An Interview with Anthea Leigh - Clerk of the Course
An Interview with Anthea Leigh – Clerk of the Course at
Cartmel and Raceday Manager at York
Anthea Leigh is the daughter of the late Gold Cup-winning trainer Peter Beaumont (Jodami in 1993). Born in Harrogate, Anthea was educated in Easingwold and rode highly successfully as an amateur jockey. She was champion Yorkshire point-to-point rider four times, rode sixty-six winners under Rules including a novice chase on Jodami at Kelso, a Topham Trophy in 1991 (then the John Hughes Memorial Chase) on J-J Henry. Anthea was the first woman to ride a winner over the National fences and, so far, is the only female amateur to beat the professionals over the National fences; she was only bettered by the professional Rachel Blackmore winning this year’s Grand National. Having been a most prolific winner between the flags for Peter, J-J Henry was one of the horses that established her father as a licenced trainer.
Picture Credit: York Racecourse
Since then, Anthea has been a busy Clerk of many Courses and divides her time between Yorkshire, Cumbria and Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. She is currently based at Cartmel and York. Her son, Henry Morshead, 24, rode as a conditional jockey and, since retiring, is now paving his way through racing in a different direction by graduating with a bloodstock degree and gaining a place in the Godolphin Flying Start training program.
In October last year, Anthea married Christopher Leigh, a farmer and ex-commentator for eventing and Cheltenham Racecourse radio. Chris rode two point-to-point winners, proudly beating the then-amateur Paul Nicholls in one of them.
Anthea with her father, the succesful trainer Peter Beaumount
Which tracks are you Clerk of the Course at?
Cartmel and Racing Manager at York.
In a nutshell, what does your job entail?
It has a wide-ranging role, taking in everything from the racing surface (description of maintenance and improvements such as drainage projects, track widening, irrigation, course layout, inspections and abandonments). The job also involves communicating with racing professionals (owners, trainers, jockeys, racing staff, and press), Stable Yard and Hostel. In addition, the role includes engaging with BHA Field Force on race days; input into race planning, which differs for each course; facilities on course for jockeys, racing staff, owners and trainers, etc.
Winners of the John Hughes Memorial Trophy 1991: Anthea on J-J Henry
Describe the different challenges of National Hunt racing at Cartmel and the summer Flat track of York, and how those challenges differ between the Jumps tracks and the Flat tracks:
Summer NH racing presents a significant challenge, as Good jumping ground is on the cusp of Good-to-Soft, and any un-forecast rain can quickly turn watered ground Slow. At Cartmel, the most unique of tracks, Head Groundsman Gary Sharp, has a small but dedicated team, that always works tirelessly to provide a safe racing surface. There is racing each month from May to August, the nine days of racing come quickly, and the use of pre-germinated seed was a significant benefit to recovery between meetings. This means that, in exceptionally dry summers, the irrigation must be ongoing between meetings to keep the germination and grass-growth in top-class condition.
However, for Flat racing, we are mandated by the BHA to produce Good-to-Firm going whenever possible. At York, we have a first-class watering system supplied from two boreholes, with edge-to-edge pop-ups all the way around the track, which were installed at the same time as the comprehensive drainage system ten years ago. This enables us to irrigate overnight, which is a more efficient use of water, and the program can be timed to run when there is least wind. The whole course can be irrigated with 3-4mms in six hours, with the ability to change the amounts for different areas of the track that retain or lose moisture more quickly. Again, despite the huge investment in drainage, we still have an ongoing programme of track maintenance in the winter with areas of the track (in rotation) having excavated sand slits installed to ensure connection with the 26 miles of lateral drains under the track. Each of these lateral drains has a rodding eye, and the ground staff, under Adrian Kay’s expert supervision, will put a camera down each one, and wash clear with a pressure washer where needed during the winter months.
Is the advance of social media positive or negative?
Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. On the plus side, it is a very useful way of communicating information, especially Going and Weather updates. Being able to post a link to the Met Office forecast for each racecourse is a great way of keeping people updated with ever-changing weather reports.
However, there will always be a section of society who use social media to express personal opinion with no filter or fear of comeback. For young jockeys and trainers, to have this unsolicited criticism chipping away at their self-confidence is especially hard, and not something that their predecessors had to cope with.
How important is it to get the correct ground reading?
Having ridden as an amateur and been closely involved on the training side of racing before becoming a Clerk, I am very aware of its importance to trainers and their running plans. Knowing your own track, and how it rides, and how it reacts to weather conditions are all essential. Wear and tear as the season progresses will affect the going, as well as track maintenance procedures such as Verti Draining, use of shockwave, etc. It was hoped that the Going Stick would be the answer to what is a subjective issue, but this remains unreliable under different conditions, and has not had the consistency across different courses that was hoped for. Giving as accurate a going report and weather forecast as possible is a must for every Clerk wanting a quiet day!
How do you cope with a lack of rainfall during some summer months?
Some summers are a challenge, resulting in very long days for ground staff, who have to factor in watering into their already long lists of daily jobs. As previously mentioned, York draws water from two boreholes, so there were no issues regarding abstraction. At Cartmel, we work with the Environment Agency to look at the River Eea, from which we principally extract our water, to ensure we were working with permitted levels. When the river drops and flow rate slows, we switch to the lagoon for our irrigation.
Do you think the North and South division in racing is slowly blurring or is there still an emphasis on it?
In NH racing, I sadly think there is still a North/South divide, which seems mostly portrayed in the buying power for the southern-based stables at the sales. However, in Flat racing, this is not the case, with many Yorkshire and Northern yards being strong in terms of both numbers and quality. This is a direct turnaround from years ago, when jump racing was strong in the north with Flat racing lagging behind. I don’t know what the answer is, but we can try to ensure that Cartmel as a northern NH track puts on good prize money and make that whole racing day as attractive as possible for Owners, who will hopefully be encouraged to race and keep their horses up north. Most courses have complimentary lunches for owners and have enhanced their owners’ facilities. At York, we are lucky to have a first-class O&T Restaurant and bar with a view of all the track. We try to ensure all owners enjoy a great day when their horse runs.
Is it true that you once worked at all the Scottish tracks? And for how long?
Yes, since I started Clerking over twenty years ago, I have been lucky enough to work, at some point, on all the five Scottish racecourses, starting out at Perth and Musselburgh, where I was Clerk of the Course at each for a decade. The last being Kelso before I left last year. Racing is well-served in Scotland with all the courses having excellent go-ahead management teams – all leading the way in terms of prize money and investment.
Photo Credit: Dennis Penny
Who has been the most influential person in your present role and why?
Definitely Bill Farnsworth, the General Manager at Musselburgh! When I initially qualified as a Clerk, I sent a letter to each of the Scottish courses explaining that I was newly qualified and was willing to fill in for sickness or holiday cover, or more if required. Bill had recently taken over as Musselburgh’s Clerk and GM (when, in his first two days in charge he had to deal with a fire, and a winning owner having a heart attack in the winners’ enclosure!) His Chairman, Group Captain John Prideaux, told him he needed a Clerk and my letter was on his desk. As with a lot of good opportunities, I was in the right place at the right time.
When William Derby offered me the place as his Assistant at York, it was Bill who urged me to take up this amazing opportunity and I’ll always be grateful.
Please describe your typical race day:
During the big meetings, it is not unusual for a WhatsApp conversation to occur at 2-3 in the morning! I arrive at 5:30 and do a course walk, checking the weather. I put a going update out before 6:40. Then, I set up the weighing room and check on any overnighters on exercise, and I always try to eat breakfast in the canteen.
At York, at 11:00, William Derby, James Brennan, the race day presenter and I go through the day; at 11:30, I walk the course with a steward and then get changed. I confer with the stewards about any horses going early to the stalls, or wearing red hoods and needing transport to the stalls etc. Especially important is to get the names of any horses with a history of heat stress, so that we can pay particular attention to them post-race.
I check on the presence of the medical and veterinary personnel, followed by a radio check twenty minutes before the first race with ground staff, doctors, vets, farrier, etc – then we’re off!
Which is your favourite race meeting?
The Dante Meeting followed by the Ebor, because of the quality of horses running: the best of the best from all over the world.
Have the themed race days (ladies’ days/Irish music nights/family fun days, etc) increased spectator numbers and widened the appeal of racing?
In a word, yes, they definitely have. Racing purists are sniffy about them but £1 million race days, like high quality Juddmonte and Ebor meetings, do not produce the highest footfall. Also, anything to get young people through the gate and hooked is a good thing.
What is the funniest thing to occur at one of your racecourses?
At an evening meeting at Perth, a horse of Howard Johnson’s fell in the second race; he got up, galloped out of the racecourse, alongside the river and disappeared. A lot of people were out looking, so the racing continued, and the meeting finished; the owner had even gone back to the hotel. The horse was eventually found nine miles away; he had swum the River Tay (one of the widest in Britain) still in saddle and bridle.
Anthea on J-J Henry, winning the High Melton Hndicap Chase, Doncaster*
Do you still ride out?
In the summer I’m too busy, but last winter I was delighted to ride out for Claire Hart who has a great business with point-to-pointers, pre-trainers, breakers and RORs.
Please can you describe the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on your work since last summer?
Both courses were hit particularly hard as both businesses rely on people through the gates, both for race days and non-raceday business. Racing behind closed doors was a very soulless experience, and one I hope we don’t have to repeat.
As a female jockey, did you ever experience animosity?
No, I never felt any animosity. I rode against a lot of tough northern jockeys and there was always mutual respect.
Which is your favourite racecourse that you do NOT work at?
Aintree – unbeatable for atmosphere, drama and fun.
Who do you admire the most in racing?
Jonjo O’Neill for achieving at the highest level as a jockey and trainer. He overcame massive adversity, such as injuries and cancer, to still be a successful and kind person.
My father Peter Beaumont, who started humbly with one point-to-pointer that was fatally injured at their local ‘point; he was left with an empty bridle and stable, but he did not give up and won a Gold Cup. He was a true horseman and a true gentleman.
Please say about your dog:
The new dog in my life is the lovely nine-month-old brindle Willie the Whippet. He’s very different to the equally lovely but naughty Jack, who sadly died aged fourteen last September.
As an ex-jockey yourself, how have the successes of Rachel Blackmore and Hollie Doyle resonated with you?
It has taken thirty years for Rachel Blackmore to take away my record of being the only female to beat professionals over the Grand National fences, which I was delighted to see as it shows the girls have broken through. Rachel and Hollie have properly broken through by sheer talent and hard work. They have such terrific personalities and are inspiring future generations of girls. They are achieving at the highest level of our sports under both codes.
Gin and tonic.
Favourite holiday destination:
Lee Child and John Grisham.
*Photo taken from Chasers & Hurdlers 1986/7, A Timeform Publication, Portway Press Limited, 1987, p416