An Interview with Leigh Pollard, Head of Travelling to Kim Bailey.
Leigh Pollard, 37, is a familiar sight next to Kim Bailey’s runners. Her love of horses goes beyond the racecourse and she competes her own horses. Leigh lives in Churchdown, only about fifteen minutes from the yard, and her constant companion is Dylan, a four-year-old terrier-pug cross. He has been a "lorry dog" since a puppy and goes most places with Leigh.
Photo Credit: Geraldine Smith
Did you ride as a child?
I started riding at the age of 5 and had my own ponies from the age of 10. I have always had horses since then and now have three ex-racehorses of my own. One is retired but I enjoy eventing and team chasing when I have time!
How did you get into racing?
My ex-boyfriend followed racing and owned racehorses, so I was able to go racing with him regularly and spend time with his horses. I was a member of Cheltenham racecourse and attended every meeting. I worked at a riding school then a thoroughbred stud and when I left there, I wanted to get into the riding side so joined a point-to-point yard in Surrey.
What trainers have you worked for?
I worked for point-to-point jockey/trainer Phil York for 2 years and I have been with Kim Bailey for 8; starting as a stable lad then moving to second travelling and now travelling head girl.
What other equestrian activities do you compete in?
I compete in one day events through the summer and team chase in spring and autumn. I also enjoy hunting, but I don’t often have time to go!
What is your favourite racehorse?
My favourite racehorse that I used to look after was Wedger Pardy. He arrived at Kim Bailey’s at the same time I did, and I was lucky enough to look after him and ride him regularly. He was a cross country specialist and so ran at Cheltenham Racecourse and at the Festival. I try not to get to attached to individual horses now as it gets difficult when they retire or move on but I do have a soft spot for certain horses that I lead up on a regular basis, including Wandrin Star who has won several races and recently ran in the Beecher around the Grand National fences.
What is your favourite racecourse?
Cheltenham has to be my favourite because of the atmosphere, and the fact that it is unlike anywhere else. I used to go to every meeting there before I worked in racing, so I feel I know it well. It is notoriously difficult to win races there and so any good run is a real achievement. It is the only place I don’t complain about the long lead up!!
What has been your favourite day’s racing so far?
There have been so many good days racing that it is hard to pick them out but winning at the Festival was a huge highlight, and leading up Charbel in the Tingle Creek at Sandown always stands out. He didn’t win but I felt very lucky to have a runner good enough to be in the race.
Please describe what it was like to drive a Festival winner?
Winning at the Festival was amazing! It was a long time coming and a bit of a relief! You always hope it will happen and there had been a lot of expectation around Imperial Aura and Vinndication but you never really believe it will happen. It had been five years since our last winner (my first season travelling) so it was a very big deal! When Vinndication just missed out, it was disappointing so Imperial Aura storming up the hill was even more special! He has a lot of owners, so the winner's enclosure had a real party atmosphere, but then your brain has to kick back into gear as we a runner in the next race. It's very strange as nothing really stands still in racing. You have an amazing moment and then you are onto the next race/horse/meeting. I couldn't even really party as I had five runners at Huntingdon the next day! It was a very special moment though and we are very hopeful it will be the first of many more to come.
Do you have any plans for the future?
I have worked hard to get to the point I am at now and I am settled in my job and have no thoughts about moving on. I feel that I have been with Kim Bailey for so long now that, if I was to leave, I would come out of racing rather than move to another yard. I plan to get my HGV license in the near future, which will give me more options when the time comes.
What is your typical day's racing?
My typical day racing would be to arrive at the yard around an hour and a half before I am due to leave for the races. I will clean and sort the kit (bridles/girths etc) from the day before and make sure I have all the correct kit for the day. I will prepare the horses for travelling and load them and the kit on the lorry. We aim to arrive at the races around 2 and a half hours before the horse is due to run and on arrival I will bath and plait the horse and declare (signing them in and putting the colours in the weighing room). I will get the horse ready for the race and leave the stable yard half an hour before he is due to run. After the horse has run, I will wash him and walk him until he has stopped blowing. Wash the bridle etc then, if all is well, take the horse home. Once we return home and the horse is rugged up and happy in his stable, I will repack the kit for the next day.
What is your favourite aspect of racing?
I feel very lucky to be at the business end of the job and to see the end result. Everyone works towards getting the horses to the races in the best possible condition and we all hope they will run their best, so it is nice to be there to see it.
And your least favourite?
The weather!! Especially last year when it was particularly wet and the ground was always soft, everything came back covered in mud and took a lot of cleaning!! It is not much fun being outside all day when it is wet and windy.
What is the best advice you can give about working in racing?
To work hard and prove yourself. You won’t get given opportunities for no reason but if you work hard, you will be well rewarded.
Photo Credit: Sarah Matthews
What is the best advice you were given?
Not so much advice but I applied for the travelling head girl job straight from being a stable girl, but I was turned down as Mr Bailey didn’t feel I was ready. I was devastated at the time but then he created the second travelling job for me. I look back on it now and I am grateful he did it that was as I was definitely not ready. I learnt a lot that year so when the job came up again, I could do it well.
What is your ideal day off?!
Spending time with my horses. Some think I am mad, but it is completely different from working with them. I particularly enjoy a successful day out competing!
Dylon the lorry dog.