RACING POST – 5-12-2010
Every Tuesday Joe Tizzard has a really shitty morning. At 4-30 a.m. the sunny six footer, 31 tomorrow week**, steps into the narrow concrete pit that runs through the 16 strong herringbone milking parlour at his father’s farm and clips the extractors** on to the first of the bulging udders set above him. Despite the ever present risk of a raised tail and a warm gush of excreta, he moves with the easy efficiency of the willowy youth who rode his first winner back in May 1996. A lot has happened in between but the best could be yet to come.
For as he starts milking the 250 cows his father Colin still keeps at the farm on the Shaftesbury road out of Milborne Port in Somerset,** he can comfort himself with the prospect of riding star novice Cue Card next Saturday and with the thought that the ups and downs of his 16 season, 569 winner career are living proof that blood is thicker even than the excrement on his blue milking apron.
For family Tizzard are set to become a racing force far beyond this home base on the Somerset Dorset border where Joe’s grandfather ran the King’s Head and started at Venn Farm with two cows in the 1960s. Half a century on Joe’s father Colin is in one sense the least successful of the four Tizzard brothers, the oldest Robert returning from prospering in the city, Michael and Alan milking 600 and 1200 cows respectively. But then Colin also has the horses.
There are more than 60 of them now – tucked away in assorted large and airy boxes behind the great girders of the cow barn in a style which owes a lot more to functionality than it ever did to aesthetics. However many Champion Hurdles and Gold Cups the Tizzards win with Cue Card and his successors, Venn Farm and its surroundings are unlikely to win the Grade I Listed Building status of its neighbour, the upstanding 18th century, red brick and balustraded masterpiece that is Ven House. And it is not exactly a 100-1 surprise to hear that its owner, the distinguished if slightly highly tuned** fashion designer Jasper Conran, is not a man totally in love with muck heaps.
Such niceties were not bothering Colin Tizzard as he sipped his tea at the kitchen table at 7 am on Tuesday. “We’ve just progressed along with the family,” he says, a smaller, rounder, slightly more seasoned version of his lanky** son. “We’ve always had horses. I rode point to point. We did a bit of showjumping when Joe was a kid and then when he moved on to being a jockey we thought we would have a go at National Hunt. And now he’s back here all the time it’s like having a new injection and we have begun to expand a bit.”
It’s a typical understatement which cloaks both the drama of Joe’s sixteen seasons in the saddle and the cool calculation which make the Tizzard training operation one that hardened observers now take very seriously. When Mount Oscar won the final race at Newbury on Saturday he was the stable’s 19th winner of the season and all the signs are that his stablemates are set to take the operation to way beyond last term’s best ever 32 winner, £362,000 total. But the trigger of it all was a horse called The Jogger winning a hunters chase at Wincanton on 7th May 1996 and on Tuesday the man on board was still in the milking pit.
Anyone with a temperament less irredeemably pleasant than Joe Tizzard would surely be a nervous wreck, and not from the rigours of looking up the udders of 250 Friesians every Tuesday. He was only 16, and already a point to point winner, that first day at Wincanton. He was but 17 when he rode With Impunity to win the Sefton Chase over the Grand National fences for Paul Nicholls, and was still a teenager when, with 91 winners, he broke Tony McCoy’s record for Conditional Champion Jockey in a season that included winning the Paddy Power at Leopardstown on Calling Wild, the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham on Flagship Uberalles and turning over at the first on the morning favourite Double Thriller in the Grand National.
It was a pace Paul Nicholls could match but his jockey couldn’t – “suddenly” Paul wrote in his autobiography, “the job was bigger than either of us had anticipated.” The trainer was being sent better and better horses by more and more demanding owners and the Somerset farmer’s son did not have enough glitter about him to repel the inevitable whinges after defeat.
“Yes it was a bit difficult,” admitted Joe at dinner with his girl friend Emma Nuttall on Monday evening, “some owners wanted different riders and although Paul always supported me it was obviously disappointing when he took me into the house and told me over a beer one day after racing. But we never fell out, I had 36 winners for him the next year and had ridden See More Business third to Best Mate in the Gold Cup the week before my accident in 2002.”
There is not a trace of sourness or self pity about the tale, nor of over dramatization of the story of how a horse called Soul King turned over at the 12th at Hereford and as Joe bounced clear another animal tripped up in the melee and somersaulted to hit Joe clean in the back. Airlifted to Oswestry, Joe asked the surgeon to be honest with him. “He told me that if he didn’t operate on the displaced verterbrae I would never be right and if he did there was only a fifty-fifty chance of me walking again. I didn’t mean that honest.”
Colin and Pauline Tizzard had the sort of drive north that every jockey’s parents dread. “Of course we were worried sick,” admits Colin. “But once the operation had worked, and even though he had two rods in his back, Joe was always a hundred per cent that he was going to ride again and quite honestly I think he now rides our horses better than he has ever done.”
The rods were out by midsummer. By the end of the year Joe was back on the track and one wet day at in January he had both his first fall and his first winner when the Paul Nicholls trained Beyond Control sluiced home at Folkestone. He was on his way again. He rode 61 winners the next season and 58 the one after but gradually the scores dropped off and the 12 year low of just 15 succcesses two terms ago was at least partly due to the perils of his other life. Out haymaking with his brother in law, David Gingell, he got his head caught in the baler.
“The string went wrong so I attempted to sort it out,” he explained, “but I couldn’t reach it and, stupidly, went underneath the baler, which sucked me in. It’s just a miracle I managed to get away with it, and I can’t believe I was stupid enough to go underneath a baler when it was turned on.”
Somehow neither the Tizzard eyes or ears were removed and with Gingell using his shirt to hold the scalp back in place Salisbury hospital was able to do the rest. The family are too down to earth to talk of “turning points” but there is no doubt that this second escape hastened a process that was happening anyway. “Dad was always ready to have a go,” says Joe, “and Mister One took two novice chases for us at Cheltenham back in 1999. And when my other rides began to dry up we got more and more involved. It has grown and grown and we are a family that work well together.”
That was not totally agreed by Colin as he sat in the kitchen leafing through the Racing Calendar whilst being gently joshed by his wife, his daughter Kim and his older brother Robert who now has 6 horses running in his colours and at least six different ideas every morning. “You should hear us sometimes,” sighs Colin whose idea of escape is to take his hunters away with the Quantock Staghounds, “but we have always pulled together.”
“Racing can be a volatile business,” he adds, “which is why I keep the cows to have some guaranteed income. I rode 14 winners under rules but was only average. Back then we were slaving away with the cows and would just get the horses out when we could. They wouldn’t really be fit it was all very amateur. We are doing more of a proper job now.”
As we then watch the string trot round a dirt circle harrowed against the frost, it’s easy to warm to the addictive mixture of farming lore and stockman’s wisdom with which Colin Tizzard approaches his second profession. “When Joe was at Paul Nicholls (and he began by doing the 25 minute trip on a moped) we took the odd horse up his gallop and found that ours were not fit enough. We needed to go three times up our bank (indicating his five furlong all weather strip) for his two. Now we don’t even school them until they are fit. A fit horse is a lovely horse, much easier to deal with.”
Amongst the circling riders is the evergreen figure of 59 year old (well 60 next week) of Richard Dimond best man at Colin’s wedding and provider of a Tizzard Senior ridden winner some years ago when holding a training permit on his local farm. He has the “dream pleasure” of riding his own horse Joe Lively whose 7 win “season mirabilis” in 1997/8 made those who hadn’t noticed sit up and think that something might be hatching down at Milborne Port.
“Colin and his brothers were always very good farmers,” says Richard who himself rode winners as an amateur with Tim Forster, “and their old Dad was a great organizer. Colin has inherited a bit of that and he applies a lot of old horse sense to the business. Of course Joe has had a lot of experience with Paul Nicholls and riding in all the big races all over the country. It is still all seems like family fun which is why I love coming here so much. But don’t kid yourself that they don’t mean business.”
Colin’s old Land Rover has bumped has through the frozen fields past the little house and yard where Joe and Emma live when he is back from racing and she is free from her professionals duties with Wincanton Racecourse and such equally demanding local commitments as organizing the Blackmore Vale Hunt Ball***. 17 horses including Cue Card are hacking gently round a tight yellow sand circle. “That’s this year’s new addition to our facilities,” says Colin proudly.
Once again there is an initial tendency to shrug at such simplicity but Colin quietly elaborates how he had seen such a ring of deep Wexford Sand when visiting an Irish trainer in the summer and not finding the same consistency with any British equivalent got a ring-full shipped over to Somerset. “It uses different muscles than when they just spin up the bank in thirty seconds,” he says, “but because it is deep they actually work, look even Cue Card is getting hot.”
Mind you the apple of his eye still shines amongst the other fruit. There are some splendid prospects like the Chepstow winner Golden Chieftain (“a gorgeous horse), his brother’s Wassailing Queen and the recent Cheltenham winner Kilmurry but the elegant, easy moving*** Cue Card is one of those animals that anyone associated pinches themselves to be sure that they are not dreaming.
“The moment I hacked him I could feel he was different,” says the super experienced former Martin Pipe rider Rodi Greene who gave Cue Card his first lessons, “and when I sent him back to Colin I told him it was the best horse I had ever had through my hands. And quite soon Joe and the rest of them were agreeing with me. Some people were amazed by how he won at Fontwell and then the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last season but I wasn’t.”
Cue Card’s unbeaten progression over hurdles has set Colin a challenge he had not reckoned with. If the horse was to continue next week where he left off when powering away from highly rated Dungarvan Jewel on his last run at Cheltenham in November the sky, or in this case the Champion Hurdle could be the limit.
“I think of the Supreme Novices with 30 odd runners,” says Colin, “and although he might be favourite I remember what happened to Dunguib last time. That could scar him for life. We still don’t know if he is good enough but he is the best thing we have ever seen that’s for certain. We just have to avoid messing him up I suppose.”
The self deprecating smile as Tizzard Senior says this doesn’t hide his obvious relish for the challenge and for all his good natured sunniness Joe makes no attempt to cloak the scale of his ambition and his years in the riding limelight have given him an easy charm as able to handle the big hitters as well as the boys back in the dairy. “Dad likes to go on about being just a little dairy farmer,” says Joe, “but people are beginning to realise what we are out to achieve. Dad has never been afraid to have a go and we won two races at Cheltenham with Mister One when I was just starting.”
“We have 60 horses now and as we are getting more and more money to spend I think the numbers could go up to 100, I really do. But while most of our owners have been local we are getting outsiders in and they all want horses that can hold their own on Saturdays. One of the things I learnt at Paul’s was to get horses fit and keep it simple – I have brought a lot of that back and just adapted it to suit our system.”
The greatest of all National Hunt racing’s delights** is the knowledge that small family run operation really still can compete at the highest level**. “I don’t see,” says Joe Tizzard firmly, “that we need to feel second best to anyone.” And even, or perhaps especially, in the milking pit, why should he think otherwise?