One to watch: Hugo Palmer set up as a trainer based in Newmarket aged just 29 (in 2011), and he’s already making a name for himself.
With winners at Glorious Goodwood, York’s Ebor meeting, The Nothumberland Plate Meeting and a double on St Leger day at Doncaster in 2013, Palmer has now begun notching up the winners in 2014.
Eclipsemagazine.co.uk asked him to explain himself:
You seem to have grown up with horses (pony club, hunting etc.) but what is it about racing that inspired you more than any other equine sport?
I think more than anything it is the challenge and the puzzle that racing throws up. I am not really a gambler at all now but when I first got into racing whilst at school it was all about having a bet. Having a bet is working out the puzzle and now training horses is about putting the pieces of the puzzle together, the unique challenge that poses and the extraordinary feeling of excitement and ecstasy when it comes off.
You have worked with some amazing people, can you summarise what you aim to bring from each job to your own training business?
Over all I was lucky that my career developed stage by stage almost like a thoroughbred’s career does I started at the very bottom doing all the basics within the industry.
I had a great grounding working at Cheveley Park Stud and Highclere Stud and to work with people like Chris Richardson and Her Majesty’s racing manager, John Warren, was a fantastic basis.
When I left the studs I went to work for a very good small trainer called Patrick Chamings and learnt the principals of the running of a racing stable. When I was ready for a bigger challenge I took the opportunity to move on to Hughie Morrison as an assistant trainer at his East Ilsley yard where we had about a hundred horses.
After five years I left the UK and headed to Sydney, Australia, where I secured a job with the now champion trainer, Gai Waterhouse.
All three of the trainers I worked for were fantastic trainers but each one more successful in their own sphere than the other. So my seven years or so working for trainers was a progression, a journey and I came out the other side feeling I was ready to do it myself.
A perfect trainer’s education! So what do you look for in a horse?
Pretty face, nice name (he laughs) seriously though it is very hard to pick, the strangest thing is that there is no right or wrong.
Obviously confirmation can be important although I have seen totally correct horses be unsound and horses as crooked as you like staying sound their whole lives. As a trainer you would rather have a horse that is well put together but champions come in all shapes and sizes.
What they all have in common is depth and space in their chest. Every athlete, be it animal or human, needs to have a good set of lungs, a strong heart and the ability to use both together. Chest room I think is most important thing; horses that lack depth will lack ability. I have never seen a horse that lacks depth which is any good at all.
Balance and athleticism are also lovely things to see and I always think about comparing a horse to a human. We all know by looking at people whether we could take them on in a competition, if they are naturally athletic we might shy away from putting a bet on ourselves. It’s just the same with a horse if they have that natural athletic ability and they have balance and they have depth then you have a chance that they will be able to run fast too.
Can you give a brief overview of a day in your life as a trainer?
One of the nicest things about life as a trainer is that no two days are exactly the same, but broadly speaking they start just before 5am when my alarm goes off.
I will check in with my head girl (Angie Davis) who is already up and has been around the yard to feed the horses, we will discuss any problems that may have arisen during the night and make sure everything is okay for the day ahead.
The horses pull out at about 6am and I spend the morning with them as well as popping in and out of the office while the horses are being changed over and exercised.
People always ask, why do you have to be up so early when you are training horses? The answer is simply so that you can get the horses out of the way early enough in the morning to allow you to go racing and see them run or so that you can get on with communicating with your owners and running your business.
In many ways the horses tend to be the easy bit of life as a trainer, not that horses are ever easy, but they can be a good deal easier than running the business side of things. Afternoons are normally spent going racing or catching up on paperwork. We live in a world of red tape and administration which all needs to be done at some stage.
Racing can take all afternoon or evening and sometimes I won’t get back until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. Then I try and get my head down for a bit before I’m are back out of bed at 4.50am. I don’t get much rest but as I said to my mother I made my bed so I’ll lie awake and worry in it.
What sort of training routine do you follow with the horses?
I am obviously keen to train more than the 48 horses I have at the moment because the more horses you can train, by the law of averages, the more chance you have of finding that champion.
One of the nice things about training a comparatively small number of horses is that you can individually tailor your training methods to each. Like humans, they are all individuals, some will find it easier to work on flat ground where as others will struggle on the flat because they hit the ground harder. Some are bettered suited to uphill work as it makes them work harder, engaging different muscles while taking the pressure off their knees.
We will also take various horses to the pool to get fit without putting any pressure on their legs and joints. There are many different options.
How do you look after your owners – what makes it fun to have a horse with you?
While horseracing is my business and I am trying to make a living out of it, it is also an entertainment industry and people own horses for their enjoyment.
There are obviously those who run breeding businesses and race horses as a business but the vast majority of horses are owned by people as a hobby. I think it is important for all trainers to never lose sight of the fact that people are doing this because they want to have fun and so it’s got to be fun.
Owners should always feel welcome in their trainer’s yard. I spend a lot of my time with the owners on the gallops. They come for breakfast here at the yard and then we will go out and watch the horses work and get a feel for how the yard is going. Therefore rather than just coming to see the one horse they own, they end up feeling part of the whole string.
A lot of my owners follow everything that we run and feel in a tiny way connected to all the horses in the yard even if they only have a small percentage of one horse.
What are your ambitions as a trainer?
My ambition as a trainer is to get as close to the top of the tree as possible. I dream of being champion trainer and I have always thought it is important to set yourself a goal to be the best in life.
In the modern age trainers have several hundreds of horses and in the 21st century there are only a handful of names that make the champion trainer list. It is a very closed book at the top.
Of course, I would adore to be champion trainer and I would love to win the great races of this country and around the world but if I can retire having won Group 1s internationally I will have achieved my ambitions.
Since 1960 there have only been 15 individual British Flat champion trainers, but who said it would be easy!
What do you do in your leisure time?
During the summer I don’t get much leisure time but I am lucky that racing is my passion. One of the things I enjoy as much as racing is skiing. I try and get away to ski if I can in the winter, but training horses is an all time consuming business so I don’t get away a vast amount.
Find out more about Hugo Palmer and his yard at www.hugopalmer.com
Allison is the Publisher of Eclipse Magazine. She loves going to the Races and is learning to bet (despite being officially the worst bettor in the History of the Universe), there’s a lot more to learn…