Mike Cattermole – From Sporting Life to At the Races

MIC Salisbury1.JPG

We are pleased to bring you an interview with Mike Cattermole. A racing man through and through, who has been on our TV screens for over 20 years and has some fine tales about his life in racing and as Jockey agent to Willie Carson!

I read that your love of racing comes from the Grand National and that when Red Rum, won his final National, you shed tears…. Did you ever get the chance to meet Red?

I never met Rummy in the flesh, sadly, but Ginger McCain was as charismatic as I had imagined. It was an incredible story.

You joined Timeform back in 1984 and now in 2018 you are still at the forefront of Racing coverage in the UK, what do you put your longevity down to?

Well, time has flown by! I think when I first started that I just wanted to get the racing bug out of my system but that didn’t work. It’s still in there, buzzing away! Sure, there are days when I feel a bit stale about the sport and you do need to take a break from it to recharge the batteries. But there is always something special to look forward to.

Sporting life has played a big part in your life, how has the role changed over the years and does it get easier?

I was delighted to join The Sporting Life Weekender and then The Life itself after I left Timeform. I used to race-read, report and write news stories as well as features. It was a sad day when The Life ceased publication. Now that there is an on-line version, I was delighted when approached to become part of the team two or three years ago. They allow me to write what I want. Some weeks are easier than others.

Many of the presenters have been agents, with Matt Chapman & Kevin in Ireland, you had a spell with Willie Carson….. Combining that with your other role… How did you find that and would you consider going back to being an Agent??

I did five years with Willie and we had some great times together. We had exactly 700 winners over that time which wasn’t bad going. I had my L plates on for the first season but then we flew and even gave Pat Eddery (who had a full-time agent and manager) a fright. It was a regret that I never helped Willie to become champion. It didn’t help that I would lose an hour in the morning as I travelled to The Life offices on the underground. One decent spin-off was getting the tip-off about a few stories along the way.

I couldn’t do it again unless I really had to. I was single in those days and had more energy too!

Willie C
Willie was a fantastic Jockey but was around when many say racing had a golden era of top class Jockey’s, how do you assess the quality of the Jockey from then to now?

You are so right about that. Steve Cauthen and Pat were around and Lester too was in his twilight years. I even worked for him for a few weeks! There are always a handful in any era that stand out and it is the same today. It’s always hard to compare sportsmen from different generations; I just admire them all.

I have spoken to a few Presenters, who have also started their careers as Race Course commentators, where was your debut and can you remember the first winner you called?

Can’t remember the first winner at all. My first call though was at Fontwell around 1993 and I started on the back of some encouragement from Aussie Jim McGrath and Simon Holt. Fontwell’s clerk at the time was Cliff Griggs, a larger than life character, who simply said to me: “Don’t f*** it up!”

In 1995, you began presenting on the newly formed Racing Channel, what is the big difference from the TV coverage then to now and does having more than 1 Racing channel make it a competitive market for viewers?

The competition means that the armchair viewer has never had it so good. There are some very knowledgeable presenters out there and, from my own perspective, the production team at ATR is brilliant and really care about the output. RUK’s HD pictures are superb and it is great that Sky Sports Racing is being launched with HD in January. I still remember the old days going down to the bookies just to hear a commentary.

A few of us worked on a premium telephone line called Racecall in the ’80s and ’90s before the racing channels came in. Cornelius Lysaght, Simon Holt, Raleigh Gilbert, Peter Bromley, Chris Poole were among them. You could pay to listen to the course commentaries on your phone. Clever at the time and a decent money spinner for those that started it I would imagine.

From the Racing Channel, via Channel 4 racing, where you had the Co Lead…. And now to At the Races…. You have been on our TV screens for over 2 decades… If you could name 3 highlights, what would they be?

Not sure about highlights but I do recall trying to interview Khaled Abdullah on C4 after he had finally managed to win the Juddmonte. My opening remarks to him were ignored and there were a few awkward moments before he said: “What is your question?” It seems that the prince was very hard of hearing!

I also had Johnny Francome and Jim McGrath in hysterics at Doncaster once when an owner of far eastern origin won a race and I was interviewing him thinking that the pretty young girls around him were his daughters. Apparently not! They had been paid to be there. Very upmarket, I must say!

Seriously, any time I was able to interview Sir Henry Cecil was a highlight. He was very kind to me.

Sir Henry Cecil and Frankel
Sir Henry Cecil and Frankel

I recently spoke to Simon Rowlands, as we know he is huge on sectional timings, do you think this will be the future of racing, like it is in America?

Possibly. I admire Simon and what he does – a great racing brain. But from my own point of view, I would get too bogged down in them. Others would disagree and use them to great effect. They are certainly worth having.

With Sky Sports Racing on the Horizon, what does the Future hold for Mike Cattermole?

Who knows? I hope I can contribute in some way to the new set-up and continue to do my best. Older guys like me have a bit of experience and you can’t buy that!

You once took part in a charity bike ride, can you tell us about this please??

That was four or five years ago. I joined in for a stage with a team who were doing Lands End-John O’Groats for the Bob Champion Cancer Trust of which I am chairman of the trustees. The only training I did was spinning classes but I did one of the Scottish sections with them and cycled by Loch Ness as they headed north. We did 96 miles in the day, stopping for some food on a couple of occasions, thankfully. I couldn’t walk properly for a week afterwards! I was full of admiration for them.

A couple of quick fire questions….

Favourite race you have seen?

1980 Champion Hurdle when Sea Pigeon got his revenge on Monksfield. It all went to plan! Jonjo produced him after the last, unlike the year before, and that was the key. A year later, Francome left it even later!
Best Flat & NH Horse??

Dancing Brave was the best until Frankel came along. Sea Pigeon remains my favourite jumper.

We would like to thank Mike for his time and wish him all the best for the future. It has been a pleasure to have you on our screens for over 2 decades and long may it continue.

Interview by Rich Williams

Picture of MC via Mike Cattermole

Other Pictures – File & Cotswoldlife.co.uk