An Interview with Former Trainer Robin Dickin
Robin Dickin, a Shropshire lad born in Ludlow, rode his first winner on his first ride in August 1967 at Warwick over five furlongs. The horse, called Bob, was owned by Mrs Westry who lived in Stow-on-the-Wold and was Dinah Nicholson’s aunt. He ran ten days later and Robin won on him again. After that, he rode over a hundred more winners, including a Red Rum Chase, before his riding career was cut short by a fall.
Robin set up training in 1986, a memorable year, as wife Claire qualified as a McTimoney Chiropractor and was also the year they married. The first winner came, Mountain Man at Newton Abbot over hurdles, and after a fortnight, came the first chase winner, Hope End. Both were owned by Ledbury-based Yvonne Allsop and ridden by Chris Jones.
Robin started training out of Fairfields Stables in Dymock and after seven years, moved to Alscot Park, outside Stratford-upon-Avon. Here, he sent out over two hundred winners over a successful eighteen years before moving to Alne Park, Warwickshire in 2012. Robin’s winners have reached almost 440. Over the years, he’s trained a steady stream of successful horses, including fifteen-time winner Kadastrof over three codes, seven wins and seconds at two Cheltenham Festivals with the hearty Thomas Crapper, prolific winner Dr Rocket and Grade 2 winner Restless Harry.
Robin and Claire have a daughter Harriet, 27, a successful eventer. His son, Chris, from his first marriage, is in the business of commercial property and investment, and who’s family consists of wife Louise, thirteen-year-old Luca and five-year-old Nina.
After Robin trained his first two winners, a Racing Post headline read, ‘After the knocks, the knack’. With a chuckle, Robin adds, ‘After thirty-six years, I’m knackered.’ This is a hint behind the reasoning why this season, Robin, 69, has stepped aside for Harriet. The spring of ’22 brought a move to Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire, taking over Ben Pauling's former yard. The family, staff and horses all relocated with dogs Millie and Maud, plus chickens, ducks, yard cats and a full fish tank.
Yet, that doesn’t mean racing will lose one of its most loyal devotees. ‘Without racing, I’d be miserable. I’m addicted to racing, it’s been my life and there’ll be no getting away from it, even when Harriet does take over.’ That infectious chuckle dies just for a moment. ‘There must surely be a way I can give back to racing,’ Robin ponders, ‘that I can be made use of.’ Let’s hope so, racing would be a lesser, emptier place without the Robin Dickins of this sport.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
Very much so. I don’t remember learning to ride, I could ride before I learnt to walk. I was born in 1953 and I’ve got rosettes from ’57 that my Mother kept in a box`.
How did you get into racing?
Basically, because my father died when I was thirteen. I was a crap musician in the school orchestra and unsure of the direction I was going in. My Father was so proud of my older brother Peter being a jockey that, after Dad died, I knew I too had to become one. David Cartwright was instrumental in my decision – he was a top National Hunt jockey at the time. As soon as I left school at fifteen, I went to work with the Nicholson family.
What are your best memories of being a jockey?
My first ride being a winner was fabulous. I felt very close to my late father. Also, winning at Liverpool on Fighting Kate and the Red Rum Chase on Do Justice.
Which was your favourite racecourse as a jockey?
Aintree – I rode about six winners there. I also loved riding around Newbury.
Which racecourse has shut and you wish it hadn’t?
Towcester – I trained a lot of winners there; it was my favourite racecourse. I loved it, even despite riding my last race there, when I had a fall which resulted in a double fracture to the skull which forced me to retire.
Please describe what it was like to work for David ‘the Duke’ Nicholson:
The Duke was a father figure. He taught me everything from addressing people to how to turn myself out, and just about everything in between. When we’d walk the tracks together, he knew so much, like the best route to go. He was such a good judge tactically and always let us have the advantage of his experience and of riding his good horses. He always used to say, ‘You help the horses and I’ll help you’ and since then I’ve often added, ‘Never forget to help yourself’. His wife Dinah taught me a lot too.
What roles did you have in racing before training?
I started out as a stable lad, when I did ‘my three’ and held them up for the trainer. I advanced to checking legs several nights a week when the trainer was racing or busy. Then, I progressed onto feeding the horses. Whilst I was a freelance jockey, I did all these jobs when I ran a livery yard.
I’ve always had the mindset that if you’re too proud to be a stable lad, you’re too proud to be in racing.
How did you start training?
I ran a livery yard at Toddenham, near Moreton-in-the-Marsh. I rented stables off Captain Bell and did breaking and pre-training for Mercy Rimmell, Captain Forster, Gavin Pritchard-Gordon, amongst others. I started training after this.
Which are your best days as a trainer?
The hell of a lot of times we’ve had doubles and my eleven winners at Cheltenham. I’ve had so many good days – all the days they win. It was especially special that homebred Dancing Daffodil, by Kadastrof, won five.
Which are your favourite horses?
Kadastrof was a legend. Jacarado, Garrahalish and Galactic Power were all consistent and always did their best, even if in a low grade. Ballasecret was a brilliant sprinter. Restless Harry and Shampooed were brilliant. To me, horses are like people – they’re friends.
Photo Credit: Gettys Images
Is there any horse you would have loved to train?
The wish list is probably a bit long! I used to love watching Sea Pigeon in a race. Kadastrof wasn’t his class but wasn’t far behind. For me, it was a feat to train one which was top class on the Flat plus over hurdles and fences.
Who do you admire in racing?
If I were an owner, I’d have horses with Philip Hobbs. I admired Jonjo O’Neill when he was a jockey because we were jockeys together.
What was the best advice you were given?
When I’d gone for a few weeks without training a winner, fellow trainer David Elsworth once said to me, ‘Change nothing. You know how to train. Too many changes will leave you lost.’
How has racing changed over the years?
Ownership has changed. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, owners tended to be landowners and country people who knew farming, hunting and horses. Therefore, they appreciated a professional horseman and were more patient. Whereas, for the businessmen owners of now it is all days and weeks, statistics and spreadsheets. There’s no ‘wait until next year’. But that’s how racing has gone. There’s the money for racing to be that way, it’s a business and it’s so fast acting. I think that owners now ask their horses to be the same.
One aspect that’s a bit of a shame now is there’s less and less dressing up to go racing. Trainers are more scruffy and not smart. No one seems to be turned out in a dapper way now.
A good thing about modern racing is that doors have opened wide for females – staff and jockeys. Back when this was not as fashionable as today, I always gave girls a chance.
Another positive change is when modern trainers are interviewed, they are strong to praise the team effort, which it always is, of course.
Team is a huge ethos in your yard – please explain why this helped your training:
I’m the trainer but Claire is the power force behind me, like Mrs Nicholson was for the Duke. Most trainers have that wife or figure working behind the scenes.
How I am is how I want to be treated. I’ve given people the opportunity to ride in races and found it hurtful when this hasn’t always been appreciated. Taking part as a professional sportsperson should not be taken lightly.
The idea of syndicates is now very popular but why did you run syndicates years before most other yards?
One of the early ones was Warwick Members, they owned the successful Shampooed. I wanted to make racing affordable for everyone and to eliminate snobbery from racing. I feel hunting died a death because of snobbery, not the fox and I didn’t want the same to happen in racing.
What was your favourite racing celebration?
When I was in partnership with the Holders near Newent, around 1987-1988, we held our end of season party in Tramps Nightclub, Worcester. We had big screens showing every winner from start to finish. Back then, we were ahead of the game in many ways – with parties as well as training on sand and grass, not woodchip.
Do you have any words of advice?
You can only do a day’s work in a day.
What are your other interests?
I’ve got a massive interest in my daughter’s eventing career. Last season, Harriet won an International on a horse that I have a share in. It was very special.
Favourite meal: Steak.
Favourite drink: Golden bitter.
Favourite holiday destination: I love the Greek islands.
Favourite music: Fleetwood Mac.
(L-R) Robin on Wansford Boy in the early stages of the 1982 Cheltenham Gold Cup, meeting Prince Charles after
Channahrlie won the Royal's namesake amateur race at Ludlow in '04 and Thomas Crapper.