’s a very good rider based up the North, you’ve got Jack Tudor who is one of the lads I coach, he’s a very big talent. Liam Harrison is another young man I work with who is very good. Lilly Pinchin who I work with, I think she is very good. Erm, there is… The great thing is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female, I’ve worked with the Bowen brothers, I’ve worked with Bryony Frost throughout her career and as far as I’m concerned, what sex a person is has nothing to do with their ability to ride a horse. You have to work hard, you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you want to improve and only then will you improve.
Me: Do you believe Tiger Roll can go on to win a third Grand National? If not, are there any horses you fancy to take the crown?
Mick: It’s a big ask for Tiger Roll this year, like, there’s a lot of young… I think he had a better chance off winning it last year than he does this year. Obviously he’s a year older and it’ll be hard for him now. Erm, I would love to see him do it but I think it will be tough. I quite like a horse called The Conditional trained by David Bridgwater. He I think has… He ticks all the boxes for me. He’s a big horse.
Me: What would you say to anyone who thinks horse racing is animal cruelty?
Mick: Well, all they have to do is see how they are looked after. These horses… People have to… We need to educate people to show them as well. These horses are bred to race and if you turned them out into a field… We have horses here and if you turn them out in the field they gallop. They love to gallop and they love to jump and as far as I’m concerned these horses are bred to do this and it’s what they like doing. If they’re not being forced to do it, they still do it, so you know, I don’t see the cruelty. Horses that are looked after like these are? That’s not cruelty in my eyes.
Me: What would be your horse to watch for the next couple of seasons?
Mick: I think Shishkin. Definitely. He’s the one who should be on the top of everybody’s lists really.
Me: What is one race that you never won that you would have loved to win?
Mick: Champion Hurdle. I never won the Champion, I was 3rd in it and I never won it. That’s definitely the one.
Me: What was your favourite course to ride at and what is your favourite course to be a pundit at?
Mick: Erm, Cheltenham is my favourite because there is nowhere quite like it. To be a pundit, I think it’s a toss up between Ascot and Cheltenham. I think Ascot is such a fantastic Grand Stand and arena that it’s hard not to be impressed when you stand there and look up at that structure. Even when you drive in to Ascot you can see it and it’s really impressive and to work at it’s kind of got everything in terms of ease of access and how you’re looked after, that’s pretty good. And Cheltenham… I would have to say Cheltenham Zoe really, on both counts. You know, like it doesn’t get any better than there. I know I’m a bit biased and it sounds wrong for me to say Cheltenham and Cheltenham but it feels like it’s Cheltenham.
Me: What is your favourite day of the racing calendar?
Mick: Favourite day of the racing calendar? Erm… It is the Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival. Purely because it is the start of four days of absolute top draw racing.
Me: For the last question, what is your best piece of advice for young people who want to follow their passion, whether that be in racing or elsewhere?
Mick: Erm, don’t ever be put off by what other people tell you. If you want something and it’s something you care and are passionate about… Follow it. You might have to work harder than everybody else to get there, but it will be worth it in the end. If you care about something and you’re passionate about it, let that passion be what drives you forward. Never be afraid to chase your dream.
Me: Thank you for your time today Mick, I appreciate you’re busy so I am grateful you have taken time out to speak with me.
Mick: No not at all. The very best of luck, continue with what you’re doing.
I want to say a huge thank you to Mick for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak with me and supporting the work I am doing on my blog. It’s an honour to speak with someone who is such a huge name in a sport I love. Mick gave some in depth answers that really gave an insight into the sport and I thoroughly enjoyed our talk.
I hope you all enjoyed this interview as much as I did.
Thank you all so much for reading my first post of 2021. I will be back on Saturday (09/01/2021) at 11am where I am bringing to you an interview with Jamie Moore.