Everyone knows Dave Yates, either from the Daily Mirror or from his countless TV appearances, with the likes of Racing UK and ITV Racing’s Opening Show. You are also most likely to see him on ITV Racing on a Saturday, taking notes, when the Winning Trainer is Interviewed!
A BIT ABOUT MYSELF
I have been at the Daily Mirror since May 2002, having previously worked with Timeform, the Press Association and the Racing Post, also having two spells as a freelance. Away from the print medium, I have done TV work for the first Attheraces (the purple and beige one), At The Races and, for the last decade or so, Racing UK. I also worked for Channel 4’s Morning Line until they got rid of me, and make the occasional appearance on ITV’s Opening Show.
I was born in Bedford in 1968 – so I’m 50 this year – and am the youngest of four brothers. My parents divorced when I was about six or seven, and we lived with my mother, who started off working as a classroom assistant in Bedford but worked her way up to being site administrator at Bedford College, which became a part of De Montfort University.
Away from work, I love music and sing amateur opera – I am a lyric bass – when I have the time.
I am a passionate opponent of the food industry and believe the only chance of a healthy life is to prepare your own food from scratch – something most people are too busy for.
I also enjoy cycling, and raised £20,000 for Racing Welfare when completing Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2014, two years after receiving treatment for atrial fibrillation – I was technically dead when they stopped my heart during cardioversion.
WHEN YOU WERE AT SCHOOL, DID YOU KNOW WHAT CAREER PATH YOU WANTED TO TAKE OR DID IT DEVLOP AFTER?
The biggest influence in the respect of what I wanted to for a job was the next brother up from me, Chris.
He’s three years older than me and was alway a talented musician. When I was 15 and he was 18, he got a double scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. Every time I saw him, he was always knackered but obviously enjoying himself. I hadn’t heard of it at the time, but he was the classic example of the old saying about never doing a day’s work if you do a job you enjoy.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB AFTER LEAVING SCHOOL?
I got a job as a board man in my local bookies soon after my 18th birthday – I was still at school then – and loved it. When I was doing my A Levels I applied to do Law at Oxford, and dreamed of becoming the new Rumpole Of The Bailey. I got a place, but hated the course, so within a couple of weeks I knew that I would seek a job in racing when I’d finished finals, which, unfortunately, coincided with Italia ’90.
I wrote to Timeform when I was at university and Reg Griffin, who was then the managing director, gave me an interview. I moved up to Halifax and started on 3rd September 1990. It was a bit of a culture shock after living in the south all my life, but I made some great friends whom I stayed in touch with, and I’m very grateful for that.
Timeform was a bit of a sweat shop at that time, and my starting salary of £8,000 didn’t exactly fund a luxury lifestyle – and neither did my betting.
But it was a great place to learn about horseracing alongside some very bright and dedicated people.
In the spring of 1993, frustrated that Timeform, like most workplaces, wasn’t exactly a meritocracy, I felt it was time to try to move into horseracing journalism. I talked to a few papers and agencies about freelance opportunities and left Timeform in May of that year.
DID YOU ALWAYS HAVE AN INTEREST IN RACING AND WHERE DID THE INTEREST STEM FROM?
I’ve got no family background in racing. I’d be very surprised if my three brothers watch one race between them from one year to the next – even the Grand National. When I was in the fifth year at school – that’s the year of GCSEs or O Levels in my case – I started betting. I can’t really remember my motivation, other than to look cool in front of my peers. My mother kindly agreed to put my bets on, and she got into racing as a result. My mum used to buy The Guardian and I used to read Richard Baerlein’s articles. My first-ever bet was a horse called Kindred, trained by Ron Thompson and ridden by his daughter, Jayne, who would later tragically lose her life in a fall. He won at 6-1 – and that was that.
WHAT WERE YOUR JOBS PRIOR TO THE DAILY MIRROR?
After leaving Timeform in May 1993 I went freelance and worked at The Independent and for the Press Association. But mostly I watched Australia take England apart in the Ashes and went skint. Luckily, the PA were moving its operation from London to Leeds. If I’m honest, a move back to West Yorks wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity to join the PA racing desk, and started there in September 1993.
I was based in the office – with the occasional trip to work at the races – until the summer of 1996, when Steve Till, the racing editor, gave me the job of Midlands man. When Jon Lees left to join the Racing Post in May 1998 I became chief correspondent.
This was a great job, but involved a lot of driving from Headingley in Leeds to the southern meetings. I had a meeting with a few of the top brass and told them of my intention to move south. They raised no objection but, once I’d agreed to take a lease on a room in Balham, I was told I was required in the Leeds office at least three times a week.
It was too late by that point, so I left to go freelance again. I did shifts at the Racing Post – then deputy editor, Chris Smith, now editor of the Thoroughbred Racing Commentary – couldn’t have been kinder. I subbed, tipped and worked on the newsdesk under Nick Godfrey. I also wrote features for The Guardian and the London Evening Standard, as well as writing some internet stuff – the ‘dot com’ boom was just coming to an end. In December 2000 Alan Byrne at the Racing Post offered me a Senior Reporter job and I grabbed it with both hands.
In the summer of 2001, when Chris Hawkins retired from The Guardian, I applied for his job, but they (quite rightly) gave it to the excellent Greg Wood. But the following May, Charlie Fawcus retired from the Daily Mirror, and I became the new Newsboy.
WE HAVE SEEN YOU ON RACING UK. HOW ARE YOU ENJOYING THE TV SIDE OF THE MEDIA AS COMPARED TO THE WRITTEN FORM?
They are very different jobs but, luckily, I enjoy them both.
Live TV is always exciting and I enjoy working with everyone at Racing UK – particularly Lydia Hislop, Nick Luck, Rishi Persad and James Willoughby (an ex-Timeform colleague).
I particularly enjoy going Luck On Sunday on Racing UK, because it offers the chance to get one’s teeth into a news story or issue, which I love.
When you’re writing, you can always spot your mistakes before you send the copy, but with broadcasting, you don’t have the luxury of recalling your mistakes. The other difference is the ‘tits and teeth’ element of broadcasting. If you’re feeling down – can’t tip a winner, hair loss, weight gain – you have to go on camera and pretend the world is such a wonderful place. In the written press room, you don’t have to worry about the veneer.
HOW DID THE NAME NEWSBOY AT THE DAILY MIRROR COME ABOUT?
I’m not entirely sure. ‘Newsboy’ is a word for the boys who used to sell newspapers at news stands.
The Mirror has two resident tipsters – Newsboy and Bouverie – and I’m the former!
WHICH RACECOURSE HAS THE BEST PRESS ROOM AND HOSPITALITY?
Difficult question. All the press rooms provide reliable wi-fi and good working conditions these days. I’d have to go for the obvious ones – Aintree, Cheltenham, Epsom, Newmarket, York – but that’s because I like their major meetings the most. I suppose of the whole lot, Cheltenham is the most special. I find the National Hunt Festival very stressful, but being able to walk through a door and watch the racing through one’s binoculars – hearing the roar of the crowd – is a special privilege.
Hospitality-wise, I’m not really fussed. If I had the time, I’d prepare all my own food and take it to the races, as I have a bee in my bonnet about processed sugar and fats.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST INTERVIEW YOU HAVE CONDUCTED?
The press conference after the 2008 Derby is one I will never forget.
The line from the New Approach camp throughout the spring was that the colt would not run in the Derby.
When he not only ran in it, but won it, I took his trainer Jim Bolger to task afterwards. It got pretty heated. I accused Jim of peddling mis-information. Lydia joined the attack and, as Jim fought his corner most vehemently, I could feel press room colleagues physically moving away from me. The strange thing was that we had a rapprochement at Royal Ascot less than two weeks later. After Cuis Ghaire had won the Albany, Jim asked me how I had been since Epsom at the post-race press conference.
We shook hands and I’ve liked and admired him ever since.
I think the most important thing in racing journalism is not to seek to be mates with the practitioners. Yes, we love the sport, but first and foremost we are professionals and if a difficult question needs to be asked, we owe it to our readers/viewers to do exactly that.
HOW HAS RACING CHANGED FOR THE BETTER AND THE WORSE?
I think there is a tendency among many within racing to think the old songs are the best, but the sport is more inclusive than it has ever been – although that is not to say there isn’t scope for further progress. I also believe it is more honest than it has ever been. Of course, the odd piece of skulduggery will come to light, but those of us who bet on the sport do so in the genuine belief that what we see can be trusted. You have only to watch races from yesteryear to see how the standard of jockeyship has improved, and another plus is the efforts that are channelled into equine welfare. The existence of At The Races and Racing UK is another boon. Punters can now watch races in their own homes – and make their own judgements – instead of simply reading a racereader’s opinion as in days of old.
In terms of what has got worse, there are too many ‘offers’ among bookmakers – 33-1 about night following day to new customers, max bet £1 – and not enough firms prepared to lay a bet.
I hope that the recent reduction of FOBT stakes to £2 will encourage bookmakers to promote racing as they did before, but I’m not holding my breath.
I believe the Fixture List is too bloated, and that the 2003 Office Of Fair Trading ruling that freed racecourses from BHA control when it comes to staging meetings was the single worst thing that has happened to our sport in modern times. Oh, and the whip rules…
WHAT RULES WOULD YOU CHANGE IN RACING?
Years on, I still shake my head at the way racing dealt with the whip issue.
The starting point should have been a press conference showing ‘whips’ – and I’m not even sure the piece of compressed foam in use now deserves to be called a ‘whip’- through the ages, from Fred Archer’s three-foot slasher to the instrument we have today.
Racing UK members will already know my views, so I’ll restate them in brief.
The ‘numbers’ ceiling – seven slaps in a Flat race, and eight over jumps – is a nonsense. In my opinion, if a horse is in contention, a jockey shouldn’t be punished for hitting a horse eight times.
What the numbers have done is take attention away from other, more serious, issues of equine welfare.
Hitting a horse in the incorrect place, with excessive force, out of stride pattern and not giving it time to respond are all offences on the statute books, but most of the time the stewards are counting the strokes.
Many people in racing seemed to accept that ‘something had to be done’ with regard to the whip in the wake of Jason Maguire’s ban after riding Ballabriggs to win the 2011 Grand National.
Well, 8 million people watched that race on BBC1. How many complained? Eight. Yes, eight. It is perfectly possible to mount an ethical defence of the whip – whatever the Racing Post’s top brass might say – without giving the job of writing racing’s rule book to those who either have no interest in the sport, or actively dislike it.
BEST RACE EVER SEEN?
Sir Percy’s Derby (2006)
Kieren Fallon and Ruby Walsh
WITH THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA HOW CAN JOURNALISM AND RACING LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES?
The main thing is to check one’s facts before publishing. I know that on Twitter in particular there is a race to publish first, but this shouldn’t be at the expense of accuracy.
Generally, though, I think racing does social media very well.
There’s a strong community which gives rise to a lively and largely respectful debate.
AND, FINALLY, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG PEOPLE LOOKING FOR A CAREER IN THE MEDIA, WHETHER IT BE TV OR WRITTEN?
I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t offer encouragement. The landscape is changing, and this brings a need to adapt, but it really is a wonderful way to earn a living.
You can read Newsboy in the Daily Mirror and see Dave Yates on RacingUK
We would like to thank Dave for his time and wish him all the best
Interview by Rich Williams – arseonlinetips