The joys of Jardine

Iain Jardine is the latest in a group of former jockeys who are doing much better as a trainer and in Melbourne Cup raider Nakeeta he could have the horse to propel his name and profile way beyond Dumfries and Galloway

How did you start in racing and what was the attraction for a young Scottish lad?
As a young lad I had a great interest in riding ponies and horses. Pony racing and flapping gave me the taste for the real thing and I managed about 20-odd winners. The last couple of years I was at school I think I probably spent more time messing about with the ponies and horses than I did in the classroom! My dad worked for Harry Bell in Hawick and used to take me racing locally at Kelso and to the point-to-points. If I had a hero in the saddle at the time it was Steve Cauthen.

Iain Jardine: upwardly mobile trainer making an ambitious bid on the Melbourne Cup

What did your riding career consist of and what was the highlight?
I started with Mick Naughton in Yorkshire and then I came here to Hetlandhill Farm in Dumfriesshire to join Lenny Lungo, but at that stage I was beginning to get too big for the Flat. At 17 I weighed about 9st and so from there I was always going to be a jump jockey; Lenny got me my licence and I rode a few winners for him. I won a decent handicap hurdle at Ayr and totalled about 36 winners. I know that wasn’t many but, looking back, my problem in those days was being too quiet and shy so I didn’t push myself forward as much as I should have done. I thought I could ride well enough, but wouldn’t promote myself. That always left me feeling I could have done better.

In what way does the jockeys’ school of hard knocks provide a good preparation for a training career?
Richard Fahey, Clive Cox, David O’Meara and Kevin Ryan, to name but four, may not have been out of the top drawer as jockeys, but look how successful they are as trainers. All these guys are good horsemen and have always had the interests of the horse at heart, not just riding them. While the top jockeys would pop in, ride work and dash to the races, the aforementioned trainers in their riding days would have had more time in the yard to get to know the individual horses, their ailments and quirks. You became aware of how each was trained, how fit or under-trained they were. Their performance on the track would often tell you a lot. Your time spent with the horses in the yard was an invaluable learning experience. And you never stop learning in this game.

Going to this year’s Melbourne Cup in Australia with your Ebor Handicap hero Nakeeta could hardly be further from your experiences round the northern jumps course. What prompted your trip down under?
The Melbourne Cup entries closed a few days after the Ebor and thinking ahead we were very much aware of what last year’s Ebor winner, Heartbreak City, had done on his trip to Australia, failing by only a head to carry off the prize. So we made the decision with Nakeeta’s owners, Alex and Janet Card, to go for it. I have to admit the A$6.2 million (£3.7m) purse on offer had a say on the matter as well!

Of course, it’s a big operation getting Nakeeta out there. He was in quarantine in Newmarket with two of Willie Mullins’s horses for a fortnight and I’ve been up and down to Newmarket like a yo-yo. I went down for two or three days at a time to monitor his weight, eating and general condition. It’s good that he had the company of the Mullins horses on the gallops for their exercise. They flew out to Melbourne on October 12 and Racing Victoria have been very helpful. Nakeeta has been in fine form and we all know it’s an achievement to get a horse to the races in A1 condition anywhere, never mind the other side of the world. So we have been keeping our fingers firmly crossed.

The plan has always been for me to be out there for about two weeks and to supervise the final build-up to the big race. My amateur jockey Bruce Lynn and his elder brother Chris, who rides Nakeeta in all his exercise, have been with him all the time. They are both very conscientious lads.

What did the Ebor win mean for you, the owners and the stable?
We finished second in the previous year’s Ebor with Shrewd. That was amazing and after that we had this year’s race in mind for Nakeeta, whose handicap mark wasn’t high enough for the race in 2016. This had always been the target and for him to pull it off was fantastic. A great achievement, a great thrill, which meant so much to all of us and provided a great lift to morale at Hetlandhill. I had a little on him at 28-1 and 25-1, but much more importantly he raised our profile. We haven’t had any big celebrations as Mr and Mrs Card live at the other end of the country in Kent. But I’m sure we will at some stage.

Has this success changed your buying orders, after all, you were looking at horses at Tattersalls Book 1 Sales?
Yes, I was at Book 1 but that was during my time supervising Nakeeta’s quarantine period in Newmarket. The Tattersalls Book 1 sales prices are well beyond me but I enjoyed watching the Galileo yearling being sold for 4 million guineas and I can promise you I had my hands firmly in my pockets at the time! I am always on the lookout and go to the Book 2 and Book 3 as well as the Horses in Training Sales.

Paul and Clare Rooney now have horses with you, an endorsement in itself. How do you go about attracting new owners?
Through the presentation of our horses and their results on the course. That’s how to make an impression in this game. The horses must be well turned out and look the part, which is always a reflection on the stable and its staff. I am always one for keeping the yard neat and tidy and welcoming any visitors. The horses are well groomed but, at the end of the day, everything depends on your results. Winning is the only way to put your name in lights. I have 70 horses at the moment and that’s a number I can manage. I rotate at least a dozen and am trying to step up to a better class of horse all the time.

Every winner helps but a big one like Nakeeta raises the stable’s profile and improves the cash flow, which is crucial when we spend so much of the time competing for pathetic prize-money

To what extent has the move from Hawick to Dumfries two years ago changed the Jardine training scenario?
I have better facilities here and that makes the job easier – probably one of the best training set-ups, not just in Scotland but in the north. I can accommodate more horses and the operation works more easily here. I have a mile round grass gallop and a six-furlong woodchip all-weather, all looked after by a full-time gallop man. While Hawick, with its all-weather, was great for a small outfit, it didn’t suit the different types of horse I had and sometimes I found myself working horses across grass fields. We are close to the M74 and can be in Yorkshire and at Haydock in two hours and are well placed for the five Scottish tracks. Also, I can conveniently cross to Ireland from Stranraer.

You can argue it can be quite wet here, but then we enjoy some of the freshest air coming from the Solway Firth, which is another plus. My partner Val Renwick is a massive help, running the office and she is very good with the owners. She rides out two lots most days and with her very sharp eye is able to spot any problems with the horses. Our daughter Jenny is only 18 months but I’m sure we’ll sign her up one day! Val’s sister Elen also rides out.

How difficult is it for a trainer, trying to secure a foothold on the upper rungs of the ladder and make ends meet in the present financial climate?
We must show that we are well capable when we get the right quality of horse; we must make sure our training fees are pitched at a sensible level so the owners can pay their bills. And, of course, operate a well-run business, which goes hand-in-hand with providing owners with the best possible service. Every winner helps but a big one like Nakeeta raises the stable’s profile and improves the cash flow, which is crucial when we spend so much of the time competing for pathetic prize-money, particularly at the smaller meetings.

Nakeeta’s Ebor victory was a huge moment for the Jardine stable

Which route would you like the stable to take eventually – Flat or jumping?
We are a dual-purpose yard probably with more Flat horses than jumpers at the moment. I love the jumping and everything about it, but seeing the quality of horses at the big Flat meetings makes you want to go down that route. In a perfect world I’d like to train a few jumpers and at the same time have some nice Flat horses so we can compete at the big meetings. I’m not saying it’s easier to train Flat horses, but the prize-money is more attractive.

Tim Easterby said recently in this magazine it was worth keeping good staying horses on the Flat, rather than going jumping, because of the opportunities and prize-money on offer. Do you agree?
Definitely. Nakeeta is a good example as hurdling had been an option for him. But he’s running really well and picking up decent prize-money in the big staying races, so what’s the point of risking him over hurdles when he could so easily get a knock or injury? I agree with Tim 100%.

There are trainers in the north equally as good as those in the south. We just need the owners who spend big money down there to spread it around up here on quality horses

In which departments is racing in Scotland improving and competing successfully with other big sports? Where does racing need to step up its game?
Scottish racecourses look after the owners very well, making them welcome with decent facilities and food. It is always important for owners to enjoy their day out and racing experience; after all, they are providing the sport on a daily basis. It means a lot to them when they enjoy the buffet lunch at Ayr, and it’s the same at Musselburgh. Hamilton and Perth always try hard to make it work as well, but maybe Kelso could catch up a bit.

Overall the prize-money in Scotland has been quite good and it has to be said that Bill Farnsworth, the Chief Executive at Musselburgh, has introduced some nice races with increased values. Ayr losing its three-day Gold Cup meeting in September was a disaster. So many of us spend the year preparing horses for Scotland’s biggest Flat fixture of the year and it came as a shock and a disappointment, though I’m not sure what could have been done to avoid it. Ayr needs to spend some money to make sure the drainage problem doesn’t come back to haunt them.

National Hunt racing in the north seems to be lagging further and further behind the sport in the south. There are plenty of good trainers in the north, so what’s the answer?
Yes, there are trainers in the north equally as good as those in the south. We just need the owners who spend big money down there to spread it around up here on quality horses – I’m sure they would still get the results. Don’t forget the latest Grand National winner, One For Arthur, was produced by Lucinda Russell at Kinross in Scotland. Donald McCain, Nicky Richards, Malcolm Jefferson and Brian Ellison, to name but four, can also compete at the highest level.

Which of your moments do you treasure most?
Winning the Ebor is a moment I’ll always cherish. Everything to do with that day at York will stay with me for a very long time. It had been in the planning a long time and that made it particularly sweet. At the other end of the spectrum, when you train a difficult horse to win a race, however small, you think to yourself, ‘How the hell did I win with that?’ The achievement gives you just as much pleasure. There have been several and those lesser known horses can be an even bigger challenge and, therefore, extremely rewarding. You stick your chest out and say to yourself, ‘If I can win with that, I can win with anything.’

Can you give us a bumper horse, hurdler and chaser to follow for the National Hunt season?
Hooligan Jack is a likely bumper winner, a proper National Hunt horse, who has shown some ability. He could be very nice in time. Cool Mix is one to follow over hurdles. He was second in the big bumper at Ayr on Scottish National day and has summered well. He has been schooling very well, too. Pot Committed, owned by Paul and Clare Rooney, won twice over hurdles and is one to follow over fences.

Latest Features