YOUNG GUNS ARE SHOOTING FOR THE STARS
The new All-Weather Championships hold an added significance for talented trio William Carver, Poppy Bridgwater and Lewis Edmunds.
All three young riders are at a different stage of their development but have one aim in common - to make a big enough impact on the sand tracks to propel their careers to a new level over the next six months.
Carver, the latest product of Andrew Balding’s feted Kingsclere academy, has ridden only a handful of winners but has shown enough promise to suggest his 7lb claim will be in big demand.
At 20, Bridgwater has already exceeded her own expectations and has put herself in pole position to emulate the achievements of fellow girl riders Josephine Gordon and Nicola Currie.
Then there’s Edmunds, who is ready to put in the necessary hard yards this winter after riding out his claim in the north. A link-up with Godolphin certainly won’t harm his prospects of making the grade as a fully-fledged professional.
The rapid rise to stardom enjoyed by top young rider Jason Watson this year has inspired his close friend Carver to pursue his own dreams of becoming Champion Apprentice next year.
Carver rode in pony races alongside Watson and both are products of the same Balding jockey school that has produced the likes of David Probert, William Buick and Oisin Murphy.
“Jason was always so stylish on his pony,” recalls Carver. “I’m not surprised he’s done so well. It’s all happened very quickly for him and I couldn’t be happier. He’s a big inspiration to me.”
Carver and Watson attended the same course at the British Racing School and have both benefited from the tutelage of experienced jockey coach John Reid, himself a Classic-winning jockey.
“My aim this winter is to gain more experience by riding regularly and building up as many contacts as I can,” he adds. “Every young jockey dreams about being Champion Apprentice and I’m no different.
“I realise that I need to keep working hard but I couldn’t wish to have any better support around me. My boss (Balding) will have some nice horses for me to ride and my agent Simon Dodds will be doing all he can to get me some good outside rides.
“Kingsclere is a brilliant place to learn. Andrew trusts me to ride some lovely horses including a Frankel filly who cost two and a half million! I also enjoy watching David (Probert) and Oisin (Murphy) riding out and they’re great for giving advice.
“Going to John (Reid) every week is invaluable, too. He’s taught me such a lot - he’s been very patient - and watches all my races with me. I’ve got to the stage where I can tell him what I’ve done wrong!,” he smiles.
Carver, who twice won the South East pony racing final at Plumpton, has been destined to make the grade since winning an award for the most promising jockey at a pony racing course at the British Racing School. The prize was a week’s work experience at Kingsclere, and he simply hasn’t looked back.
Race replay: For trainer Conrad Allen, William Carver wins aboard Sonnet Rose at Chelmsford.
When he wasn’t at school, Carver rode out for young trainers Olly Stephens and David Menuisier but the chance to become an apprentice to Balding was an opportunity he wasn’t prepared to miss.
“My dad wanted me to stay at school and do my A-Levels but realised that going to Kingsclere was the chance of a lifetime. My mum is friends with Jim Crowley’s wife and he really encouraged me to go for it.”
Carver’s family enjoyed a day to remember at Southwell last November when the teenager’s first ride in public became a winning one. “It was a special day,” he recalls. “Know The Truth broke her maiden that day and I still watch the video and look at the press cuttings even now.”
With Watson, William Cox and Josh Bryan all vying for opportunities, Carver’s chances on the racecourse have so far been limited. Only four more winners followed that dream debut a year ago but after careful nurturing, the West Sussex-born rider is ready to stake his own claim for stardom.
No aspiring young jockey could possibly work harder than 20-year-old Bridgwater, who is hoping to emulate the success that fellow girl jockeys Josephine Gordon and Nicola Currie enjoyed on the All-Weather in the past two winters.
She jumps out of bed at 5am every morning to work out on her simulator before driving to boss Tony Carroll’s Worcestershire yard to ride out up to six lots. Then she’s off to the races, as well as fitting in sessions with her jockey coaches, often getting home from evening meetings just in time to bank five or six hours of much needed sleep.
No surprise, then, that the new car she bought herself only a few months ago already has almost 30,000 miles on the clock!
The sacrifices are yielding considerable rewards, however. She has just ridden out her 7lb claim and looks set to enjoy a productive winter on the All-Weather. “I set myself a target at the beginning of the year to ride four winners, but I’d ridden 26 by the beginning of October,” she enthuses. “It’s taken a lot of hard work and dedication to get this far but its paid off, though I still have a lot to learn.”
Whilst other girls of her age might tone up in the gym to the latest hip tunes, Bridgwater works up a sweat with a video of her favourite horse, the great Frankel. “I ride three or four of his races on my simulator. I think it’s fair to say I’ve won about 1,000 races on him so far.”
Bridgwater has quickly become an invaluable part of Carroll’s team, thanks to a spare ride at Wolverhampton in April. “Mr Carroll was in need of a jockey for an apprentice race for riders who had won no more than five races,” she recalls. “He wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice but thanks to head lad Mark Smith, who knew my dad, I got the chance and won on a horse called Madrinho.
“After that I was invited to go and ride out and won a couple more races on Madrinho - he’s a horse I owe so much to.”
Race replay: Strong and balanced at the finish, Poppy Bridgewater wins aboard Madrinho at Chelmsford.
Since then, the majority of Bridgwater’s winners have been supplied by Carroll. “I was looking at some stats the other day and noticed that Mr Carroll has given me more or less the same number of winners as Andrew Balding has given champion apprentice Jason Watson, who has ridden 100.
“I couldn’t wish for better support so I’m really happy that I’m repaying him with winners,” adds the daughter of jumps trainer David Bridgwater, who has racked up four successes on stable favourite Pour La Victoire.
Father David, a former top jockey himself of course, wasn’t keen on Poppy following his career path, she reveals. “Dad wanted me to be a secretary or something. I think he was worried about me getting hurt, but he’s my biggest supporter now, along with my Mum Lucy.”
The youngster cut her teeth in the saddle in the show jumping arena but decided on a career as a race rider after a day out at the Cheltenham Festival.
“I’d never been interested in racing until I went along to watch Dad’s horse The Giant Bolster in the Gold Cup. After that I was hooked. It really inspired me. I left school at 15 and that was it.”
Bridgwater has been motivated by the success of other female riders including dual Group 1 winner Hayley Turner. “She’s always the first one to help with all kinds of advice at the track, especially if its somewhere I’ve not ridden before. She’s such a role model.”
Another successful rider in the female ranks who has been a source of support is northern based Rachel Richardson, who rode out her claim back in the summer. “Rachel and I have so much in common because I’m tall like her. It’s been useful to talk to her about how she manages her weight, for example.”
Carroll’s apprentice will have plenty of in-house ammunition to fire this winter but is also keen to build up links with other trainers. “I hope to ride plenty of winners on the All-Weather but at the same time I want to be able to go into the new turf season with much of my claim still intact,” she adds.
The first year as a professional is often a challenging time for a young jockey. Rides and winners can dry up quickly once that sought-after 3lb claim disappears, but 20-year-old graduate Edmunds is determined to stay in demand.
He will be spending the winter with Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby at Moulton Paddocks after shedding his apprentice status in August and riding his 100th career winner just a month later.
“I’ve moved to Newmarket from Malton and am riding out for Charlie every day,” explains Edmunds, grandson of veteran Doncaster trainer John Balding. “It’s great to be involved with such a fantastic stable and to ride beautifully bred horses every day.
“I’m hoping to get a few chances for Charlie on the All-Weather. I’ve already ridden for Saeed (Bin Suroor) but being in Newmarket should also help me build some new contacts.”
Edmunds, whose father Jason and mother Claire were also jockeys, will also travel north to maintain some important links. Grandad Balding has a team of about 15 for the sand and Richard Whitaker has been another key supporter.
However, the youngster owes the most to Malton-based Nigel Tinkler and his wife Kim, who had provided 28 of his 101 winners by the start of the winter season.
“They’ve been fantastic,” he adds. “I started out with Kevin Ryan and learned a lot but needed to be with a trainer who could give me more opportunities, so after my first year I moved to Nigel.
“Some people might have been surprised to see me go to a smaller yard, but it worked out brilliantly for me. Nigel had the confidence to put me on all of his horses and thanks to the exposure he gave me I was able to ride out my claim in just two years.”
A winter in Australia did much for his development, too. “I was based with Archie Alexander near Melbourne and really enjoyed the experience. I did a lot of track work and barrier trials and came back confident that I had a good clock in my head.”
Race replay: Rock On Baileys and Lewis Edmunds combine for success at Wolverhampton.
It was fitting that Edmunds rode out his claim on the Tinkler-trained Archie Perkins at Beverley on 16th August. “It was a great feeling, but I was so busy riding that I never really got chance to celebrate. The bottle of champagne they gave me is still in the cupboard,” he adds.
The jockey’s 100th career winner came at Brighton on 17th September when Arcanista completed a hat-trick for Newmarket trainer Chris Dwyer - another fully paid up member of the Edmunds fan club.
“It was great to share that with Chris because he’s also been so good to me. I struck up a great partnership with his filly Rock On Baileys who gave me my best winner so far in a Class 2 handicap at Chester.
“Sadly, Chris has decided to retire so I’m going to miss his support over the winter,” adds Edmunds, who has another reason to be thankful to the well-respected trainer and his wife Shelley.
“My girlfriend Jess (Macey) is their niece and I met her when she led me up a winner at Chelmsford. I guess you could say it was love at first sight so when I got back from Australia I asked her out. I’m living with her now in Newmarket so it’s all worked out well.”
The couple plan to enjoy a holiday in Vietnam before Edmunds knuckles back down to the serious business of riding winners. “I know it’s going to be hard work but if I can make some new contacts over the winter and keep my name in the frame I’ll be happy. I’ve got to be realistic, but I believe in myself and have plenty of support around me. I’m prepared to do whatever it takes to be a success,” he adds.