An Interview with Johnson White, Assistant Trainer to Philip Hobbs
Racing might be in Johnson White’s blood but he still carved his own way in National Hunt. He was a decent amateur jockey and subsequently became Assistant Trainer to Somerset-based Philip Hobbs. He has been there for over twenty-five years, caring for many big winners and managing the yard and staff back home. He describes racing days of winners and agonising seconds – big winners and smaller winners that always mean a lot. He’s present back home, day in day out; the backbone of the yard.
Photo Credit: Sarah Matthews
In 2015, his loyalty and aptitude were rewarded when winning the final of the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards in the Leadership category, which Johnson describes as a ‘huge honour’.
Johnson, 47, grew up in Devon, about thirty minutes from where he now lives, half a mile from the yard. He lives with wife Liz, two kids Molly, 18 and Ed, 17 and he has eight chickens and five ducks. ‘The rest of the family have three dogs,’ he laughs.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
Very much so, I grew up around ponies and was from a hunting family. My father was a point-to-point jockey. I wasn’t very academic so it was the natural way to go!
How did you get into racing?
Having been born and bred in racing, I worked through my summer holidays for Philip Hobbs since I was 13 or 14. My first full time job was for Captain Tim Forster, where I was amateur jockey. I rode about seventy ‘point winners and twenty under Rules.
What were your best days as a jockey?
My best days were having four winners in a day’s ‘pointing, winning the Land Rover Final and I once ‘steered’ Dublin Flyer round to win at Wincanton.
Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles?
I was at the Captain’s for four years as an amateur and then I went to Philip Hobbs’, where I’ve been Assistant for twenty-six years.
Describe your job in a nutshell:
We train 111 horses and manage forty staff. I assist in the day to day running of the yard, including the work list and overseeing everything.
What has been your best day’s racing as an Assistant Trainer?
Thyme Hill winning the Liverpool Hurdle at this year’s Aintree – it had been a tough season and it was great to get him there.
What was your favourite Cheltenham winner?
What’s Up Boys winning the Coral Cup in 2000 and there’s always Defi Du Seuil too.
What has been your favourite non-Cheltenham winner?
The Disengager winning a Listed race round Market Rasen.
What has been the most satisfying winner that you have assisted in getting to the track?
The pressure of the run-up to Rooster Booster’s Champion Hurdle means that his win was a relief, rather than joy. It’s sad but it is the reality. The big days are great but below average horses winning moderate races for appreciative owners is as satisfying. Dream Alliance is an example of having the loveliest owners who appreciated every day out, as well as every win.
Which have been your favourite horses?
The favourites are the ones that are around for a long time – they keep their enthusiasm, stay sound and they’re always game. The older they get the better they are, like Menorah.
Who was your racing hero?
When I was growing up, my hero was Richard Dunwoody. He was the one to watch and from whom to learn. Later, in the weighing room, I was then sitting along from him and chatting to him, which was phenomenal.
Which is the race you would most like to win?
The Grand National – there’s that slight uncertainty; you still need a very good horse and luck.
How has racing changed over the years?
Racing hasn’t changed an awful lot – finding and retaining good staff is more difficult and trying to get new owners is hard with prize money as it is.
What is the best thing about racing?
It’s a fantastic way of life, not just a job.
What are your hobbies?
Cricket, tennis, skiing, gardening, shooting and meeting friends for a beer or two.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
Anywhere skiing and Mustique in the Caribbean was very special.
What’s your favourite meal?
My wife Liz is a professional caterer so I’m well fed but beef wellington is my favourite.
What’s your favourite drink?
What’s your favourite type of day off midwinter?