Robert Havlin feature

In an exclusive interview, high flying jockey Robert Havlin chats to Simon Mapletoft about his best ever year, his longstanding association with champion trainer John Gosden and the vital part he has played in the development of future stars on the All-Weather including Enable, Stradivarius and Without Parole.

  • Sunday 23 December
  • Blog
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Just like his illustrious colleague Frankie Dettori, jockey Robert Havlin is getting better with age. While the evergreen Italian’s career has been re-ignited by the exploits of wonder filly Enable, ‘team mate’ Havlin has reached new heights of his own this year.

The 44-year-old Scot, a wingman for Dettori at Champion Trainer John Gosden’s Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket, has recorded the most successful season of his long career.

After more than two and a half decades in the saddle, Havlin has achieved his first ever century of winners in a calendar year and is now hot on the heels of leader Adam Kirby in the race to become Champion Jockey on the All-Weather.

“It’s been a great year but I just want to keep the momentum going,” he tells me at the end of another productive week that included victories on Winter Derby hope Wissahickon in the Listed Quebec Stakes and on Enable’s half-sister Entitle on the Polytrack at Lingfield Park.

“Reaching 100 winners and making such a good start to the All-Weather season means a lot. I’m going to be taking a break over Christmas and will have a family holiday in February, but if I’m still in the race to become top jockey by March I’ll give it my best shot.”

Successful at Group level and in a string of big handicaps for Gosden this year, Havlin has honed his reputation as the master trainer’s go-to man when it comes to educating blue blooded young talent on the All-Weather tracks during the winter.

“The opportunity to ride so many beautifully bred young horses makes my job even more satisfying,” he adds. “I’m spoilt really. It’s unbelievable when I look back at some of the great horses I’ve ridden as youngsters. Even going back to the likes of Oasis Dream.

“I’m involved in their development from the yearling stage at Clarehaven and ride a lot of them at home every morning. But it’s a privilege to get on them when they reach the racetrack and begin show the potential that we thought they had.”

It was Havlin, affectionately known as Rab to his weighing room colleagues, who guided wonder filly Enable to victory on her racecourse debut on a dark, chilly evening at Newcastle just over two years ago.

A few weeks earlier, he had travelled north to get a raw young stayer called Stradivarius off the mark at Gosforth Park, and 12 months ago Havlin was dispatched to oversee the racecourse debut of another rising Gosden star, Without Parole.

“I’d never sat on Enable at home,” he reflects. “I’d just got back from South Africa as she was being prepared for her first run. We had a Cheveley Park filly called Gymnaste in the other division and the lads in the yard fancied her more.

“Enable never has been the best workhorse and was a bit of a sleeper at home, but she just woke up when she got out on the track that day and won easily. Even so, none of us could have known how special she’d become at that early stage.” For the record, Gymnaste was sent off at short odds but finished second.

Havlin knew more about subsequent Ascot Gold Cup winner Stradivarius on arriving at Newcastle for a mile maiden. “I’d beaten him at Newmarket on another nice young horse of ours called Cracksman - and what a superstar he became, too.

Cracksman wins the British Champions Stakes
Superstar Cracksman was one of the many horses that Havlin helped develop

“Frankie rode Stradivarius that day but I got the call up at Newcastle and made the running on him. He was headed but got back up over a trip that was always going to be well short of his best.”

Expectations were higher still for Without Parole’s debut over the straight mile on the Tapeta. “He worked like a very nice horse so we expected a lot from him that night,” he recalls of the Group 1 St James’s Palace Stakes hero. “He beat a couple of previous winners in a canter but we’d have been disappointed if he hadn’t won it easily.”

This winter Havlin has enjoyed continued success on expensive youngsters from the Gosden Academy, none more impressive than Chelmsford City scorer Dubai Warrior. Indeed, the way he imposed his considerable presence on a mile novice event in early November gave the jockey a familiar tingle.

“He was such a big baby coming into the race. We knew it would do him the world of good to get away from the yard and have a run but he did it so effortlessly. He’s a big strapping horse who can only get better as he gets stronger, so I imagine you won’t see him again until the spring.”

Havlin was similarly excited by the performance of Anthony Oppenheimer’s debutant Sucellus at Wolverhampton in early December. A son of Dansili, he pounced on his opponents as if he’d only just joined in to win an extended 1m novice at the same track that Gosden introduced Irish Derby winner Jack Hobbs at Christmas 2014.

“He had been such a backward horse at home and I genuinely thought he might need the experience, but when he began to get the idea turning for home he just flew. He has the pedigree and the talent to be another very nice middle distance horse next year.”

The £12 million Tapeta track at Newcastle has without question become Gosden’s preferred surface for introducing young horses to the art of racing. “That’s because the best horse always wins there. It’s a very fair track and the stiff finish suits those horses with middle distance pedigrees. You can even miss the kick and still get back into a good racing rhythm and win,” he explains.

It is 19 years since Havlin first joined Gosden’s payroll and he prides himself on being part of team that has made a habit of achieving top level success. “We have a great team spirit, and that’s down to the boss because he really values his staff,” he adds.

“He’s such a patient trainer. He’ll wait for precisely the right time to run his horses and even the highest profile owners are happy to let him do things his way. His results speak for themselves. I know he gets sent some of the most expensive young horses, but you still have to get the best out of them.

“The boss loves to get as much feedback as possible from everyone - work riders to yard men. He wants to know everything about every horse. How it’s worked, if its eaten up; it’s that attention to detail that helps make him so successful.”

Havlin also acknowledges the contribution of fellow jockeys Nicky Mackay - the regular work partner for Stradivarius - and Kieran O’Neill, who joined the team earlier this year. “It’s been a great move for Kieran, and riding Roaring Lion in all his work has been fantastic for him,” adds Havlin, who also heaps praise on assistant trainer Barry O’Dowd and racing secretary Peter Shoemark - “two guys who are an invaluable part of everything we do.”

When Havlin was struck by that well documented six-month drugs ban by the French stewards in 2017 that threatened to derail his career, Gosden backed his man, publicly branding the highly questionable decision a “gross miscarriage of justice”.

“John and his wife Rachel stood by me through it all. They were a rock to me,” he said. “They supported me through the whole thing and I’ll always be grateful for that. They’re like family to me.”

Though it was undoubtedly the darkest time of his career, Havlin feels the experience and the support he received from colleagues, friends and family, has had a positive effect on him. “It’s definitely made me more relaxed about what I do. I’m as dedicated and ambitious as I’ve always been but I just don’t worry about things as much. I enjoy the good days a lot more than I ever did.”

Speaking of family, Havlin takes every opportunity to spend as much time as possible with wife Kelly and their young daughters India and Lucia. “Quality time with my kids is everything to me. I’m looking forward to being with them over Christmas. They come to the races at the July course during the summer as they love to watch me ride. Lucia’s quite proud to tell everyone: ‘That’s my dad!’”

“It’s a busy time because we’re in the process of moving house. Then, during the half-term holidays in February, we’ll take them on holiday for a week. As a jockey, you’re busy 12 months a year so it’s important to take time out and re-charge.

“It would be nice to think that I might have a chance of winning the title by then, or at least finishing in the top five. I’d be pleased with that. I was in with a chance a couple of years ago but then fell away in the New Year, but I think we’ll continue to run a lot of nice young horses through the winter months so hopefully I can keep it going this time.

“I’ll also rely on outside rides from the likes of Simon Crisford, Amanda Perrett and Michael Attwater, who are all very supportive. Simon’s had a great year and is definitely going places. When he tells you he likes one he’s usually spot on. He’s a very good trainer.”

With such high-powered support, and his relaxed approach to riding winners, Havlin looks certain to build on a memorable 2018 on the All-Weather as Championships Season 6 swings into the New Year.

Robert Havlin feature
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