When you think about it, it’s a bit mad what parts of our life our brain chooses to remember. I couldn’t recall my first day at school or anything to do with my brother being born, but I remember the first time I went down The Shay to watch Halifax Town, and almost more vividly than anything, watching my first Grand National.
2004. Amberleigh House. The back room of the village pub. Just myself, my parents, an Auntie and Uncle, and my brother and cousin, who both wouldn’t have started school by then. The rest of the crowd were in the main room, and I’m not even sure whether there was any sound emanating from the TV, which must have been from the 80s. I mustn't have been sat any further than three feet away from the screen and I was utterly captivated by it.
Without the benefit of having watched countless replays over the years since, I don’t think I would be able to tell you anything about what happened in the race itself, but that half hour is ingrained into my mind deeper than anything else from my early childhood and I know more about what I was doing on Grand National days in the following years than any other Saturdays during primary school.
Playing football in the garden with a few mates at seven years of age and talking who we’d picked as our horse for the afternoon, and it’s the National I have to thank for sparking my interest in the sport.
I don’t know whether these memories are so still prominent because of how important they would become, but by the time I was eight or nine it had gone from watching the National to watching Racing Replay before school in morning, and having Channel 4 recorded to watch straight from football on a Saturday and I knew full well by the tenth birthday that I wanted a job in racing when I was older.
Fast forward a decade, and I’m lucky enough to be doing well enough in that aspect, but even eighteen months ago, I’d have been shocked as to how things have progressed up until now, and fingers crossed they’ll keep moving forward.
I was lucky enough to get my first part-time job connected to racing when I was still at school; working selling racecards on course for Timeform, who have been really good to me since and have helped give me experience working alongside some real racing experts.
The first day I had was a Cartmel Sunday in the pouring rain, but I was on a racecourse and for me I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be making money at sixteen. I’ve probably had more days working at racecourses than I’ve had going for pleasure, but it never felt much like work when I was able to watch St Leger’s, Ebor’s and Chester Cup’s.
Going into my last year at uni, I was very much assessing how realistic it was trying to make a career of writing, analysing and talking about racing and came to the conclusion that, with not many contacts and not much of a platform, I was far better off trying to readjust my focus towards a future in fitness coaching or personal training with racing kept just as a hobby for a weekend.
I genuinely had another tab on my laptop open to apply for qualifications along those lines when I tweeted a thread about the Mares’ Chase, which was picked up by Kevin Blake and within a week I was appearing alongside him on The Final Furlong Podcast.
I owe Kevin, and Emmet Kennedy, who has always taken the time to help me out if I’ve ever needed it, a lot for giving me my first real chance to talk racing to a good audience. They provided me with my first real springboard; my Twitter following doubled in a week and I was suddenly getting offers to write for websites. Personal training didn’t seem quite as attractive as it did a few days earlier!
Like I said, it’s a bit mad what moments end up being important in your life, and it might well end up being that one sending one tweet a year and a half ago could have had a bigger impact on my career. That really is the beauty of Twitter and the beauty of the racing community in general is that I think most people want to see others succeed and will do what they can to help others out.
I’d also recommend anyone at university to apply for the BHA Graduate Scheme, which was a really worthwhile week for myself this summer.
I’d known about the Graduate Scheme when I was still at school, and it was a factor in me even going to trying to get a degree in the first place. Unfortunately, COVID meant it all had to be online this year, so I’m still yet to go down to Newmarket to visit the British Racing School, but the BHA did brilliantly in putting a good programme together in the circumstances and we some had great talks from professionals covering all areas of the industry, including Dan & Claire Kubler, Stevie Donohoe & Dale Gibson, and Rod Street, who I genuinely can’t say enough good things about and always has the time to help others out.
I think as a sport, we’re quite sceptical with regards to ideas that might not be considered traditional and it’s rather to our detriment, so I’m really looking forward to watching the Racing League this summer because I think it's a fantastic concept.
The prize-money on it’s own is a reason why I think the sport should rally around the Racing League, but an extended competition of this type has the potential to weave some brilliant storylines and the number of major trainers willing to get involved I think speaks volumes for what a fantastic idea it should be prove to be.
I’ll be looking forward to Thursday evenings this summer, and hopefully we’ll be able to be on track by then to get to experience it in person!