An Interview with Head Lad Wayne Jones
Wayne Jones describes his childhood as ‘not particularly horsey’ but that did not stop his adolescent dreams of being a jockey. He grew up near Chepstow, Wales and after starting out on the Flat, he found a pathway into National Hunt. He’s been a head lad for a handful of top trainers and, after a hiatus working for racehorse vet Ben Brain, he resumed head lad duties a couple of years ago for current employer Dr Richard Newland.
Wayne, far left, with Sam Twiston-Davies, Dr Newland
and Chef De Troupe - Sam's 1000th winner
Wayne, 39, was associated with top hurdler The New One for most of his illustrious career and for eighteen of his twenty wins, including six at Cheltenham. In previous jobs, Wayne had ridden the likes of Exotic Dancer and Clan Royal at home.
He lives in Droitwich, Worcestershire with partner Siobahn Humphries and son Oliver, who turned one this summer.
If working with racehorses is not enough, Wayne has owned racing greyhounds for twenty years. He and Siobahn still own ex-racer Buster, having owned him on the track.
How did you get into racing?
When I was twelve, I initially learnt to ride at Milton Bradley’s and went to the British Racing School.
What roles have you had in racing?
After Milton Bradley’s, as a stopgap, I worked at Oak Grove Stud where the racing manager suggested that I should go to Brendan Powel’s, who was just setting up. I was there for a year and had my first few rides over jumps. I then went to Jonjo’s; I was there for a long time, approximately nine years. I was head lad there until I left and became head lad for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Whilst at Nigel’s, I worked part-time for the wind op vet Ben Brain and before going full-time for a couple of years.
Dr Newland was expanding so I moved there in May 2019. It was an exciting time as he’d just added a brand-new purpose-built yard.
Were you a jockey?
I had about ten rides for Milton Bradley on the Flat as an Apprentice, but I always wanted to go jumping. I had my first few rides as a conditional for Brendan Powel. I then went to Jonjo O’Neill’s and I rode a couple of winners, one for JP McManus on Goss.
In a nutshell, describe your role as head lad:
I feed, ride three or four lots and check round. I’m in charge of the health and welfare of the horses and I manage the staff.
Which have been the best horses you’ve looked after?
The New One (nicknamed Ken) – he’s the only horse I ‘did’ at Nigel’s and in fact for years before that.
What is your favourite racecourse?
Aintree. It’s really fun but the racing is still top class.
Who is your racing hero/heroine?
AP McCoy, with whom I worked at Jonjo’s, and Dickie Johnson.
I’d also like to put emphasis on Jonjo O’Neill too. I rode for Brendan Powel but Jonjo gave me the winners and a chance to become a head lad. I learnt such a lot there about racing, schooling and caring for racehorses.
Wayne with Goss after winning at Newton Abbot in August 2005
What have been your best day in racing?
Ken winning the Neptune at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
What has been the best racing celebration you’ve been too?
Definitely the party down the Hollow Bottom after Ken’s Festival win. I was very sick the next day!
What are the best aspects about working in racing?
Being close to the horses and winning on the big days!
And the worst?
Losing a horse.
What are your hobbies?
What is your favourite drink?
What is your favourite movie?
The Shawshank Redemption.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Having spent approximately six years riding and looking after ‘Ken’ in training, from a Ludlow bumper win to all those big days round big tracks, it was a no-brainer that Wayne would take on his favourite through retirement a couple of years later.
‘He was always so easy to do anything with,” said Wayne.
The pair shared more brilliant times, competing in showing and jumping hedges out hunting. They did a lot of parades – including at Haydock and Warwick, in-hand and ridden, including at HOYS in 2019. Tragically, their time together was cut short after a mere two years: Ken died too early, aged twelve, from colic. The solace, perhaps, is that Wayne can take away the memories of Ken and his legacy on a racecourse from all those big wins.
‘The Neptune will always be my favourite win, and also his third International Hurdle, when Dickie rode him,’ he recalls.
And just simply remembering the pair together, at the races or on the gallops and the too few in retirement, mean that Ken remains etched on the memories of racing fans.