We are delighted to bring you an Interview with Richard Pitman.
Richard has lived a life in racing, from a young man living near Prestbury Park, winning big races in the mid 1970’s, entertaining us on the BBC for 35 years & a published author….
In this interview, we go through Richard’s life from School to Joining the BBC as well as all the high’s & low’s that go along with a life well led……
Can you tell us your first racing memory?
Playing truant from school on race days from age 12, lived only a mile from courses, I walked across the fields and railway line to get there, loved the sound of galloping hooves.
Being born in Cheltenham in 1943 & being in & around the race course, do you think that played a part in your decision to become a Jockey?
No I failed all 9 of my O Levels, had never been worse than third in the mocks the year before, so went into stables locally.
Did you have another career in mind prior to becoming an apprentice/conditional Jockey?
None, my father expected me to join him 100 yards away at Smiths Industries Aircraft instruments.
You served your early time with Phil Doherty in 1959 & then Major G Champneys, what were the 2 gentlemen like & how much of a learning experience was it in the early days?
Totally opposite. Phil Doherty, easy going Irishman & a good trainer of moderate horses, while Major Champneys, was ex military, strict but totally fair, he gave me chances. Great advisor on life and manners etc..
You made your debut on Rossagio in September 1961 but your first winner didn’t come until December 1964 at Fontwell on Indian Spirit, how frustrating was that period of time?
Only got the scraps in the small yards, the moment one was fancied they put a proper jockey on. I went 60 rides before my first winner on Indian Spice but strangely disappointing as we won so easily dispelling the illusion that you had to do something clever to ride a winner!
The top riders from every era have tunnel vision and steal races from that bit extra they have.
You rode a lot for Fred Winter, what was he like as a man & a trainer? And how did the 2 of you get on?
A superb human, would have been good at whatever he did. How prophetic when he took me on as senior jockey, he said their are others better than you but I like your attitude and horses jump better for you than for most.
You will lose races you should have won but I’ll live with that !
Gold Cup and Grand National in space of two weeks !!
Is it correct that your first BIG win came in 1970 in the Whitbread Gold Cup on Royal Toss & is it fair to say that 1970 to 1975 was your peak years as a Jockey, winning 2 X King George VI in 72′ & 73′ with Pendil, Hennessy Gold Cup in 72′ & Champion Hurdle in 74′ ?
Royal Toss for permit holder Tim. I was so fortunate to have the best five horses in the country for 5 yrs although only rode Bula 6 times including his novice chase year before John Francome took over…
What was it like being a Jockey in that time, as I’m led to believe that the Horses’ were back page news a lot ahead of Football & it seems now racing struggles to get on the back pages….
Yes, we were newsworthy cavaliers then, some great characters. As with all sports race riding has become very professional now .
I have watched interviews & read about the 1973 Grand National, would you say that was the one that got away & your biggest regret of your riding career?
Yes in a three week period in 1973, Pendil beaten a short head in the Gold Cup, Crisp beaten in the last two strides of the Grand National and worst of all Killiney’s fatal fall at Ascot. He could have been anything .
In 1975, you went to work for the BBC on their racing coverage, which when I was a youngster, Grandstand was the only TV I watched on a Saturday, well, after the Cartoons & World of Sport(Mainly for the Wrestling)! How big of a challenge was it to go from being a Jockey to on to National TV?
I found it an easy transition despite the wages being depleted, I could talk on air while the producer was giving me instructions, found working to camera no bother as I thought of it as talking to my wife Mandy . Enjoyed punditry without being mean to riders and trainers and did some interesting stunts on horseback around Aintree including riding Red Rum, his trainer, the great Ginger said, “ well you saw his arse in 73, now you can look through his ears”
TV was fun and needed Clare Balding to change us as times had moved on!
What was it like to work with the late, great commentator Peter O’Sullevan?
A truly great person, his advice to me on day one with the BBC tv team was “ just keep talking like you did when interviewed as a rider, even if it is rubbish !”
You left the BBC after 35 years, how would you describe your time working on Live TV & can you give us a couple of Highlights of your TV career….
So exciting to be part of the theatre and drama of 37 Grand Nationals, Charlie Fenwick the American rider in 1980, Bob Champion and Aldaniti, the void National and of course the bomb scare race that was run two days later. So many fairy tales !
During my research for this interview, I found out that you have written a few books, 7 racing books & 5 Non Fiction.
First book released in 1992, were you always interested in writing?
No but John Francome and my first wife tried first to take Dick Francis’s readership, I was a bit late trying . Our books were/are good but none of us matched Dick’s sales
Your last book was published in 2013, do you have plans for any more?
I have three in my desk drawer, a second autobiography, which is not worth the hassle for just a few thousand pounds.
A teenagers book about Scruffy the pony and Holly, the girl who would not talk, both been traumatised.
A synopsis for a film which has a superb twist but when it went up a level, they wanted diversity that I was not comfortable with but I hope they include a good chunk of my story.
Last couple of questions….
How do you find the standard of Jockeyship today, compared to when you were riding?
Very different under both codes, being champion is secondary to being a big race regular globally, McCoy was the exception.
Now they have a team around them to ease the load.
What rule(s) would you change if you were at the BHA?
Keep the rule that jockeys can only ride at one meeting a day, has given the spotlight to many more male and female riders.
Whips not to be used in the upright position, I defy anybody to show me a recording of the whip stopping a horse from running out, it causes more trouble than it does good !
And finally…. Can you give our readers a horse to follow for the National Hunt season or one from this year you thought would be better in 2021/22??
Willie Mullins – Micro Manage – Very fragile & if staying sound along with getting soft ground, could be very good under both codes .
We would like to thank Richard for his time & we enjoy following him on Twitter, always has a witty quip & one of the most up beat people around. A life lived in & around racing. We wish him well for the future….
Interview – Rich Williams
Pictures – Richard Pitman (Twitter )
An Arseonlineracing Production – July 2021