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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

An Interview with Author Paul Ferguson.

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

Paul Ferguson, Liverpudlian born and bred, grew up living and breathing the Grand National, and he has never drifted from it. He lives besides the racecourse and has been married to Nicola for thirteen years and they have a son Luke, who is eight. Paul turned 40 during lockdown back in April so there were no “celebrations or commiserations”.

Paul is the author of two yearly books. Jumpers To Follow has become an autumnal institution for National Hunt enthusiasts; the book has grown annually with its vibrant content and contributors. This little published gem is great for combing through the author’s enlisted trainers and the racehorses under their care, especially youngsters and bumper horses. It is difficult not to grab a biro and annotate the margins, underline or highlight certain lines as if with an English Lit text, and next to impossible not to return and cross reference when all the jump racing is fully back underway. As the reader, it is a pleasure to shake your head in wonderment at the predictions within these pages that do work out.

What is your first racing memory?

Growing up in Liverpool, the Grand National was obviously a big thing and I remember watching that each year, having picked a handful of horses out on the Friday evening. I used to watch the racing with my Grandad on a Saturday, too, when I wasn’t watching Everton.

What are your other jobs apart from being an author?

Most of my year is taken up writing Jumpers To Follow and then the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide. My role at Weatherbys also means that I get to go racing quite a bit through the winter, although at this stage, who knows if that will be the case this season? I also write for the monthly magazine Racing Ahead and have a daily column for a website called Betrescue.

What is your favourite racecourse?

Cheltenham would be the obvious answer, but I have to stay loyal to my own city and say Aintree. The fact that I can walk to the track is another huge positive, as I do plenty of driving most of the time.

What is your favourite Grand National winner?

As a young lad, I was a huge fan of Richard Dunwoody and West Tip is the earliest Grand National I remember watching live.

I’d be the first to admit that I’ve not got the best record when it comes to finding the winner, although I was pretty keen on Hedgehunter in 2004, so it was pleasing to recoup the losses twelve months later.

Another would be Don’t Push It, who wasn’t a winner that I had backed, but it would have been disappointing had AP McCoy not won the race, so from a purist’s point of view that was another memorable National.

What is your favourite racehorse?

Tough question, I always struggle to pick just one. But, Viking Flagship was probably the horse who really attracted me to National Hunt racing so perhaps he should get the vote. I was actually on ‘work experience’ at Aintree when he won the Melling Chase in 1995, beating Deep Sensation in what was a fantastic race. I had enjoyed watching racing with my Grandad prior to this, but as a 15-year-old, this race really did have a big influence on me, and I still remember it very well.

What is your favourite meeting?

Again, the Cheltenham Festival would be the obvious answer, and I love Cheltenham week. However, I also really enjoy the Grand National meeting and given that it is on my doorstep, I would have to say it is probably the most enjoyable week of the year. I have a lot of friends and family – who wouldn’t normally go racing – that attend Aintree, so I invariably get inundated with requests for tips. I know a lot of trainers say the same thing, that Aintree is slightly less pressured than Cheltenham, and it is similar for me.

Do you prefer Flat or National Hunt?

National Hunt.

Who do you admire in racing?

Another tough one. I have plenty of admiration for a lot of people and certainly include the jockeys in that. I’m not sure that all racing fans truly appreciate exactly what they put themselves through. Equally, stable staff have my utmost respect, and I don’t just say that because you are interviewing me. If you are talking about any one individual, AP was obviously an idol of mine when I was a teenager.

How did you Jumpers To Follow start?

Writing a ‘horses to follow’ style book was something that I was always interested in. I would always enjoy reading such books and thought that I might try to give it a go (at the time I was working in an office, prior to being full-time in racing I was an Actuarial Analyst – basically lots of maths). I started writing for the Haydock Park race card, then Racing Ahead magazine after which I thought I would give it a go. I wrote a pamphlet style seasonal preview one year, then Jumpers To Follow started some fourteen years ago. After nine years of producing the book myself, Weatherbys approached me and this year’s edition is the fifth which they have published.

Do you write any other books?

Three seasons ago, I wrote the Aintree & Punchestown Festivals Betting Guide for Weatherbys and have written the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide for the past two years, with Aintree now included in that. That book is mainly trends/statistics based, but we have made a conscious effort to try and make a smooth link between two publications now, with Jumpers To Follow including trends races and the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide having a similar look in terms of my spring horses to follow. Both books take a lot of time to write, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Is there any other book you would like to write?

Funnily enough, when Luke was little and enjoyed being read to, I did say that I would like to write a series of children’s books, but I’ve never even looked into it (not had the time and now he is older, it isn’t something I have thought about for a while). In terms of racing books, maybe suggest to Jonjo that I will write ghost-write his autobiography!

How do you conduct your research?

A lot of the research is done throughout the previous season for Jumpers To Follow. As well as it being my job, National Hunt racing is my passion, so I rarely miss any of the action, even when we’re on holiday (much to the annoyance of Nicola). Once I start writing the book, which is usually early-May, I will start by re-visiting all of the bumpers from the previous season, as most of the horses which feature are youngsters. I will then speak with a lot of trainers (or their representatives) and interviewing the jockeys that contribute to the book can also be helpful in terms of the horses that I select myself. However, I do like to use my own judgement wherever possible and whenever asked for a piece of advice for racing fans, I would always say to watch as many races you can yourself and to trust your own eye.

What is your most favourite part of writing the book?

Probably once it has gone to print! The last couple of weeks can be tough going, with proof-reading and final alterations, although that is more stressful with the Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide, which has a much tighter deadline. With Jumpers To Follow, I do enjoy chatting with the jockeys, especially if I am after their opinion on a certain horse. There are ten who are contributing to this year’s book, and I must say, they are all very generous with their time and effort.

Actually, my favourite part of the whole process is when I see the finished article for the first time, and it is always very nice to receive positive feedback from people who have bought it. I don’t mean that to sound vain in any way, because that is not me (and I hope that anyone who knows me would say the same) but it is nice to know that people appreciate the hard effort that goes into producing it and that they enjoy reading it.

I would say my most favourite part of my job (in general) is going around the various stables, there is nothing better than a morning on the gallops.

How has your book improved since its first publication?

I would like to think it continues to improve year-by-year. It is certainly a lot better than when I first started. Firstly, I would like to think that my writing has improved and there is much more included now. For this year, two more jockeys were added (making it ten, as stated above) and I have interviewed Richard Thompson, son of owners of Cheveley Park Stud, who provides details of their string for the season. In terms of how it actually looks, some parts of the book have undergone a makeover this year, and the team in the office at Weatherbys (in particular Paul Wright) have done a great job. The look of the book took a massive step forward when Weatherbys became involved.

If there was a time machine, where in time would you travel to in which to write about racing

Wow, that’s another good question. I love the Champion Hurdle, so perhaps the ‘70s when the likes of Comedy Of Errors, Night Nurse, Monksfield and Sea Pigeon were around.

What are your hobbies?

As I mentioned earlier, I am an Everton fan and have a season ticket, so go whenever I’m not racing during the winter. If I had travelled back in that time machine to the ‘70s, I would have been old enough to enjoy the successful days during the ‘80s a little more, too! Other than that, I like to play golf, although I don’t get enough time to play as much as I would like, with the racing and football.

What is your favourite music?

I was a big Oasis fan from day one in the ‘90s. I still prefer their older stuff.

What is your favourite meal?

I like Chinese and I love a good roast dinner, but it would probably be fillet steak, followed by an American-style baked cheesecake.

What is your favourite drink?

When it comes to alcohol, I only really drink lager. Heineken would be one of my preferred choices. And, non-alcoholic, it would be Coke, although I try not to drink it too often.

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