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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

An Interview with Trainer Adrian Wintle

‘I love what I do,’ declares trainer Adrian Wintle.

The former top amateur jockey reflects on a successful riding career in which he rode over two hundred winners in point-to-points and under Rules. He won the Lady Dudley Cup in 2000 on Distinctive by twenty lengths and a John Corbet Cup at Stratford on Philtre, stating that he ‘was one of the best horses I rode’. He rode at eight Cheltenham Festivals and won on Muntafi at the Cheltenham hunter chase evening in 1999.

Adrian, 46, worked for the doyenne of National Hunt in Henrietta Knight and once rode for another in Jenny Pitman. He rode Smarty, running under her son Mark’s name, in a Newbury hunter chase only a couple of seasons after he’d been second in a Gold Cup. ‘Jenny had an aura, a presence about her. I knew I shouldn’t mess up!’

After a few busy years riding under Rules, Adrian, then in his mid-twenties, went back to riding regularly in ‘points. He became one of the most prolific jockeys in the West Midland point-to-point area. Another achievement was finishing in a couple of Aintree Foxhunters’: ‘I parted company at the Canal Turn on Royal Hector when he was going well, which was probably my best chance’.

‘ In the latter years of my ‘pointing career, I rode very successfully for the late Andy Hobbs and owner Clive Hitchings. I will always be grateful for their support.’ Through those connections, amongst many other winners, Adrian won twelve on St Reverien and five on Springbrook Girl.

As well as the owners and trainers Adrian once rode for, his fellow riders, his friends, are vivid memories. The first winner Adrian trained was ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, who’d been his best mate since they were teenagers. ‘I can remember us riding at Brecon point-to-point together, with Richard Burton too – we were all sixteen at the time. I rode Dickie and Fiona Johnson’s first winner they trained themselves. Themanfromfraam won a maiden at Maisemore and then followed up a month later in a restricted. Dickie then rode my first winner!’

After retiring as a jockey, Adrian eventually followed in his family footsteps by becoming a trainer – his late Uncle David Wintle was a very shrewd trainer. He trains at the family farm where he grew up, near Westbury-upon-Severn, Gloucestershire. Every morning, he walks the short distance to the yard, where a new barn has recently been built. There are two gallops, a sand round and an uphill straight of carpet-fibre.

It took a couple of years to gain the first winner, when Silver Coaster complied in August 2012 in a Stratford novices’ chase. Since then, there’s been a shift towards training on the Flat and Adrian aims to have over twenty horses in training this season. He’s sent out thirty-nine winners over the last five seasons. ‘The more I train, the more I enjoy it, especially buying that cheaper horse that does well.’

Adrian has a partner Louise, stepdaughter Pippa, stepson Archie and son Leo, plus retriever Tink and new terrier puppy, Sooty.

What are your family connections to racing? My Uncle David trained up the road. My first winner aged 16 was an Arab trained with my uncle’s string thirty years ago. I had three older sisters, Sally was head girl to our uncle; sadly, we lost her to cancer five years ago. Another sister Jane, who lives next door, is married to Chris Broad, the now-retired jockeys’ agent. Chris also used to train and I started out there whilst still at college.

A young Adrian with his Uncle David

Which jockeys did you look up to when you were younger? Richard Dunwoody and Jason Titley.

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles? During my A-levels, I rode a double at the Maisemore in my first season riding. Terry Biddlecombe was the judge and he had a word with my Dad and Uncle Chris. I was ‘packed off’ to Henrietta Knight’s and was there for five years as a pupil assistant and later assistant.

Were you ever a conditional jockey? No, I struggled to do ten stone. There would have been no quality of life turning conditional.

How did you start training? It was always inevitable! Training was in my blood. When I was younger, I helped out my Uncle David when he started training in the Cotswolds. My friends – ‘all the boys’ – were around there. Everyone thought I worked for the Duke (trainer David Nicholson) but I didn’t – I never did. I started training approximately seven years ago with a permit.

winning the Lady Dudley Cup on Distinctive

How did you adapt to start training on the Flat? My Uncle was always dual purpose and my dad said I should do more on the Flat. I was always associated with jumping but have turned full circle to do the Flat. I’ve gone with the flow. My switch towards the Flat coincided with lockdown. I was struggling to fill orders to buy more jumpers and I was unwilling to compromise.

The first Flat horse I bought was three and a half years ago, Kenstone. He was rated 48, and ran for me twelve times in twelve months, winning five and was never out of the first three. He won over forty grand and won round Chester, became rated 87. Kenstone taught me a lot about training on the Flat and I’m still looking for another just like him! I bought Seaforth for £800 and he’s been brilliant.

What do you enjoy about training on the Flat? There are less injuries. It’s a different type of training; you don’t have to be quite so physically hard on them over such a long period of time as with jumpers. It’s less stressful – you can run them sooner. Flat training is a more simplistic – you can run a horse to a level it can win and come back down the handicap to win again.

Also, I like buying value for money – buying castoffs, like my Uncle David did with Yule Log, and turning them around. I get a buzz out of it.

Who has been the biggest influence in your training career? I left Hen’s not realising how much influence she’d had over me. Though, I came to realise this, in my fourth year of training. Like her, I write my lots in a book, not up on a board, I’m able to cross-refer and look back.

What are your favourite racecourses under Rules? As a jockey, it was Hereford. I once rode a double there, one trained by Sirrell Griffiths and the other by Milton Bradley, beating the pros. As a trainer, it’s Bath: we’ve had a lot of luck there, seventeen winners and have been Leading Trainer there.

What was your favourite racecourse ‘pointing? My local track Maisemore: I rode a lot of winners there.

How has racing changed over the years? When I look back, being a jockey would have been easier if I’d been a little bit lighter and less of a pig. Losing weight in the sauna was the wrong way. Now, jockeys have a lot of help and advice to do things properly.

What’s your philosophy? To keep training winners. Even if they’re winning the worst races, at least they’re winning.

Please describe your character: I grew up the youngest with three older sisters and then I worked for a female trainer: it helped being laidback and relaxed. I wouldn’t be a shouter.

How have you diversified personally in recent years? I have a small business so I have multiple roles – I from farming and hay making, keeping some and selling some, and I do a lot of maintenance! I don’t ride out a lot nowadays. I’ve always driven the lorry – why go in the car when the lorry is going there anyway?

How does your yard run? In the yard, all the feeds are done in advance and pretty much everything, like the brushing, is done in the morning; so evening stables are easy. It’s not serviceable to continue using the old-fashioned methods – we’ve adapted as a team. My staff have more time off than in other yards and work only one weekend in four, even if that means they have to work really hard on their weekends on.

What was the best advice you were given? As a jockey, Terry Biddlecombe used to tell me that ‘you can’t weigh talent’ and he, like me, was renowned for struggling with his weight. As a trainer, I was once told in relation to a horse’s workload, ‘when in doubt, do less’.

Is social media positive or negative? I use it in a positive manner, to celebrate the winning side of the sport and to be informative of the yard’s successes. There’s a fine line of overdoing it, though.

Kenstone winning at Bath

Favourite drink: Sparkling water.

Favourite meal: No question there, a Chinese.

Favourite holiday destination: What’s a holiday?

Favourite music: Cheesy ballads.

Other interests: Breeding racehorses – I get a lot of enjoyment out of it. I used to bunk days off school to go to the sales, not always to go racing. Dickie Johnson and I share Silver Coaster, a broodmare, so we will hopefully breed some nice foals.

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