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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

The Racing Life of Lee Moulson

Updated: Apr 4

‘The best way to describe my life is that I wear many different hats!’ chuckles Lee Moulson. This onetime stable lad has also been a jockey, assistant trainer, graduate and, more recently, employed by some of the most successful racecourses.

Having gained a degree in Business Management for the Racing Industry, Lee, 44, is an advocate of studying but still sounds disheartened about the journey he was forced to undertake beforehand. ‘After deciding I didn't want my career to be in a yard but not wanting to leave the racing industry, I’d applied for jobs. I didn't even get interviews because people didn’t recognise the varied skill set a stable lad has. I knew I would’ve been just as good at these jobs with or without a degree but didn't get an opportunity.’

Three years of fulltime study at Moreton Morell College still allowed time for Lee to ride out in the mornings, attend college lectures and return for evening stables. ‘It was much easier to get interviews once I’d got that degree, which is so wrong.’ Lee explains why he wants to open up racing to a wider workforce: ‘A real driver of mine is that racing should be teaching more transferable skills. We already know people in racing are passionate about it. We should be creating opportunities, so they stay in the industry longer and when they're ready to make that transition onto other roles, they aren’t faced with barriers.’

Drive, passion and inspirational are words that describe Lee. He’s in it for the people that have been largely overlooked. ‘From my own experience, I've always said to the BHA that jockeys have the JETS scheme, and stable staff need similar.’ Lee is now the co-director of Mirage And Mole, the marketing agency he founded with friend Emma Marley. ‘Emma and I met through racing when she was working for the trainer Tony Carroll. We decided to leave our jobs in yards at the same time and sent out those letters, did a degree together and now run our business together.’

 

Having grown up in the village of Westergate, a few miles from Chichester, Lee lives with his partner Philip Wardle in Drointon, Staffordshire. They met on match.com – Philip was the first person Lee spoke to through the dating app and they cohabit with Sheila the border terrier, Twix the saluki and Dick the black cat, as well as menagerie of chickens, ducks and horses.

           

Did you have a horsey childhood? I don't come from a horsey family and, when I was younger, I didn't really have many friends. But, at about seven, one of the few friends I

had, Annabel, told me all about how she went to the local riding school. She offered to take me there the following weekend. Ride ponies and muck out ponies, I thought, why not? So, I persuaded my parents to let me go and I absolutely loved it. From then on, I went every weekend and during the holidays. I was always badgering my parents to get me a pony and they finally relented, saying I had to help look after her. I secured morning and evening paper rounds to pay towards her, which instilled a good work ethic within me.

 

How did you get into racing? I got into racing by complete accident! One day when I was about twelve, I was riding my pony down Fontwell Avenue and, after she spooked, I took her onto the pavement to regain her confidence. A van pulled up beside me and the lady driving pointed out I shouldn't be riding on the pavement... I explained what had happened and the lady said I seemed like a sensible young man. She went onto explain that she was a head girl at the racing yard down the road, and would I be interested in going there about a job? I absolutely was!

            To cut a long story short, I went there – to Peter Hedger’s – that Sunday and that was literally the start of working there every week. I used to muck out spare stables, chop the carrots and do all the yard work. I loved it when they schooled: Mark Richards and Darren O’Sullivan took the horses over the fences, and I was obsessed with watching them. After all, I was only interested in going fast and jumping my pony. I used to do weekends and holidays, and I did my work experience there.

Lee's first winner he led up


Which trainers have you worked for? From Peter’s, at sixteen, I attended the British Racing School and went to Nicky Henderson’s, which I loved. Back then during the summers, the jump yards shut down, so for a couple of seasons, I returned home to ride out for John Dunlop.

I had a brief stint as a conditional jockey at Lawrence Wells’ in Sussex and I did a summer with Nicolas Clement in Chantilly, France. I returned to Nicky’s before moving to Warwickshire with my ex. I worked for Roger Brookhouse in the mornings, where I was amateur, whilst my partner at the time, Mick Appleby, and I had a ‘pointing and livery yard where I worked in the afternoons. Mick decided to begin training so I was assistant trainer for him too.

 

Were you ever jockey? I rode as a conditional and amateur. When I lived in Warwick, the ARO (Arabian Racing Organisation) held thoroughbred races so I trained a horse called Trouble Maker (pictured below) as a hobby and rode him myself.


Favourite racehorses: Viking Flagship was one of the reasons why I fell in love with racing. I still think that race at the Cheltenham Festival, when Deep Sensation, Travado and Viking Flagship came to the last upsides, is one of the all-time greatest races. I loved Viking Flagship so much. When I had finished at the racing school, I asked to go and work for David ‘the Duke’ Nicholson. They gave me Nicky Henderson instead but I’d wanted to go to the Duke’s because he trained Viking Flagship.

            In the ‘90s, I also loved Toogood To Be True. I had a winning 25p patent on him and ended up winning over £50, which, when I was so young, was loads of money. After that, I always followed and loved him.

            During my time working at Nicky Henderson's, I loved Classy Lad whom I used to ride and I adored Mister Banjo.

            When Mick started training, we co-owned Western Roots with Gorden Hodgetts, who everyone called Mop. We claimed Western Roots at Wolverhampton, and he went on to win four races. Mick went to Andrew Balding's, taking Western Roots with him; he won five more before we sold him privately. I adored that horse too.

 

Favourite racecourses: Fontwell because I used to go there a lot as a kid as it was my local track. My PE teacher knew I was fond of racing so, during double PE on a Monday afternoon, she’d let me bike to Fontwell just to watch, which was cool. Also, I had my first ride (Cardinal Way trained by Lawrence Wells) and my last ride (Maybe Maybe for Mick Appleby) under Rules there.

            Uttoxeter, because when I was at university studying for my degree, we went there on a field trip. Julie Harrington, who’s now the BHA chairman, was general manager. I was so inspired by her and Uttoxeter, which, at the time, was leading the way in terms of customer experience. It was still owned by Sir Stanley Clarke, who was big on that so I was blown away. From that day, all I wanted to do was manage a racecourse.

            Of course, I mustn’t forget Cheltenham.

 

Favourite jockeys: I love Jonjo Junior O’Neill – he rides so well and comes across great on camera. The amateur Huw Edwards because he rode me a winner! Also, a mention goes to Joshua Parker because he's helped us a lot with the ‘pointers.

 

Which were your best days in racing? During my career in the Jockey Club, it was launching the Chez Roux Restaurant at the Cheltenham Festival. I was really proud of changing that experience. Working at the Festival, two standout days were when Sprinter Sacre won and the day that Frodon and Paisley Park won. Training Trouble Maker to win the Arab races and Silver Sheen winning a point-to-point in February this year were also brilliant days.

 

Which big winners have you led up? At Henderson’s, I looked after a horse called Mister Banjo (pictured), who won his first race at Cheltenham at the December meeting. He then won the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle over Christmas at Chepstow and went back to Cheltenham for Festival Trials Day in 2001, for the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle,

which was then called the Wrass & Co Finesse. ‘Bango’ ended up favourite for the 2000 Triumph. I begged the governor not to run him because he loved bottomless ground, which was drying up by March. He had an entry for the Royal & SunAlliance over two and a half miles, which I would have chosen. Yet, Banjo was owned by the Million In Mind syndicate and, after owning the successful Mysilv, they wanted to go for another Triumph. Banjo was absolutely run off his feet but he passed ten horses in the home straight to finish tenth. We actually had the second in the race with Regal Exit.

Banjo was sold at the Horses In Training sale for, at the time a record, £260,000, which was an awful lot of money then. He was bought by John Hales and went to Paul Nicholls, where he won a Relkeel Hurdle. He was such an amazing little horse.

I also led up Bacchanal, Marlborough when he was second to Gloria Victis in the Racing Post Chase and an array of good horses but I didn't look after them.

 

What was the best thing about working in a racing yard? Without a doubt, the horses. It's always been about the horses – my love of horses is what drove me to go into racing.

To be honest, life was carefree; every day I rode horses, which is all I ever wanted to do. It was being connected to the horse; I don't think there's anything else like it. If we can communicate this message out to people then it's better for the industry: anyone can come into racing and have a career as well as working with the most amazing animals.

If my body would let me, I’d go back and do it all again tomorrow.

 

What was the worst thing about working in a racing yard? Back then, it was the hours. It's so different now. I do think that, slowly but surely, trainers are understanding that staff need a work-life balance. However, when I was in a yard, there was no work-life balance. It was just work, work, work. We’d start at 5:00 and then be waiting for the governor to come back from the races to look round the yard, finishing after 7:00 at night. It was such long hours. We were lucky if we got our one and a half days off a fortnight; I wanted to see friends but was always too knackered.

 

What made you seek a different direction within the racing industry? When I was in my mid-twenties, I kept seeing jobs advertised in the Racing Post and I was thinking, in my ideal world, that I’d like to continue riding out in the morning and to do something different in the afternoon. I longed to stay within the racing industry. Having applied for these jobs, I was really frustrated that I never got interviews.

My body, as much as I wanted it to, wasn't going to be able to continuously ride four lots a day. I was young enough to retrain but had no support. I wrote letters to many big organisations asking for sponsorship but, in the end, I funded the university course myself.


What roles have you had? Once I had finished my degree, I went to Cheltenham as a hospitality sales executive on maternity cover, when Edward Gillespie was still the managing director. After that ended, I did a couple of years in radio, managing sponsorship events and marketing, which was a good learning curve. In 2010, I returned to the Jockey Club when I got the job as sales executive at Warwick Racecourse. I got promoted to commercial manager and, in 2013, to racing sales manager at Cheltenham. After six months, I then rose up to be regional head of sales, which I did until I left in 2020.

 

Which was your favourite out of these roles? I loved being commercial manager at Warwick. I was responsible for everything: the admissions, hospitality, conference and events, membership, marketing. Complete control of those lines meant I had to make the right decisions in terms of marketing. I learnt the most in that role and it was pivotal to my career. I loved working at Warwick with a fabulous team; we had a lot of fun and worked really hard.

 

How has racing changed since you came into the industry? Finally, there is much more focus on people, which is a really great thing. There's the formation of the new people board, which is trying to come up with strategies and initiatives on wellbeing, equality, diversity and inclusion. A lot of great things are happening, including Women In Racing, Racing Pride, the Riding A Dream Academy and Racing Media Academy.

Yet, what needs to happen now is a much more cohesive strategy across the whole industry to move this work onto the next level. This is something that I'm hugely passionate about. I'm hoping better things will happen for people and their development. By spreading the net wider, making sure people know there is a career for them in racing; no one needs to have ridden a horse and they don't even need to work with horses – there are endless employment possibilities on the racecourse side.


Advice for people coming into racing: Look at coming into racing as a career option. Not everyone is going to be a jockey and that needs to be communicated, but you can still have a really good career in racing: in a yard, in the office, an admin role, or a racecourse. Don't be afraid to ask for help, support and career advice especially as there's so much out there.

 

Advice for people wanting to leave a job in a yard but not racing: Firstly, have the conversation with your trainer and state your long-term aspirations, and together see what options are out there. Racing Pathway is a project I work on, that was launched in conjunction with the BHA, and provides a business administration apprenticeship delivered by Haddon Training and is designed specifically for the horse racing industry. We started to see people ride out in the morning and then go into the office in the afternoons, whilst completing this business apprenticeship. There are options out there for employers to help retrain people within their yard, increasing their skills. The scary thing is when you're twenty-five, and thirty is near, and you're thinking about not wanting to be riding for much longer, you panic and leave racing.

            Secondly, contact other employers like the Jockey Club and ARC. They love people who have experience in the industry and they offer other careers, like on the grounds team. It's amazing how many career options are out there.

 

Are you still in racing? Emma and my marketing business Mirage And Mole have a number of clients in the racing industry; we do social media for a syndicate and marketing for a couple of trainers. I work with Josh and Abby Apiafi on the Racing Pathway, I project manage the Racing Media Academy and I’m a trustee for the BRS. At home, Phil and I breed from a couple of thoroughbreds and have a couple of point-to-pointers, Silver Sheen and First Venture.

 

What is your role in creating diversity within racing? Josh Apiafi is very passionate about this topic and, when I was at the Jockey Club, I had done a lot on it. At the end of 2020, we were in conversation and he voiced his frustrations about previous slow progress. After a consultation, we launched the Racing Pathway strategy and since then, we've launched various initiatives to create more ways for people to come into racing.

At the start, Josh funded all this work personally, putting his money where his mouth is. I helped facilitate organisations into racing, like the Stephen Lawrence Foundation, marrying them up with an organisation in racing like ARC, which created four new apprenticeships at Lingfield Racecourse. The Stephen Lawrence Foundation alone has helped to bring young people into apprenticeships within racing – inner city youngsters who would not have had exposure to racing or racehorses, so they don't know such opportunities even exist. Youth Unity arrange for young people from seriously deprived areas to attend the BRS on experience weeks. By the end, they're grooming, patting horses and riding, never having seen a horse before. This can be life changing for some of these young people, as well leading onto a place on the foundation course.

First and foremost is letting people know that racing is an option. They have no idea racing is fantastic, where you get to work outside, with horses and, in its own way, is also an apprenticeship. Racing is very insular; we've got to get better at taking it out there, like the work of the Racing Pathway is trying break down these barriers.

 

What is your role at the BRS? I went to the BRS at sixteen; I also did my NVQs, conditional jockey course and racing secretary course there: I’ve been on  every course they’ve offered. After I'd finished the first year of the Racing Media Academy, I saw an advert to become a trustee, applied and got it, and now I'm in my third year.

Lee, on the back row, on the verge of completing his nine week course at the BRS.

I felt like I could add value to that organisation from my own lived experience and from experience gained from working with the Racing Pathway and within marketing. I thought I’d bring a lot of things to the table. I sit with the other trustees and senior management team and make decisions, create awareness about the fact it's a charity, which is a big message for me as the BRS isn't seen as one of racing's charities. We also work with the fundraisers to boost the very limited funding.

I feel that this is my way of giving back to a sport I've always been involved with.

 

How did you move on to your present business? After meeting Phil, I spoke to my bosses at the Jockey Club, saying I didn't want to leave the organisation, but I wanted to move to Staffordshire. There was talk I might get to run Haydock but this didn't happen, so I was backed into a corner and had to make a decision in December 2019.

Emma and I had a chat about starting our own business. I handed in my notice and worked until Cheltenham Gold Cup day 2020. The next day, I moved to Staffordshire. A week later, we were locked down because of the coronavirus. That first year was a bit scary; I was having to do a bit of this, that and the other to make ends meet and I wasn't eligible for any support or furlough. It was tough. We had started the business in March 2020 but, in order to survive, had to do different things and it's only now, we're getting more racing clients.

 

Why is your business called Mirage And Mole? From our nicknames at university. I was Mirage because I was always blagging us into bars and clubs, and always managed to get free champagne. Emma was Mole because whenever we had assignments to hand in, she used to go to ground and disappear.

 

What do you love about a day out at the races? Now, we go racing socially. For instance, I love booking a table at Hereford in the week when it's reasonably priced and we always have nice days out with friends.

Aspirations for the future:  I hope Philip and I can breed a winner. For Mirage And Mole to pick up more racing clients and Racing Pathway to be even more successful.

 

Best racing celebration you’ve attended: I was very lucky to go to AP McCoy’s big party at Adare Manor. Nothing in this world will ever top that. I think I kissed Robbie Williams – it was the most incredible party and absolutely well deserved. I don't think we realise how lucky we were to have AP in racing because what he achieved was unprecedented.

 

Favourite meal: Roast lamb from one of our own sheep with all the trimmings.

Favourite drink: Champagne.

Favourite snack: Cashew nuts.

Favourite holiday destination: It has to be Thailand and Norway because I have family there.

Ideal dinner guests: Jennifer Saunders because I adore her and she's so funny. James Norton from Happy Valley because he's a brilliant actor and, racing-wise, Nick Luck for his brain.

Favourite music: I love most music and listen to a very diverse set.

Favourite film: The Talented Mr Ripley.

Favourite book: I only read nonfiction and growing up, I loved The Duke by David Nicholson because I was obsessed with him.

Other hobbies/interests: I breed chickens. I love baking and swimming, as well as riding our ‘pointers every morning before my office hours begin.


Phil and Lee - and Shiela

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Apr 05
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Super Article Lee. I never realised what a varied career you had. Your enthusiasm shines through.

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Guest
Apr 05
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Fabulous article and a very interesting read!

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Guest
Apr 05
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Outstanding Article and prime example you can achieve anything when you put your heart and soul into it! 🥂🏇

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Guest
Apr 04
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Fabulous insight into your very own racing pathway..you have certainly come a long way and deserve to be successful..well done Lee👍

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Apr 04
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Brilliant article and inspiring story. Well done 👏

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