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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

Michael Appleby's Top Team

Here is a selection of short interviews with a range of trainer Michael Appleby’s staff, all recorded in person by Kirsty Whitbread. Their collective camaraderie and laughter was very apparent, as was their care and consideration towards the horses in their care. They are a great example of how a well-rounded team can make the difference between winners and losers on the racetrack, highlighting how the team is vital in Mick Appleby implementing his aim to keep his horses happy.

Charley Graham, 27, is Mick Appleby’s assistant head lass. Originally from Denham in London – ‘a right London girl’ – she now lives in Woolsthrope, Grantham. She describes her collection of pets as a ‘zoo’, which includes a dog and three horses, one of which is an ex-racehorse. Caring for these and all the racehorses at work means Charley doesn’t have ‘time for a partner’ but loves her job, proud of her biggest achievement so far of ‘having the privilege to lead up on Derby Day’.

Did you have a horsey childhood? Growing up, my mum had horses but I didn’t get my own horse until I was fifteen, and I still own her now.

How did you get into racing? My dad went to the pub one day and came across a bloke in there – they were talking and this bloke told him that there was racing yard up the road and I should go there. So, I did and it was Derek Shaw’s.

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles? At Derek shaw’s and Robin Brisland’s, I was yard staff, and at Kevin Frost’s initially as yard staff but subsequently as second travelling head lass and here at Mick’s, as yard staff at first before becoming acting assistant head lass. I’ve been here for four to five years.

What’s the best thing about your boss? He’s very fair, I’d give him that and he gives everyone a chance. He’s approachable and doesn’t beat around the bush. Though to be honest, when he’s outside work, he’s a lot more fun!

What’s been your best day’s racing so far? Definitely going to Redcar with Big Country, when he won the Zetland Gold Cup carrying ten stone, that was a good day.

What your best advice about dealing with horses? It does take up a lot of your time. Don’t expect to have any free time, you have love it and treat horses as your own, otherwise don’t expect to get anywhere.

Favourite drink: Lemonade.

Favourite meal: Hunter’s chicken.

Favourite holiday destination: Tora Bora.

Other hobbies: I do draw, actually quite well, when I have time.

Meet Appleby’s Apprentice jockey, Theodore Ladd. His hometown is Truro, Cornwall, and he now lives in Oakham, near the yard. He has a girlfriend Erica Parkinson, a Dalmatian and a cat. Despite not having a horsey childhood, Theodore has already been successful in racing. He rode his first ever winner round Chester and has ridden quite a few for his present boss, including on yard legend Caspian Prince at Beverley last year.

How did you get into racing? I raced a Shetland round a field and somebody watching said I looked like a jockey! I enjoyed the thrill of going fast on a horse – even now, there’s nothing quite the same.

Theodore winning on El Camino, trained by Mick Appleby

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles? Hughie Morrison’s – started there as a stable lad and got my apprentice jockey and then came here to continue as an apprentice.

Favourite racecourse? Chester.

Best day in racing so far? Winning on Caspian Prince, the Gosforth Cup at Newcastle.

Best advice you can give about racing: Be patient.

Racing hero: John Reid – I was mentored by him at a young age in the early stages of being an apprentice.

Favourite drink: Kopparberg.

Favourite meal: Pizza.

Favourite holiday destination: Italy.

Other hobbies: I like running a lot.

Madan Singh, 40, works as a yard man – a vital cog in the yard wheel, who keeps the horses well cared for, the yard tidy and also goes racing. He could not pick out an achievement so far, just that mucking out is a big one! He is funny, lightening the hours on the yard with laughter and jokes.

Madan’s home is in Jodhpur, India, but lives in Oakham for the majority of the year. He does not have pets but declares that ‘the racehorses are his pets’ .Madan struggled to pick out a favourite horse, stating all of the horses were ‘good’. He has a partner in India and allegedly has a spare one in England, though this was said with a big smile and a chuckle!

Did you have a horsey childhood? No – I’d only seen them on telly.

How did you get into horseracing? I worked in India in horseracing then came over here to do the same.

Favourite racecourse: Ascot, especially when it’s Royal Ascot.

Best day in racing so far? Every day is the best day.

Racing hero: Michael Appleby.

What’s the best thing about the Boss? He’s very good, he employs lazy people like me! He is good fun and easy to talk to.

Favourite drink: Whisky [something was added about whisky making Madan frisky by the interviewer!]

Favourite meal: Chicken curry.

Favourite holiday destination: India, back home.

Other hobbies? No hobbies, just sleeping. And drinking whisky.

Andy Yoxall is Mick Appleby’s head lad and, like the boss, he was born and bred in Barnsley, Yorkshire. He now lives in Langham, Oakham. Andy, 32, has ‘no pets or partner’ and was once a jockey. He says, ‘I had a few rides, rode a winner’. He is in charge of the daily running of the yard, keeping horses and staff happy.

Did you have a horsey childhood? Not really, I just had a racing yard up the road from me and I started going there when I was ten; that was Gary Woodward’s yard and then I went to Jimmy O’Reilly’s.

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles? I’m currently head lad for Mick. Before coming here, I was assistant for Rebel Racing, second head lad at Roger Varian’s and I was point-to-point jockey for Chris Bealby and apprentice a Roy Baron.

Favourite racecourse: Cheltenham.

Best day’s racing so far: Seeing a horse I used to ride every day at Roger Varian’s win the Dewhurst, Belardo.

Best advice you were given about working with horses? Be patient with them. Gary Witherford said, ‘If you act like you’ve got all day, it’ll take two minutes. If you act like you’ve got two minutes, it’ll take all day.

Racing hero: Barney Curley. The theory behind what he did was simple but it took a genius to do what he did.

What’s the best thing about the Boss? He’s so laidback and trustful. He lets you get on with the job he’s employed you to do, and also lets you know if you’re doing something wrong.

Favourite drink: Budweiser.

Favourite meal: Roast dinner.

Favourite holiday destination: Lanzarote.

Other interests: I like watching football. I’m a big Leeds fan.

Nigel Wakefield, 61, is the travelling head lad, who drives lots of racehorses to the races and a lot of winners back home again. He grew up near Nottingham and still lives there, so ‘hasn’t gone far’ and has always been around horses, not just in his capacity as Mick’s head of travelling but also as a showing judge. His knowledge is second to none and the horses are always in good hands when under Nigel’s care.

Did you have a horsey childhood? Yes, I rode a lot of ponies and did just about everything on them.

How did you get into racing? I received a phone call from Ettie Fellgate, asking if I could I drive a box. That was the start of my racing life.

Favourite racecourse: Catterick – obviously for the cakes, which are the best cakes in the country!

What’s your best day’s racing so far? The best day here was when we went through the card at Southwell with a winner in nearly every race, we had five or six by the last race.

What’s the best advice you were given about working in racing? Don’t do it!

Who’s your racing hero? I’ve not one particular hero. There are a few jockeys I think are good, but everyone is on a level playing field, which is the best thing about racing.

Favourite drink: Gin.

Favourite meal: Sunday roast.

Favourite holiday destination: Greek islands.

Other hobbies: I haven’t got the time for anything else, I’m in a lorry all the time! If I’m not here racing, then I’m judging at shows.

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