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The Racing Life Of Kevin Brown - Head Lad to Fergal O'Brien

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Kevin Brown is a stalwart in this sport – he’s worked as a groom from the time when everyone had their ‘own’ set horses to do. He’s ridden on the Flat and over Jumps with four winners, has trained, pre-trained and is now head lad for the successful Fergal O’Brien. He’s seen the yard’s victories increase from sixty-seven to over a century of winners in the past two seasons. The winners are clocking up rapidly this season so there’s no reason why this roll will not continue.

As the yard has expanded, Kev doesn’t ride out anymore but manages the staff, the vets, the farriers among many other tasks. Kev was a top ten finalist of Leadership category in the 2022 Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, highlighting his important role in the yard. Yet, he humbly praises the ‘fabulous team’ around him and the role every individual plays from the yardies, to the part-timers through to the full-timers.

Kev, 50, reiterates that during his time as a groom he looked after ‘nice horses’ and has been associated with big winners such as 1998 Triumph Hurdle winner Upgrade. He also looked after heroic chaser Baron Windrush, winner of the Tote Classic Chase at Warwick and the 2007 Uttoxeter’s Midland Grand National. He grins, recalling how he and the now-trainer Shaun Lycett took Mahler when he won the Grade 1 Heineken Gold Cup in Punchestown in April 1998.

Having grown up in Cheltenham, Kev and his family came ‘home’ to Gloucestershire when he got his present job and have lived in Winchcombe since 2015. He met his partner Vikki Hulton through racing when she worked full time for Jonjo O’Neill and they have two sons, Bradlea (10) and Jacob (7).

How did you get into racing?

I didn’t get involved with horses until I was thirteen, when I went straight into racing. I went to Jim Wilson’s racing stables in Charlton Kings. He was a legend, having won three Pertemps Finals on Willie Wumpkins. They taught me to ride and how to look after horses.

After leaving school, I went to the British Racing School for nine-weeks on Course 22.

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles?

After the BRS, I went to Guy Harwood’s in Sussex for a very short time. Being too young, I came home and I had a short break from racing. But I soon returned and went to Dai Williams’ in Little Buckland, near Broadway. He moved on elsewhere and sent me to Barry C Morgan, who trained Flat horses and a few jumpers. I was there for a few seasons and had my first nineteen rides on the Flat but no winners. I then worked for David Wintle and had some more rides on the Flat.

I started to get too heavy for the Flat so I went back to Jim Wilson’s as a Conditional. I rode my first winner on Kichikoo at Warwick. Over the following two years, I had twenty-odd rides over jumps.

David ‘Bridgey’ Bridgewater schooled regularly for Jim and said I should go to Nigel Twiston-Davies’. I went there in 1995 and still remember the jockeys who were there at the time: Bridgey, Carl Llewelyn, Scott Joynes as amateur, Tom Jenks, Chris Maud and Willie Humphries. Peter Scudamore was there as assistant trainer as well as writing for the Daily Mail. I rode two winners there, in bumpers at Ayr and Warwick on Exterior Profiles. I was at Twiston-Davies’ for thirteen seasons, leaving in 2007.

I returned to work for a licensed trainer when I got in touch with Fergal O’Brien, who was a former colleague from Twiston’s. His head lad has just left and he needed a new one. He still trained at Cilldara Stud but soon moved to Twiston’s top yard. We moved to Ravenswell, a newly built yard, in 2019.

2006 Grand National: Kev and Baron Windrush

Did you pre-train and train racehorses?

After leaving Twistons’, I worked for Michael Gates, training his ‘pointers and had a few winners under his name. I worked by myself, only helped by Vikki when she wasn’t at Jonjo’s.

Around 2011 I worked for the owner Dai Walters doing his pre-training, including Oscar Whisky, Whisper, Top Gamble and William Henry. We lived near Cardiff and that’s when Vikki and I started our family. My friend and former colleague, Paul Seddon, came to work there too.

Did racing ever take you abroad?

In the summer of my second season at Twiston’s, I rode in races in Norway and had a winner.

When the 2000 Pertemps Final winner Rubhahunish was to run in France, his lad Lee ‘Sooty’ Suthern couldn’t go so all our names went into a hat. I got lucky and mine was pulled out. I had a fabulous week in Chantilly with the late Gilbert Parker from CHT, Cotswold Horse Transport.

What have been your favourite racehorses?

Upgrade will always be my favourite.

Creevy Tennant got so many young jockeys going – Sam Drinkwater, Conor Shoemark, Lilly Pinchin and Conor Brace. He was a legend – very keen on the gallops but a kid could have ridden him round the village.

I also loved watching Itsabraq and Galileo race.

Triumph Hurdle Winner Upgrade

Which is your favourite racecourse?

Cheltenham – it’s the home of National Hunt.

Who are your racing heroes?

Two trainers I was in awe of were Sir Henry Cecil and Aidan O’Brien.

There are so many but two Flat jockeys I admired were Kieran Fallon and Mick Kinane.

Over the years, how has racing changed for the better?

In some cases, it hasn’t but there are way more opportunities for staff in every respect, for both grooms and jockeys. There are a lot of courses and more education for everyone nowadays.

And, for the worse?

Working in racing is more difficult and more pressurised – as a head lad, it’s seven days a week, 365 days a year of long hours – everything is bigger and busier. The summers used to be easier with the racing only on at Stratford and Worcester, but now it’s so busy all year round. From a personal level, it’s difficult having a young family – that’s the job, it’s hard but the rewards are worth it every time.

In your opinion, how has the stable staff crisis come about?

Nowadays, if staff don’t want to or can’t ride in races, they don’t hang around in racing for long, adding to the shortage of stable staff.

What have been your best days in racing so far?

To be honest, it’s always a winning day when you come home with every runner, but winning both Grand Nationals at Nigel Twiston-Davies’, with Earth Summit and Bindaree, were my best two days ever. We had massive parties after each win!

What were the best racing parties you’ve been to?

All big winners at Twiston’s were celebrated in a huge fashion.

Describe your role at Fergal O’Brien’s:

You name it, I do it. I’m a jack of all trades. If Ferg wants it done, I get it done.

Favourite drink: A glass of red.

Favourite meal: Vikki’s amazing beef strips in a peppered mushroom sauce.

Favourite holiday destination: What’s a holiday? (Cornwall is my favourite!)

Ideal day off: Do they exists? (Christmas Day with the family.)

Hobbies: I love gardening, especially watching my dahlias coming through! I enjoy running. I’ve done the London Marathon twice for charity: once with Ally Stirling for Whizz-Kidz and alone for Racing Welfare in four Hours, ten minutes. The third time was on my own merit and I did it in 3:47.

To be honest, I don’t really have the time for anything else.

The Hulton-Brown family, Cornwall, summer 2022

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