An Interview with Bloodstock Agent Jacob Pritchard Webb
Growing up in Brecon in Wales, Jacob Pritchard Webb’s the first experience of horseracing was a family involvement in harness racing. Years later, the first of nine winners came on Pantxoa at Dingley Point-to-point in May 2018. Even though the pair scored again there a year later, success was too slow a burn. During a summer in France, working for trainer Alain Couétil, Jacob had a taster of the French lifestyle and racing. After disappointments and missed opportunities back home, Jacob moved to France full time where he immediately started to ride winners under the patronage of leading trainer Emmanuel Clayeux. Yet, all this literally came crashing down when, in June 2020, his mount fell at Auteuil. Jacob sustained serious neck and spinal injuries, including a broken T4 and T6 vertebrae, dislocation of the C6, broken ribs and sternum and damaged lungs. The compressed spinal cord resulted in Jacob being paralysed from the waist down.
Recovery was long with the initial six months in France before Jacob returned home. However, throughout this ordeal, he was amazingly strong, taking in his stride the good days along with the bad ones. Although Jacob’s dream of riding winners was over, he realised a new one, that of buying them through a career in bloodstock. His competitive edge didn't ebb away either, only switching towards the sport of table tennis; his sheer determination went into fitness with training for last July’s Cross Country Cycle Challenge, which started from Cheltenham Racecourse and ended at Newmarket Racecourse. Throughout the 140 miles, Jacob was accompanied by many friends and figures from the racing community including AP McCoy, Luke Harvey and the Harry Potter actor James Phelps. Jacob raised over £25,000 for the Injured Jockeys Fund and the Matt Hampson Foundation. He was described by AP McCoy as ‘Inspirational’.
There is no dwelling on the winners that Jacob missed out on riding but it's about becoming a successful TV pundit and bloodstock agent as well as giving back to those who helped him as well as to disabled racegoers through the Racecourse Accessibility Project. Jacob, 26, now lives in Leicester with his two Dachshunds, Ripley and Bishop, named after characters from the film Alien. Touchingly, Jacob also owns two ex-racehorses who will live out their days with his family in Wales; namely, that first ever winner Pantxoa and his first winner in France, Palm De Billouet, who is now a pet and broodmare. ‘It's special to own both my first winners of the two countries I rode in,’ says Jacob.
There's no doom and gloom, simply a young lad with a big smile and, most importantly, a sunny future.
The first UK winner, left, Pantxoa and, right, first French winner Palm de Bellouet
Did you have a horsey childhood? My grandparents used to train trotters and had been involved in harness racing in Wales for fifty years, so I definitely grew up around horses. Yet, I didn't start riding until I was eleven and that was on a neighbour's white pony called Snowy. My Nan just chucked me on and my first few times riding him was around fields. I was never taught or trained to ride classically. Then, by the time I was twelve and a half, Nan just stuck me on the racehorses.
We would take them to our local common and train them there – even though they were pacers, they could gallop. I got used to the galloping sensation as they’d still go thirty miles per hour at full speed.
How did you get into racing? Through the harness racing, I had my first race when I was fourteen in the Juniors Under-16 category, which I won. I continued that for five years and I was Saddle Champion when I was 17. I was 5’6” and weighed 8 stone so I was never going to be a rugby player, so when I was sixteen, someone suggested I should become a jockey. As the trotting was a summer thing, during the winter months my Grandfather and I would sit down and watch the horse racing with The Sun newspaper open at the racing pages. Between the ages of 14 and 16, I had thought about giving it a go and on someone's saying that I was small and good at harness racing so why not try, so I did. I enrolled at Hartpury College on a Business and Horse Management course and then went to the British Racing School in Newmarket at 18, where I did the four-week fast-tracked course.
What roles have you had in racing? From the BRS, I went to Sir Mark Prescott's as a normal stable lad, which was a super special first job in racing. Working for Sir Mark was as tough as you can imagine. It was thoroughly rewarding and I learnt so much. I was very lucky I was there when Marsha, who I rode a couple of times and not to mention Time Warp, who went on to become a group winner in Hong Kong. Pallasator was also there but I didn't get to ride him.
Then I went to the Cotswolds. I was at David Bridgewater's for a short period of time before moving to Fergal O’Brien’s, where I started off as a stable lad then got my licence to ride in point-to-points, and then later as an amateur for Ferg. I was there two years then went to Emma Bishop's as an amateur jockey. I was only there for six months as I went on a temporary basis before going to France.
In France, I was at Emmanuel Clayeux’s, where I turned conditional jockey until the accident.
Favourite racecourses in the UK: Over jumps it’s Cheltenham because I got to lead up Perfect Candidate when he won in the November meeting in 2017. It was bogging down with rain but so special.
A special win with The Groove in September 2017
On the Flat it's Salisbury. Whilst at Fergal’s yard, I looked after a horse called The Groove. He was an unruly ride, and nobody else wanted to ride him. He buried me at least thirteen times in three months. He was horrible, but I ended up loving him; he had so much character. He won his first race on the Flat at Salisbury, also giving Fergal his first ever Flat winner. My friend from Sir Mark’s, Manuel Fernandez, was the apprentice who rode him that day – it meant such a lot. The horse was the apple of my eye despite being a little t**t. To help deliver that win and then to have a friend riding him as well was brilliant.
Favourite racecourse in France: Angers, because I rode three winners there, all over fences, including the Grand Steeplechase for four-year-olds, which I won on my now-brood mare Palm De Bellouet. I also won two at Angers on her half-brother Prince De Billouet, so the family means a lot.
Who is your racing hero? Now, it’s Felix de Giles who rides in France.
How did you decide what new direction to take after your riding career was cut short? I was not angry at horses or horseracing – it was just a bad luck accident, so I wanted to continue in racing. I have always been in racing, that was all I knew, so I just wanted to remain within the industry that I love.
How did you progress your career in media? Through JETS and the IJF, I underwent media training at Oaksey House with Ed Chamberlain's company Chamberlain Sport and Lydia Hislop. It was always just an idea that didn't gain momentum until Jo Hughes, the trainer, was out in France whist I was there. She rang Luke Harvey telling him I’d be good for the telly and suggested I be interviewed for Sky. That happened in June 2021 and I thought it would be good experience. Luke then spoke to the top guys and they offered me the chance to do some punditry. Basically, it was all down to Jo Hughes and Luke Harvey – I have a lot to thank them for.
How did you progress your career in bloodstock? After an article published in the Racing Post, I was called by Anthony Bromley and Anthony Stroud and shadowed them both for a bit. I've also learnt a lot from Highflier. A role for Auctav came about and I now represent them in the UK and Ireland.
Left and middle: winning on Prince De Bellouet at Angers
Which organisations helped you? The IJF helped enormously with my rehab and were brilliant. They contacted me and my parents straight away after the accident as did the Matt Hampson Foundation, which is local to my home in Melton Mowbray, and is amazing too.
What do you love about French racing? I love the prestige and the way the courses include lots of different types of fences, like the bullrush. I like the way it’s also run with Parimutuel betting and how there's more conditions races than handicap races, so I feel a lot more horses have a chance over there.
How has your past working in racing helped you in your new careers? Working at Sir Mark’s was incredibly grounding and informative; I learnt a lot around some amazing horses. Then, I went to the Cotswolds and nothing really happened over the three years so I went to France and achieving success relatively quickly meant I learnt a lot of life lessons in racing.
The accident was my biggest life lesson. To go forwards from the knock-backs and tough times in racing had prepared me for what I had to go through. It made me tough enough to be able to handle it.
Which horse would you love to have purchased? Desert Orchid.
How has your accident changed your outlook to life? I’m a lot happier and a lot more chilled out just because I have learnt I can’t control everything, which I was always trying to do beforeI’m more thoughtful of others and I want to try and change things in racing for accessibility, which I think definitely needs to be done.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future? I want to do more telly and presenting work. My dream, presenting-wise, is to cover the Paralympics. I would like to broaden my presenting skills internationally. The reason I’d love to go to the Paralympics is because I was trying to participate in them before having to abandon that Idea in favour for my bloodstock and media commitments.
In bloodstock, my ambition is to find a Group One winner or to breed one or both!
What inspired you to do the fund-raising you did last summer? I wanted to give something back to the Injured Jockeys Fund and Matt Hampson Foundation charities. I couldn't exactly run a marathon so cycling was the next best thing to cover a great distance. I’d done hand-cycling in the hospital in France and I’d found it quite easy!
Newmarket and Cheltenham represented my career in racing. I’d started out in Newmarket and ended up in near to Cheltenham, so I thought it would be a good route. I had forgotten all about the horrific hills in the Cotswolds; it was hell and I'm saying never again!
It was also a chance to prove to myself what I could do – or what my new body could do. Both the IJF and Matt Hampson Foundation gave me a lot of help training for it, as did the Jockey Club and my parents who supported me through throughout.
Please elaborate on you becoming a table tennis player: After the accident, the first thing I wanted to do was play table tennis after I'd played it whilst in rehab in hospital. At the time I aimed to play for GB, which I did last year. I was all set to do so again this March in Spain but something had to give as table tennis doesn't pay and stud fees aren't cheap!
Favourite meal: Tachos.
Favourite drink: Alcoholic is Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey and coke, and non-alcoholic is orange juice and lemonade.
Favourite film: That's the toughest question you've asked me! I love watching movies. Seabiscuit and I love any of the Star Wars films.
Favourite music: Country.
Favourite holiday destination: The USA.
Favourite book: The Game of Thrones series.
Other hobbies: Golf, watching movies and box sets.
Favourite night out: I love a night out in Pau in Southern France when all racing moves there and everyone is there. I've had the lots of good nights there.
*Many thanks to Old Gold Racing for the help in securing this interview. They published it first in their fabulous newsletter Racing Weekly. To sign up, go to https://mailchi.mp/2f6ba62d6182/racing-weekly-lead-capture