We are pleased to publish an interview with former National Hunt Jockey Jimmy Duggan, I will pass you over to @AnaglogsDaughtr with the introduction….
Jimmy ‘been there, done it, got the t-shirt’ Duggan. Best remembered as the 14 time winning jockey on the brilliant Aonoch . Jimmy may not have won a Champion Hurdle but scared the best of them, on Roger Fishers, Amarach, as a 7lb claimer getting beating a short head by Dawn Run, where the plaudits in all the papers the next day were not for Dawn Run or even Amarach but for Jimmy’s enterprising ride in almost stealing the race by scraping paint the whole way around. Jimmy is as well known now in the States as he was in the UK and is the man who introduced The Cheltenham Festival to the American viewers through his horse racing show on TVG
Did you always want to be a Jockey? And how hard was it back in the late 70’s to make your way in Racing?
No, I definitely did not want to be jockey when I was younger, but my Dad had bought me a pony, so I was in it for the long haul. In the late 70`s I was still at school and riding as an amateur so I was not “in racing” per say at that time. But in the early 80`s it was very competitive and when I started out at Roger Fisher’s in Cumbria there were already a lot of jockeys vying for the rides at that yard.
You made your debut in October 1979 and your first win was a PTP in February 1980. It must have been a big learning curve in the first 5 months?
I rode in my first point-to-point when I was 15 years old in 1979 and its seems like a blur to me as I was riding a lot not only in P to P`s but also a lot of Hunter Chases so by the time I rode my 1st winner I already had a lot of miles under my belt . The learning curve was therefore not as much of a challenge but by no means easy either. I always remember thinking about how fast they went on the racetrack proper, but everything is relative as I remember racing to the first in my initial Champion Hurdle thinking this is the fastest I’ve ever been in a race and how can we jump going this fast!
What was the big difference from Apprentice to Professional back in those days? And how much has it changed since?
For me there was very little difference from being an apprentice (or conditional as it’s called over jumps) to being a professional, as I was really busy riding as a young jockey and continued to do so once my claim was gone.
I suppose “respect” is something that you earn from the older professional jockeys as you transition into the professional ranks so perhaps that’s the biggest difference between professional and apprentice is the fact that you’ve earned your way there when you get to be a FULL professional.
Can you tell us a little bit about Roger Fisher and how he helped your career?
I had an interesting relationship with Roger Fisher over the years, there were a lot of ups and downs but I would have to say I liked Roger and respected him. Roger was a very astute businessman and ran that operation like a business.
The most important aspect of our success at FISHERS was the fact that Dudley Moffatt trained the horses and for me Dudley was one of the most brilliant horsemen that you will meet in a lifetime. I learned a huge amount from Dudley and also from Dave Goulding who was the stable jockey at the time and a brilliant mentor for me. I would like to have stayed at Rogers but I was not getting the opportunities that I believed should come my way and that’s when I started to look for a job down south.
You moved to Fred Winters Yard, for many Fred is the pinnacle of National Hunt racing, that must have been a huge step to take?
Yes, that was indeed a huge step and a very risky one also. One day at Nottingham races I asked John Francome if he thought there would be a chance for me to join Fred Winter as a conditional and he said he would look into it. I felt that I should start at the top and see what happened and fortunately that proved to be the right path to take.
Mr. Winter saw me ride one day at CHEPSTOW where I won the big race and beat one of his horses which secured me a job at his yard. When I went to work at UPLANDS Mr. Winter told me that I was third in line for rides and he could not guarantee when I would get my first ride as the other young jockeys had been there for a long time before my arrival. This was a huge mountain to climb as I had already been one of the busiest and most successful young jockeys in the North of England and now I was at a yard working hard but getting no rides.
I went there in August and it wasn’t until October before I got my first ride for Mr. Winter. My first ride was a winner and I got to ride some incredible horses for him that 1st season. I ended up being Champion young jockey that year and most of my winners came from the Winter yard. I then took over as stable jockey when John Francome retired and that was an incredible honour also. Riding for FRED WINTER was one of the GREATEST opportunities that a Jockey can ever get. He was one in a billion and I am forever grateful to have been involved with him.
You had a bond with a couple of horses, let’s talk about Amarach….. You both won the 1983 Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham; how do you look back on that day & what you both achieved?
Yes, I had a tremendous bond with AMARACH and was so fortunate to have a top-class horse like that to ride so early in my career. My father rather threw me in at the deep end by having me ride him in top class races as I was very inexperienced at that level, but it proved to be fruitful as I won some tremendous races on him as a young jockey. That race at Cheltenham was a turning point in my career from a confidence perspective. I had so much faith in Amarach`s ability that in the race I was able to have eight horses in front of me turning into the straight and still have the confidence that we would win. It was the sort of win that every young jockey needs to set the stage for future triumphs and I truly believe that particular win instilled in me the confidence that stayed with me throughout my career.
Sadly Amarach had to retire with Injury and that must have been a huge loss for Sally Oliver?
It was a devastating loss for everybody involved and I think we all believed that he was capable of winning a Champion hurdle. I wished he had stayed with Dudley Moffatt as he MADE that horse and for me he was the only one that truly had the key to him. Had Dudley Moffatt continued training AMARACH I think we would have won a bunch more Grade 1 races together. I almost beat Dawn Run on him one day at Ascot and from that form the was no doubt that he was one of the best horses in the country on his day!
The other horse you are closely noted with is Aonoch…. Sandeman Aintree Hurdle winner 1986, beating the legend See You Then. What are your thought’s now nearly 30 years on?
AONOCH was one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses that every jockey dreams of. I had an incredible relationship with that little fellow from the time we bought him (my Dad and I) as an unbroken three-year-old to beating the three-time champion hurdle winner See You Then at Liverpool. I could fill a book with AONOCH stories, but I’ll keep it brief for today. That win at Liverpool was the culmination of a fantastic career together and so many memories and milestones over the years.
I won 14 races on him and as many racing fans know he was one of the bravest and most talented little horses of his time. When I got on him in the paddock that day at Aintree I knew I was going to win from the way he Jig Jogged around the parade ring. I gave my Dad the knowing wink and he went and had a grand on him at 16 to 1. My tactics were to stretch See You Then out and try to blunt his blistering turn of foot which I managed to do by kicking on from half way down the back straight.
I even got a little breather into Aonoch before we turned in and was able to stretch the champion all the way to the line. It was an outstanding triumph when you consider what See You Than had achieved in his career and the fact that he was 1/9 on the day which is basically unbeatable! There were many other incredible milestones and moments and all of those will be in my biography which you can expect to see on the shelfs in the not too distant future.
We all have to retire at some point Jimmy, being a jockey must be one of the hardest careers, as with Injury and fitness, do you think that it is a lot more professional and the set up with the IJF has made a big difference to the life of a Jockey?
Retirement is devastating for some jockeys and it certainly was for me. When you have spent most of your life as a professional sportsman and been at the top of your game it is the most overwhelmingly gutting feeling to wake up one day and not be able to do it anymore. It is certainly one of the toughest careers as a sportsman out there from the injuries, weight loss, fitness and constantly returning to fitness after injury but as you all know Jump Jockeys are made from very special stuff and I’ve never met one that wouldn’t do it all over again if given the chance.
The everyday punter really has no idea how hard a Jockey works every single day behind the scenes to get fit, to stay fit and constantly bounce back from insane injuries and do it all over again day in day out. I used to run almost every day in a sauna suit and often had to lose 7 or 8 pounds on a morning in order to ride in the afternoon. Along with the dangers of the job and the weight loss I don’t think there are many comparable jobs out there that require that much dedication.
I would not say that racing is a lot more professional these days because I know what I went through as a professional was as extreme as you can get from sacrifice and commitment perspective. I have heard it said that jockeys don’t have as much fun these days as we had but I can only vouch for the fun that we had, and it was magnificent. The IJF was a fantastic help to me and the jockeys of my era and I believe it has only gotten better as the years have passed. It is an incredible comfort to know that when you go out and risk your life every day in the saddle that the IJF has your back if the worst happens; that really means a lot to a jockey.
You now have moved to America and as I understand it, have a TV Career with Steeplechase racing, can you tell us about you life in America and how the sport is growing on the other side of the pond?
I have been in Los Angeles for 24 years and it has certainly been a different sort of life altogether to the one that I knew in England. It is an incredible place to live and there are so many opportunities for those who want to work hard and achieve success. I am now a full-time businessman with an interest in quite a few different business’, which is as different to being a Jockey as you can get. I have a beautiful wife and gorgeous daughter which makes my life complete. But there is not a day that I do not miss England and my love of jump racing has only grown over the years.
There is no jump racing on the West Coast of the US and that creates a tremendous longing in me for my beloved sport. So, it was with great enthusiasm that I took on the job of TV host for steeple chasing in America over a decade ago and over the years I have built wonderful relationships not only with the steeple chasing fraternity but also the steeple chasing TV viewers and for that I am incredibly grateful. I have also worked at live steeple chasing events on the East Coast over the years and that has been a tremendous experience as well.
Sadly Steeple-chasing in this country does not garner nearly the respect it deserves and is very poorly represented these days on the only horse racing channel that covers it (TVG) But that does not deter the wonderful Owners, Trainers and Jockeys that continue regardless of the constant obstacles they endure. To give you an example of the difficulties that the jump racing fraternity must deal with in this country; At Saratoga, Belmont and Monmouth Park they have taken out the last two fences in the straight, so the last fence they jump is on the back straight which makes the racing a sad replication of what it used to be. This was done for what was deemed to be safety reasons but was implemented by people who have no clue about jump racing.
They gave the jump racing professionals no say or choice in the matter. Can you imagine this happening in England, Ireland or France; there would be riots and rightly so. That said there is still some tremendous steeplechase racing up and down the East Coast and the steeplechase fans are second to none when you consider they attend a lot of racing where there is no betting. I believe the Steeplechase racing here in the US could improve greatly were if more unified and run more like a business as it is in Europe. But it is very difficult to implement any NEW practices when so many entities are of the “Ol Boy” network and refuse to listen to reason when it comes to growing the sport in this country. That can change though and if and when it does Steeplechase racing in the US has a wonderful future!!
It has been a pleasure to work with Jimmy and @AnaglogsDaughtr on this interview. We would like to thank them for their time and wish them all the best for the future.
Interview by Rich Williams
Introduction by @AnaglogsDaughtr
Pictures courtesy of Jimmy Duggan