We are delighted to bring you an interview with Rising Star National Hunt Conditional Ben Hicks. Ben is currently learning his trade with Jamie Snowden, we talk about first win, last season, horse he would like to have ridden & his aims for the future amongst many others….
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please?
I grew up in the New Forest and learnt to ride from an early age, competing ponies in working hunters, hunter trials and one day events. I then followed my dream and after 2 years at college, I went to work for William Fox Pitt for a season.
This was an amazing time, and an experience I will never forget. Learning from the best in the world from an early stage in your career really sets you up well and gets your standards set high from the beginning.
I moved from William’s yard to work for Ralph Beckett after catching the racing bug whilst riding out and schooling point to pointers for a local trainer in the New Forest called James Young. After a summer riding out in a flat yard, I made the move to Lambourn to work for Warren Greatrex where I took out my amateur license, and rode in point to points for 2 seasons.
A year riding in France then followed this, another great experience schooling a lot of young horses and race riding at tracks all over, also picking up the language which was an added bonus! I then returned to Warren’s yard for a further 2 seasons as conditional, where I had the opportunity to ride some lovely horses, at home and on the racecourse.
I then made the move in April last year to join Jamie Snowden, which started great, and we enjoyed a successful spring/summer and the yard continued the good form throughout the season until the abrupt end we faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is your first horse racing memory?
I think watching the Cheltenham Festival on television and also attending local point to points, arriving at Larkhill course and thinking how cool it would be to ride there one day!!
At what age did you first ride a Pony/Horse?
I have seen a picture of me a few weeks old being held on the back of my mums horse, so you couldn’t get much earlier! As far as me riding though, I must have been around 4 when I was riding ponies.
When did you decide to you wanted to become a Jockey?
Once I’d been to a point to point and watched racing more and more on television, I had my mind set on it. This wouldn’t have been until I was about 17 though, so I was a little later getting involved in racing than most people.
How did the opportunity arise with Jamie Snowden?
I had ridden out and schooled for Jamie on a few occasions whilst I was working for Warren Greatrex, so we had known each other for some time. After a racecourse gallop at Lingfield one day, he said that they were looking for a claimer to join the yard and that he would like to offer me the opportunity first before advertising.
After a lot of consideration, I felt the chance to join Jamie’s team had come at just the right time and I was relishing the new challenge.
Can you remember your first ride as a Conditional & How were you feeling pre race?
My first ride as a conditional was actually in France and I was keen to get started, seeing as I had waited a few months for the license process to complete. So I remember thinking beforehand “I’ve come out here for this exact moment so make the most of it”. The horse ran well and connections were happy, so it was a good start.
My first ride as a conditional in England was for Warren at Wincanton, I was conscious that we needed a positive beginning to our season, and the horse ran really well staying on nicely. It was a confidence booster because the plan we had worked out pretty much to the letter, which very often isn’t the case!!
Again, all connections were very happy and the horse improved nicely onto his next run.
When did you ride your first winner?
My first point to point winner was on 4th April 2015 at Llanvapley point to point. The horse was called Triple Brandy, trained by Lynn Redman.
The first under rules winner I had was for Warren Greatrex on Final Choice at Wetherby on 20th March 2018. After winning this handicap hurdle, I was then lucky enough to ride him at Aintree on Grand National day.
Being in the winners enclosure for the first time must have made all the early mornings & hard work seem worth it……
Yes it was an amazing feeling and one you only want more and more. I had been driving to ride out and school for point to point trainers during my lunchtimes so to be rewarded with a winner was the ultimate result.
I was quickly brought back down to earth though, as my second ride on that day got put through the wing by a loose horse!
What was your highlight of last season?
Each winner I had were big highlights, as they all meant so much, but I think having my first winner for Jamie on Our Reward was the main one. He was running in the colours of the Heart Racing syndicate and it was their first winner in the red and white silks. He then won again a few weeks later, and my dad was part of the syndicate by then, so that was another special day!
Do you set any immediate targets you want to aim for?
My immediate target is to make sure I am as fit as possible for when jump racing resumes, hopefully in July. It will be especially competitive for the first few months, with field size limits most probably in place, so we will need to hit the ground running.
The summer horses we have at the yard are all starting to step up their work so we will have about 16 to run when we are able to.
Who are your racing heroes?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Ruby Walsh, as he was such a natural rider to watch, and his quiet hands and still leg meant that he was doing a lot more on the horse than the viewer could see. I found his recent interview on Racing TV before the Cheltenham Festival very interesting, where he walked both the old course and new course explaining the differences between the two and the way he rode each course.
Which horse PAST or PRESENT would you like to ride & Why?
A horse from the recent past I would’ve loved to have ridden would be Sprinter Sacre. His exuberance and cruising speed was awesome to watch, and having seen him in the flesh, his imposing power really surpassed his opposition. 2 mile chasers provide a thrilling spectacle and I would imagine the adrenaline from riding a champion chaser would be second to none!
How have you been spending your time during the Lockdown?
At the start of lockdown we started schooling the younger horses before they went out on their holidays and also some of the hurdlers which are going chasing next season had their first school over fences.
I spent 3 weeks on the furlough scheme so I kept busy by going for walks/running. Being in Lambourn, we are lucky in that there is a lot of countryside and areas to go whilst abiding by social distancing rules and not getting bored!
It must have been tough with no racing to look forward to?
Yes, the shutdown of racing came very abruptly, and unexpected so the uncertainty was a concern for everyone. All we could do was to follow the guidance we were being given from the BHA and the Government, and have our summer horses back in at the yard to get started ready for racing to start.
At the time of writing, flat racing has resumed, and jumping is on course to start on July 1st, so fingers crossed that can happen. The PJA have been working very hard for jockeys, and have secured an income support scheme which I was fortunate enough to qualify for. Their efforts during this difficult time have been greatly appreciated, and we are really lucky to have them.
We are all looking ahead for when racing finally gets back underway, can you give our readers a horse to keep an eye on please?
We have a solid team of summer jumpers to go to war with, but a young horse called Fortunate Fred is exciting to go novice hurdling with. He ran very well finishing third in a competitive bumper first time out, and has strengthened up and filled out well for his summer break. He started jumping before his holiday and took to it very well, so I am looking forward to seeing him getting started hurdling.
We would like to thank Ben for his time and we are looking forward to following his career with great interest. We have absolutely no doubt Ben will be in the winners enclosure plenty of times in the next few seasons and may well be a future Champion Conditional Jockey…..
Interview by Rich Williams
Pictures – Ben Hicks (Twitter) Jamie Snowden (Twitter)