Chepstow on Bank Holiday Monday; Never a journey that is particularly enjoyable, but with Cobby fast asleep and Tim at the wheel, his blood pressure he tells me raising by the second due to the “f****** holiday makers”, I figured now would be as good a time as any time to write my last blog as assistant trainer to Paul.
That felt weird typing that.
I am doing it now as Tuesday morning is likely to be busy and is followed by a trip to Worcester in the evening. Perth will be my destination on Wednesday before Chepstow and the final day of the season at Sandown on Saturday.
For me then my time will be up.
What a time it has been. It feels like I have been at Paul’s my entire life, but it was in fact July 2011 when I properly embarked on my journey there as a wet behind the ears 16-year-old fully intent on becoming the next Ruby Walsh and riding Paul more Grade 1 winners than you could possibly imagine.
When I started Dan was assistant, Tom Jonason pupil assistant, Ruby was first jockey, the front yard was still home to the National Hunt behemoths of Kauto Star, Denman, Big Bucks and Master Minded.
I remember those early days being more fun than I could have ever imagined, I was finally free from school, a full grown up (or so I thought) and ready to take on the world.
It does not take you long in a yard the quality of Paul’s to realise that you have an awfully long way to go and I, despite my lofty Ruby Walsh ambitions, was going to be no different to anyone else starting out with Paul.
I will never forget those early schooling sessions with Dan after my Grandad taught me to ride properly.
“Keep coming,” he’d say as he built fences in the middle of the school. Despite my better judgement I did keep coming with varying degrees of success. “Harry, sit still you’re confusing yourself as well as him,” was a popular line.
My riding career with Paul was short, but I had some wonderful, wonderful days in the saddle and for those I will always be grateful to Paul and the owners that entrusted me on their horses.
It is only when you get a little older you realise how hard the boss will have tried for you to get you on those horses. I appreciate it now probably more than I ever did before.
After I’d finally worked out that riding was not for me, I am happy to admit that for a short time I had not one clue what I was going to do with my life, that is until one morning after third lot one day.
“Harry, can I have a word when you’re done please,” were Clifford’s words.
Now, as anyone who works in a yard will tell you, when the head lad wants a chat it is generally not particularly good news.
Happily, on this occasion I was safe. It turns out that Paul and Clifford had been talking and amazingly they felt I would have the making of a decent assistant trainer if I got my head down and learnt from the man in occupation of the job, Tom Jonason, who coincidently is still a great friend.
Tom’s intention was not to be with Paul forever and, after 18 months as “pupil assistant”, I was in the hot seat.
What has followed has genuinely been the best six years of my young life by some way. Full of challenges, some colossal bollockings, earth shatteringly shit days, memories that will last forever, friendships that will do the same and more life lessons than any university could have ever provided.
It has been written and talked about countless times in the press and in the media what a coach Paul must be to the young people in his team, but until you’ve seen it for yourself I am not sure anyone could properly appreciate it.
You see the thing is with Paul is there is no brief, there is a basic set of rules you wouldn’t want to be breaking.
Being late is not an option, being ill much less than ideal, talking rubbish is not welcome. But trying your best, looking smart, sharing his ambition and drive is essential, although at times hard to follow.
After that though as his assistant he sort of allows you your head and lets you find your feet. I am sure if you spoke to Dan and Tom they’d say the same.
It takes time to grow into the role for sure and my belief is that for the first two years, despite my trying my darndest, I was totally hopeless.
It is very difficult to work alongside Paul and Clifford, two men with such incredible experience, and feel as though you are being in any way helpful.
Keeping your head down though, keeping learning and finding your role is rewarding and, for the latter half of my time in the role, I feel like I have helped in a positive way.
However I have got on there has never ever been any effort lacking and I hope that has shone through.
I could write pages and pages and pages on the wonderful horses I have been lucky enough to be involved with. Some of the days I have been a part of because of the boss have been amazing, Clan Des Obeaux, Silvinaco Conti, Frodon, Politilogue, Dodging Bullets, Irving, Topofthegame, the list goes on and on.
I have been so lucky to watch them all day to day and enjoy their talents on the racecourse.
The reason all of us do what we do with the horses is for the chance that we might get to work with a special one and I have been so lucky to have put the saddle on lots of superbly talented horses.
I won’t just miss the good ones though, I’ll miss loads of them, from Calva D’auge trying to bite me as I walk round the corner of Highbridge, to Secret Investor shaking his handsome head at me on arrival to the top yard.
Tulin wobbling round to front yard with his mane all over the place or going to stand in the sunshine on a nice spring morning with Get The Appeal down at Highbridge.
It is such a treat to work with the horses every day and you really do get to know all of them well if you want to and are prepared to listen to the advice Paul gave me early on in my career, a line I have never forgotten.
“Horses can’t talk but they will tell you all you need to know if you listen.”
And he is right. If you listen, they will tell you plenty.
Although I hope to be doing all this for myself one day, I’ll miss the racecourse gallops, the schooling mornings, the work mornings, the new horses arriving every summer, the owners’ day brochure work, the owners’ day itself, the winners, the huge plans Paul creates and trying to make them happen.
Above all of that though I will miss the people. Paul talks about team Ditcheat regularly and in that team that are some fabulous people.
I am safe to say some nice things about David Rochester, head lad of Highbridge, the man I probably work closest with day to day. The reason I’m safe to say this is he never reads my blog.
David started the same month as me back in 2011 and he has become a dear friend. I read at his wedding and have watched him become a father on three occasions, he is a funny man who, if you did not know him, could come across as a right grumpy so and so but he possesses a heart of gold and is a really good man. I’m still waiting for him to have a sick day.
Natalie and Charlie the two pupils, both great people who I have had some amazing laughs with. A good example of that was when the three of us and Rob, the gallop man, decided a week before Christmas we better have our own pre-Christmas party. What followed was an evening that got incredibly boozy and lead to the four of us struggling quite heavily for the next few days.
Clifford Baker is without any question the most important member of Paul’s team and has been for over 20 years now.
Every morning between 6:10 and 6:30 it is just the two of us in the office, Clifford sipping his coffee, catching up on the news. It is 20 minutes every day that I love.
We have a chat about the day’s plans, yesterday’s action, always a segment on the England cricket team and generally keep one another up to date with what’s going on. Clifford is a man who wouldn’t talk unless there is something to be said, but we have had a fantastic relationship over my time with Paul and I think the world of him. Always will.
Naturally as assistant trainer, you spend a lot of time in the car with the stable jockey and over the past four or so years Mr Cobden has become one of my best friends. When he is not asleep in the car, you’ll be surprised to hear he’s actually not bad company and we’ve had some laughs along the way.
There have, of course, been some shitty days on the way back from winnerless afternoons when things have not quite gone right, but throughout all of it we have often managed to have a laugh at the expensive of something or other.
During the pandemic, when it was quite literally me and him in the car most days, we got to know each other really well and he is a properly good and decent man. I won’t miss the smell of the anchovies he buys from Marks and Spencer’s services, but let me tell you, you have not lived until you’ve sung The Chain by Fleetwood Mac loudly with him and Tim on the way home.
Being assistant trainer to Paul means that quite obviously over the past six years I have spent an awful lot of time with the man himself.
I have seen it all, the great days, the bad ones, the funny bits, the infuriating bits and everything in between. Paul wears his heart on his sleeve as he is a passionate man and makes no apology for caring very, very deeply about the success of his horses and business.
He is a born winner who even now after so many years has the same drive, determination and underdog mentality that has served him so well.
For the last 23 years he has either been first of second in the Trainer’s Championship. 23 years no less. He is doubtless one of the trainers of his generation and it has been a privilege to see it first-hand.
Don’t get me wrong, at times it has been bloody hard work, really hard work but I have devoted my life to my work and feel like I have done the boss and his business proud as a result. At least I hope I have.
As I said earlier in the blog that this week will be very busy and I intend to try and savour and enjoy every second of it while I can. It is looking extremely likely that he will be champion trainer for a scarcely believable 13th time this year which will be astonishing.
Once Saturday is done and dusted for me then a different life awaits, but I am incredibly excited to get started on it. I have a lot of work to do through the summer and also some holidays to take with Milly my girlfriend which I am really looking forward too.
While I will not be writing a blog for some time it is my intention when I am up and going to start one up once again.
When I started my blog some years ago now it forged a friendship with a man called Sam Turner who I have not mentioned once so I feel like this is a good time to do it.
Every single blog I have written he has tidied up for me and made sure it is presentable to the outside world, so thanks mate.
I would also like to thank Lina who works in Paul’s office as accounts manager – thank you for popping my blog up online time after time, often well outside of working hours. (You are most welcome Harry! Lina xx)
And finally, to you for reading it. I essentially started it because I quite liked writing, loved my job so wanted to share what I was up to and I really hope that you have enjoyed reading it.
I will miss being assistant trainer to Paul, I’ll miss it an awful lot, but I have absolutely loved every second of it. It is time to move onto the next adventure now, how lucky I am.
It won’t be for a while but until we talk again. Go well.