An Interview with Ex-Jockey Ian Popham
Ian Popham, known as Pops, rode approximately eighty winners between the Flags and over 150 winners as a professional, having started out at Philip Hobbs’ and Paul Nicholls’. He rode a 2014 Betbright Chase (formally the Racing Post Chase) winner on Bally Legend for the former trainer Caroline Keevil and won the 2013 Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Annacotty, trained by Martin Keighley. Ian also won a Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2015 on Annacotty when he was latterly trained by Alan King. In fact, Ian rode six wins on Annacotty in total.
Since 2018, Pops has been an agent, a job he describes as a ‘middleman and go-between’ between trainers and jockeys, and now has thirty-two jockeys on his books. It’s a busy life and Ian says, ‘You’ve got to love it. It never stops!’
‘His’ Harry Skelton winning the Championship for the 2020-21 season has been the highlight so far and there will be many more championships in the future.
Having grown up in Taunton, Somerset, Ian now lives in Alcester, near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. This summer he married Lerece, who does not work in racing; she is a primary school teacher. Ian describes their chosen careers as ‘worlds apart’ from each other’s. They share ownership of pet dog Maggie.
Did you have a horsey childhood? Yes, I did. I grew up on a farm and Dad loved his racing. We were a racing family. Dad’s Uncle Chris trained Panto Prince who famously locked horns with Desert Orchid at Ascot and also trained a Scottish National winner with Roll-A-Joint.
How did you get into racing? Having always had ponies, I went to Philip Hobbs' at the age of 12 and one of the lads chucked me up and led me round the barn. I continued to go there during the holidays and at weekends until I left school when I joined full time.
Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles? After working for Philip Hobbs, I moved to Paul Nicholls’, where I rode out my claim. After going freelance, I rode for Martin Keighley, Caroline Keevil, Richard Phillips, Dan Skelton and Oliver Greenall.
Which is your favourite racecourse? Taunton, it was my home track and being a local lad, I had lots of support there. It was always popular when I had a winner at Taunton and it was also my first experience of racing when I went as a boy with my dad.
Which is your favourite racehorse? It’s hard to pin it down to one but I have to say Annacotty and Bally Legend, who gave me the biggest wins of my career. Currently, it's Go Steady who's in training with Dan Skelton and is a hero. He's won six so far and such a good servant.
How did you know it was time to retire from race riding? I had a catalogue of injuries and that pushed me to retire a few years earlier than I anticipated. I found a change, bit the bullet and tried something new.
Did you do any training? I did a computer course through JETS because it was a good thing to do and to check if I could sit at a desk. Plus, I did work experience at a couple of jockeys’ agents.
What do you miss about being a jockey? I’ll always miss the adrenaline buzz and the camaraderie of the weighing room. However, I have generally replaced this by watching one of my jockeys riding well.
Do you ever ride now? In the summer, I pre-train our own horse but in the winter, I’m too busy with racing. If I have a morning off, I might ride out for Dan Skelton or Olly Murphy, but I’m a fair-weather rider!
How did you start up as an agent? Agents Niall Hannity and the retired Chris Broad were both really helpful to me and gave me confidence. I was lucky enough to have a few connections and five jockeys agreed to come with me initially and that was reason enough for me to give it a go.
Describe being an agent: I liaise between different trainers on behalf of jockeys to get them spare rides, etc. I’m a salesman who sells jockeys – a middleman and a go-between.
What’s the best part of being an agent? Watching one of my jockeys riding well, especially the younger lads and girls and seeing them progress. I'm still involved in the sport I love!
The worst? It's very time consuming but I do not mind; the more you put in, the more you get out.
Where would you like to be in ten years’ time? I like to think I’d still be in this position; still working hard, still enjoying what I'm doing and still having that good working rapport with trainers and jockeys. You can't ever stop striving for success.
Favourite meal: Roast beef with all the trimmings.
Favourite drink: A pint of Peroni.
Favourite snack: Beef flavoured Hula Hoops.
Favourite music: I enjoy a wide range of music – I can’t just choose one genre but I do enjoy indie music the most.
Favourite holiday destination: Greece. We had a lovely honeymoon in Corfu.
Other interests: Going to the gym, keeping fit, walking the dog, cycling, watching F1 and cooking.
*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