Wednesday 28 September 2016

From a caravan to Cheltenham - how Tizzard won his spurs

Marcus Armytage

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

Colin Tizzard is enjoying every minute of his training career Photo: Getty
Colin Tizzard is enjoying every minute of his training career Photo: Getty

A lot of racehorse trainers give the impression that the better the horses the more pressurised the job.

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On that basis, with Cue Card, the great British hope in Friday's Timico Gold Cup and Thistlecrack, the evens favourite for Thursday's Ryanair World Hurdle as well as several each-way chances, including Theatre Guide and Native River, Colin Tizzard's stress levels should be just about off the scale two days before the start of this year's Cheltenham Festival.

But, contrasting sharply with the accepted norm, the Somerset dairy farmer whose office papers are in a bag "so the wife can't clear them away", is having an absolute ball.

Tizzard, 60, is enjoying every minute of it. There is precious little glory in dairy cows these days, but this season the horses have been rugged up in it and, 15 years after taking out a licence, essentially to give his son, Joe, a few rides, he cannot really believe it.

Indeed not even the price of milk seems to depress him and his feet are so grounded, often in cow muck, that his world will not come to a grinding halt should either horse get beaten.

That may be partly due to the fact that the Tizzard family has already come a long way in two generations. His father, the son of the local publican, was born in the Queen's Head, Milborne Port, on the Somerset-Dorset border and, when he married Tizzard's mother, he rented Venn Farm, where Colin now lives.

The farm then boasted one barn with 12 stalls, one with six stalls and the 18 cows that filled them were milked by hand. "I've been telling people I was born in a caravan," said Tizzard with a twinkle, "but my mother's corrected me; she says I was born in a hospital but came back and spent the first two years of my life in a caravan."

All Tizzard's siblings have done well. From nothing but a good upbringing his eldest brother became a successful chartered surveyor. His younger brother has 1,000 dairy cows in the village, another has 2,000 organic dairy cows and his sister has 1,000 across three dairies.

In terms of milk produced - his goes to Paul Barber for cheese - he is the pauper with just 350. "I haven't tried to keep up," he said. "If we'd pushed on with the farming over the years we've been training we might have a few more cows but I don't regret that for a minute."

At Wincanton School he was captain of cricket, he played for Yeovil with Ian Botham and had a trial for Somerset before leaving school at 16 to work on Venn. To give his boys an interest in the winter his father went to Ascot Sales and bought an old chaser that Colin rode in his lunch break.

"If we were busy it didn't get ridden," he recalled. "I didn't actually have much to do with the training - father liked that side of it. But who has ever ridden and not wanted to train?" When his own children Joe and Kim came along he did the whole hunting, gymkhana, showjumping, Pony Club thing. "But when Joe was 16 I said we'd get a couple of pointers. I bought The Jogger from Ascot and, after he'd won two points and a couple of hunter chases, Paul Nicholls rang and asked Joe to be his amateur.

"I thought 'Alleluia'. We had one horse which cost £3,000, another we bought for £2,200 and a homebred. The three won nine races in a season and I thought, 'This is a piece of cake'." When Joe turned professional, training pointers lost its appeal. "So I took out a permit to help give him a few more rides. Then I heard that they were about to change the trainers' module, which you had to undertake to get a licence, from one day to a three-week course so I went up to Newmarket for a day just before the change came in."

For a while Joe was first jockey to Nicholls. "Then he came back here," recalled Tizzard. "I weaned him off playing golf on his days off and thought we could push the training side on a bit. Paul Barber gave Joe Mister One and he was our first good horse. We stuck him in a bull pen for six months, he came out, won two points, two hunter chases, was third in the Feltham, fourth in the National Hunt Chase.

"He won £50,000 that year and I thought 'should we blow it on something?' We were up to 15 horses by then and I fancied diversifying so it paid for the gallop." Cue Card's late owner, Bob Bishop, sent them Mount Oscar, who won on Hennessy day at Newbury two years running and, in the summer of 2009, took Tizzard to the sales in Ireland.

"Bob liked a big grey but the more he trotted up the bigger and slower he looked and Jean [Bishop] said she'd seen a nice one up the other end. We trotted him up and he was easily the fastest one, a not a big heavy store, pointed his toe, and I jokingly said we could have him racing within six weeks. That was Cue Card - he cost €50,000 but it was the recession - three years earlier he'd have cost double that.

"He was dropped off at Rodi Greene's to be broken and, three weeks later, he rang saying he was ready and that he was the best he'd ever broken in. We waited until January to run him and he bolted in at Fontwell. Joe nearly did another lap before pulling him up."

The rest is the form book and since being stepped up to three miles Cue Card has been winning with an aura of invincibility.

But Tizzard made a key decision last summer - to move the horses away from the dairy at Venn into a purpose-built barn on top of the hill where he used to keep his heifers.

"It's the same food, same water, same gallops, it's just a beautiful environment," said Tizzard. For whatever reason, it has taken the stable to another level. Pressure or no pressure, no one is loving that more than the trainer.

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