A Lockdown Interview with Louise Armour
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Louise Armour has been involved with racing for most of her working life. A racing secretary for six years before the need to spread her working wings saw her relocate back to her native Scotland. Since then, there has been no looking back with varied, colourful jobs at different racecourses. Yet, Louise has not strayed that far from her former office work whilst working for Grand National-winning jockey Jason Maguire. She performs secretarial and administration work for Jason and his wife Lauren, including aiding their new venture of a rehabilitation and pre-training yard near Birdlip in Gloucestershire.
Louise, right, helping out her good friend Mary Carty at Punchestown
Louise lives in Ayrshire but travels constantly for her freelance work. It is not unusual for Louise to be in Doncaster for the Sales, or staying with friends in her beloved, former haunt of Gloucestershire, or in a B&B in Johnstown, near Kill, Co Kildare, where she has stayed so much during working for Goffs she is one of the family! Louise has a true love affair with Ireland and has even helped bookmaker (and good friend) Mary Carty, whose “Mammy” was the first ever female bookie in 1979 at Galway Racecourse.
When did your interest in racing begin?
I've always had a love of horses and have ridden since I was 4. I used to love watching showjumping and racing on television – Olympia, Horse Of The Year Show, Hickstead, the Grand National and Cheltenham Festival. I suppose I took a keener interest in racing after getting a retired racehorse from local trainer, Linda Perratt – Scottish Gold (“Scottie”) was my horse of a lifetime!
After leaving University, I worked for Nationwide Building Society (I was actually chosen to be in their national TV adverts!). I then moved onto a local Housing Association doing their PR and Marketing, before moving to the Middle East to work for a PR Company in Bahrain – the Formula 1 track was being built there at the time. It was a fantastic experience – I was the only Brit in the office, the other staff were all Bahraini or Indian – I loved learning all about the different cultures. On returning from there, I moved to the Cotswolds and started working in racing – I couldn't believe I could get paid to do my hobby!
Do you prefer Flat or National Hunt?
Top row, far right, Louise with the stables’ team at Cartmel.
Please describe the job of a racing secretary:
The Racing Secretary job is everything from being a secretary, an organiser, a nursemaid, mother and counsellor to the staff... and a cook – cooking breakfasts for owners and mornings on the gallops, as well as making dinners for some of the staff! It's not a job – it's a way of life, but a bloody good way of life!
Which trainers have you worked for in his role?
Ian Williams for a few months, before moving to Jonjo O'Neill.
What is your favourite racing memory?
Imperial Commander winning the Cheltenham Cold Cup in 2010 for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team, followed up 3 weeks later by Don't Push It winning the Grand National for us at Jonjo’s. I think we partied in the Cotswolds for a month! Fantastic memories that money can't buy.
Which roles have you had since?
Since leaving Jonjo’s, I've been very lucky with Vix Bowen-Jones at Cheltenham Racecourse asking me to help her with the organisation of Owners & Trainers Badges. I am usually in the office a couple of days before racing, and for the Festival, two weeks before. Anthea Morshead and Andrew Tulloch were also very good to me, with Anthea asking me to take on the Stable Manager role at Cartmel Racecourse, as well as Parade Ring Assistant at York Racecourse. A role that, later led onto running the Owners & Trainers Restaurant at York with the introduction of the complimentary lunches there. Andrew Tulloch asked me to help and assist both him and Carly Sage on the lead up to the Grand National meeting. This gave me a clear behind-the-scenes feel of all the preparation required to stage such a huge event from the Clerk of the Course’s point of view.
I also did Owners & Trainers at Carlisle Racecourse, as well as organising Overnighters and Stable Staff Accommodation at Ayr Racecourse – oh, and I was AFO (Advanced Flag Operator - “Flaggie”) there too!
What is your favourite racecourse?
What is your favourite meeting?
A toss-up between Leopardstown Christmas Festival and the Punchestown Festival.
Have themed race days (Irish music nights, family fun days, etc) improved the accessibility of racing?
I wouldn't be a lover of themed race days – I think it takes away from the racing itself, can attract the wrong sort of people, at the same time as putting off the real racegoers from attending.
'Ladies’ Day’ is no longer exclusive to Royal Ascot – how has this and other aspects, like Colour Me March at the Cheltenham Festival, increased the appeal of racing?
I think it's a great incentive for ladies to dress up – albeit not all dress appropriately! I think it's important to dress for the occasion and the weather - less isn't always more. There are some great stylish outfits and hats out there.
Do you feel that fashion is important at the big meetings?
Fashion is very important, and it's great to get dressed up. Depending on the racecourse, the outfits can be when town meets country and vice versa – you see a whole diverse spectrum of fashion. I love getting dressed up, and wear hats at every opportunity (not only do I love them, but they hide a multitude of sins when you haven't had time to go to the hairdressers!) I'm very lucky in that both Aoife Hannon (sister of Gold Cup winning jockey and trainer, Jim Culloty) and Fi Johnson (wife of Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson) sort me out with hats. Aoife is a milliner, based in Listowel, Co Kerry; whilst Fi does hat hire from her home on Herefordshire. Both have an incredible eye for fashion; I send them photos of my outfits and they post hats to wherever I am! I never need to be near either to receive their fantastic hats.
What is your advice to racegoers to get the most out of a day’s racing?
Have a big breakfast before you go, wear comfortable shoes, go with a great group of friends, don't plan too much, go with the flow, enjoy the spectacle and soak up the atmosphere!
With friends at Cheltenham.
What is your role at Goffs?
I work for both Goffs in Ireland and Goffs UK. In Doncaster (Goffs UK base), I can either be found on the Welcome Desk with Pam Paxton or will be hosting Client Hospitality. In Ireland, my time is split between the Welcome Desk with Barbara Bashford, helping to organise courtesy cars, hotels, among many other requests; being on the Rostrum as the Auctioneer's Assistant and operating the Bidboard (one of the first lots I had to put through was a yearling at €1.7 million!) I was also lucky enough to be asked to work at the London Sale this year, in the private gardens of Kensington Palace on the Eve of Royal Ascot – it's quite an occasion!
How did you find lockdown?
The Festival and Cheltenham seem like a lifetime ago now. How the world has changed.... it all seems very surreal. These things don’t happen in real life... it’s like we’re watching a film!
On saying that, I have actually had a lovely time during lockdown. It was really nice to have some unexpected time at home to spend with mum and dad...helped of course with the glorious sunny weather. We spent lots of time in the garden, played dominoes and cards in the sunshine, and dad and I were even practising putting golf balls into soup tins... all with a few gin and tonics of course! It was like having a three-month holiday...lots of food and drink, and reading a lot of books. Needless to say, the pounds piled on, and it was drastic measures six weeks ago to lose the pounds again before my first appearance back in public at the Goffs UK postponed May/Summer Sale! I was helped by the Cambridge 1:1 Diet and I had an amazing consultant in Jemima Clarkson, who herself worked in racing for many years. Even though I was in Scotland, Jemima supported me remotely, couriering and posting all I needed from Gloucestershire. I was ready in time for Goffs and it was really lovely to see everyone again, and to be back out in civilisation!
I’m very lucky to live in a small village, which has plenty of community spirit.... which really shone through during lockdown.
I’ve also got involved with a couple of my neighbours making face masks.... not that I’m much of a sewer! My job is cutting the fabric! Mandy is the talented one.... the designer and the sewer, Dina is the finisher and quality control! It all started with Mandy making masks for friends and family and sort of snowballed from there. It’s been great fun, has brought us all a bit closer and spending some creative time together has been great for mental health. The plan is, to have a barbeque in the village with any money that we make. It was very exciting this week to send out our first batch of racing colours masks to John Neild, owner of Splash Of Ginge, and Grand National and Cheltenham Festival winning owner, John Hales.
If you would like to order masks, this can be done through Facebook Page with the link