Mike Cattermole column: Royal Ascot reflections

Eve Johnson Houghton stands with her Queen Anne hero Accidental Agent

Mike Cattermole reflects on Group One wins for Eve Johnson Houghton and Jessica Harrington at Royal Ascot, and suggests we should still be striving to do more for jockeys.


It is no coincidence that two of the most celebrated races at Royal Ascot last week involved winning women trainers. It happens so rarely at this meeting, more's the pity.

Accidental Agent and Alpha Centauri gave Eve Johnson Houghton and Jessica Harrington huge breakthrough and important successes.

There were some near misses, too. Karen McLintock went very close to winning the Ascot Stakes with Dubawi Fifty, who was only run down in the closing stages by Lagostovegas.

Sophie Leech had a runner in that race, too, while Jane Chapple-Hyam sent out Circus Couture to finish third in the Royal Hunt Cup – at 100/1! (Such disrespect in the betting market hasn’t stopped her before - she won the Ebor with another 100/1 shot in Mudawin).

It is only a year since Amanda Perrett sent out Zhui Feng to take the Royal Hunt Cup, her second strike of the meeting after Give The Slip triumphed in the King George V Handicap in 2000.

Before that, in 2013, Irish trainer Joanna Morgan won the Britannia Handicap with Roca Tumu.

In 2009 Jane Chapple-Hyam - yes, her again – won the Ascot Stakes with Judgethemoment.

The year before, that same race had provided Sussex trainer Suzy Smith with a day she will never forget, thanks to the mare Missoula. In fact, 2008 was a good year for the girls as Ayr-based Linda Perratt also won the Wokingham with Big Timer.

Excluding this year, all of those victories came in handicaps and, sadly, I would guess that not one of them had any lasting or positive spin-off effect on their training careers as a result. Indeed, Joanna Morgan retired just two years after her big win.

The difference about last week was that both were gained at the top level. You have to go back 25 years, to 1993, to find the last time that happened when Criquette Head also won the Coronation Stakes, with Gold Splash.

Jessie Harrington is already established as a major training force of course, especially over jumps, and time will show whether Eve Johnson Houghton can use it as a springboard to take her to the next level. She has been threatening to do it for a season or two now, so let’s hope so.

I particularly liked the fact that Eve was able to continue the tradition inspired by her grandmother, Helen Johnson Houghton, who was a massive pioneer for women trainers.

Helen trained Gilles Des Retz to win the 1956 2,000 Guineas but women trainers were not recognised by the authorities in those distant days and so the name of her assistant, Charles Jerdein, appears in the record books.

She should have had her place in the Royal Ascot archives, too, after Nucleus won the 1955 King Edward VII Stakes, but again it is there in Jerdein’s name as he held the licence.

Over 60 years on, it is an uncomfortable fact that there has been little movement forward. If you think of the success that the likes of, for example, Jenny Pitman, Henrietta Knight, Rebecca Curtis and Jessie herself have had at Cheltenham and Aintree etc. In comparison, their Flat counterparts have been struggling.

And given the talent out there among the females in the weighing room, we still have only one woman jockey in the record books who has ridden a winner at Royal Ascot.

I am sure that the young Gay Kelleway, who the Queen Alexandra Stakes on Sprowston Boy for her father Paul in 1987, would have been staggered to be told that 31 years would pass and the status quo would remain unchanged.

Both Hayley Turner and Josephine Gordon at least rode at Ascot last week. Hayley had just the one mount, for Michael Bell in the 28-runner Windsor Castle Stakes, and headed north to ride a double at Ripon on the Wednesday.

Josephine had six rides, four for Hugo Palmer, which included a fifth in the Jersey Stakes on the 100/1 shot Arbalet. She rode one for John Best and one for Sir Michael Stoute, Desert Diamond, who was fourth in the Sandringham Handicap.

Opportunities are rare for them and attitudes need to change for the glass ceiling, perhaps merely fractured at best by Gay and only tapped on since, to be smashed.


There were some fascinating images broadcast last week of American jockey Joel Rosario going through a series of poses in the weighing room before going out to ride.

Adopting a crouched position, he went through the motions of riding a horse, gripping the reins and then pushing as if reminding his brain and muscles to remember what they had to do – in other words as a form of warm-up.

Richard Perham, the former jockey who is now the long-time senior jockey coach at the British Racing School in Newmarket, told me: "To me, Joel Rosario was also going through a visualisation process. He was thinking about how the race was going to unfold. He was sitting lower and lower and pushing. It’s an exercise that I would encourage any student to copy."

Most jockeys have been riding out in the morning and then sit in a car, sometimes for several hours, before arriving at the racecourse and then perhaps decamp to the sauna before the first ride of the day. It can be many hours since they last sat on a horse.

Apart from a run around the track to loosen up and lose a few pounds, when do they have time to undertake a proper warm-up ahead of a day's racing?

Having discussed this with my ATR colleague Jason Weaver this week, he revealed to me that, in the UK, only Newbury’s weighing room has a simulator.

This is quite staggering and really quite embarrassing, especially as he and Perham also confirmed that every weighing room in the USA has a simulator and often a fully-equipped gym.

The simulator at Newbury was designed and built by Perham himself who added: "Newbury bought a wooden simulator from me nearly 20 years ago and in 2013 I sold them the newer version which is in there, too.

"I have tried to get one installed at other tracks, too, but it has not been easy. I have sold over 150 simulators to every continent in the world but have struggled here.

"True, there is limited space at some tracks and that is a big issue. However, the weighing rooms at Ascot, York and Kempton for example are not short of that."

A few years ago, Perham was involved with a study along with the Injured Jockeys Fund and Jon Pitts, the sports scientist who also works with Somerset County Cricket Club and Australian Equestrian Team.

"We replicated three races half an hour apart using 10 different jockeys. Every jockey's body was more efficient in race two and race three which just goes to show if you don’t warm up properly, you’re not going to be as effective."

Perham confirmed that Dr Jerry Hill at the BHA is trying to be more pro-active about getting jockeys to warm up properly and would very much encourage the installation of simulators and/or spinning bikes in weighing rooms.

In other sports, all top professional athletes have supervised warm-ups. Golfers will spend time on the range and putting green, tennis players will knock up with a hitting partner before heading to the match court and then warming up with their opponent for several minutes.

Elite football and rugby players have extensive warm-up drills to complete before the match commences, usually ending around half an hour before kick-off.

A fit-for-purpose weighing room should have at least one (probably two or three at the elite tracks) piece of riding equipment.

They should all incorporate a stretching area, which might include mats and rubber bands and perhaps a few weights, too.

And in Frankie’s case, a five-foot high bench and landing area to practice the flying dismount.

Joking aside, though, it’s high time we caught up with the times here.

Joel Rosario rode Shang Shang Shang (left) to victory in the Norfolk


I put my hands up and admit that my tipping on here went badly last week. The punting, likewise.

Yes, I had each-way bets on Advertise in the Coventry and Shades Of Blue in the Queen Mary. Near misses, that's fine. I also had each-way punts on Coeur De Lion in the Ascot Stakes (first five) and he was sixth and Occupy in the King George V Stakes (first four) and he was fifth.

Sure, not far off and maybe a bit unlucky. I was also on Emaraaty in the Jersey and he flopped badly while the horse he almost gave 10lb to on his previous start finished second. Go figure. He wouldn’t have beaten Expert Eye, but 16th place?

Romanised I got totally wrong and Glory Fighter, too, in the Norfolk. It was galling to see the horse he beat at Lingfield romping home in the Windsor Castle in front of my selection, Sabre.

George Bowden was also recommended here each-way in the Wokingham. Bet first five, he was sixth.

It was down to Natalie's Joy, subject of a relatively large single bet, to undo some of the damage. Now what on earth happened to her?

I also doubled her up with Crystal Ocean.

We live and learn!

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