Welcome to the first of our Q&A sessions with racing personnel, and hopefully it won’t be the last.
Our first Q&A sees us interview James Millman who has kindly agreed to do this for us (many thanks James!).
James is about to venture into his seventh year as a professional jockey, and rode in his first race as an amateur on Paso Doble at Lingfield in November 2003, and continued in the amateur sphere until February 2005.
James rode his first winner at Chepstow aboard Polar Dawn in July 2005 and went on to ride six winners that year.
Shortly after that he joined trainer Clive Cox for a six month spell and didn’t really get the opportunities from Clive that he needed, but his career took off with a switch to Dean Ivory in May 2006. In his first full season James rode 15 winners from 224 rides, with those rides coming from 39 different trainers, giving James valuable experience at tracks all over the country.
Unfortunately for James, his weight was always going to be an issue and he returned back to his father Rod’s yard in March 2007 to combine his riding career with a role as Assistant Trainer to his father. Although the majority of his rides are now for his father, it helps them get their best out of their horses, getting to know the very ins and outs of their horses on both a day to day basis in the mornings and out there on the track.
James rode out his claim in October and has ridden 97 winners in total; hopefully it won’t be long before he reaches the milestone century of winners!
Being a professional jockey for 7 years now, what horse would you say has given you the best moments in the saddle and why?
JM: Definitely riding Roi De Vitesse as a two-year-old in 2009. He didn’t have a lot of class but was extremely tough and ran consistently well in the top races, his second in the Superlative was gutting but also my career highlight so far and we also finished third in a Listed race at Cork, fourth in a Listed event at Deauville. Despite coming last of the seven runners, it was a great experience to ride him in a Group 1 on Arc day and he wasn’t far behind Dick Turpin, Beethoven, Lope de Vega, Pounced etc. so it was a really good run and an amazing experience to ride against Europe’s top jockeys.
If you could pinpoint any positive turning points in your career to date, what would they be and why?
JM: Probably leaving Clive Cox’s yard and moving to Dean Ivory’s as he let me ride most of his horses when I worked for him, riding five winners from over eighty rides just for him. It increased my confidence no end which helped me improve my riding and I had 224 rides that season, yet twelve months earlier had nearly quit riding. Unfortunately I struggled with my weight and decided to return as assistant to Dad but luckily, most of the owners have being really helpful in letting me ride the top weights and I’m very pleased to finally lose my claim, which certainly helps with the dieting!
Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot?
JM: As a spectacle it has to be the Cheltenham Festival and would love to have a ride in the bumper (rode in the fillies’ equivalent at Aintree) but professionally would love to ride a winner at Royal Ascot.
Group race wins are every jockey’s dream, which group winner would you like to have won on, and why?
JM: Obviously Sergeant Cecil as he is the iconic horse of the stable, and gave us our first Group 1 win in the Prix Du Cadran on Arc day but I don’t think the owner would have ever let that happen!
Emma Ramsden or Hayley Turner (lookswise)?
JM: Hayley Turner
If you could have had an alternative career outside the saddle, what would it be and why?
JM: In dreamland it would be a Formula 1 driver, used to race Karts from 10-17 but didn’t have the funds or enough talent to go into motorsport so switched to horses but now can afford to go motor racing some weekends, just at a lower level! Realistically it would be a sports journalist.
Which racing journalist do you feel is the most courteous and respectful?
JM: To be fair I get on with all the racing journalists at the moment, especially those on Twitter! When I started had a few that were over critical, bearing in mind I had limited experience but on the whole get on well with those that I speak to.
Milkshake or Turner?
JM: Difficult as have to ride against them both – equally as good!
If you could give us a horse to keep an eye out for next year, who would it be?
JM: Definitely Galatian, I think he could be our next star. A huge gelding that has been lightly raced as has needed time to fill out his frame but won his last two races at Leicester and Goodwood and is still just rated 77. His half-brother Masai Moon is trained by us and he reached a mark of 95 and I feel he has a lot more scope than him. His other half-brother Tangerine Trees went from 69 to 103 when winning a Listed race at Newmarket as a 5yo last season so he’s one I’m really looking forward to.
What is your favourite track and why?
JM: Probably Salisbury as it’s a nice friendly track that owners like to have runners at. However, hard to get winners there as it’s very competitive with all the top trainers but most importantly, it’s only 90 miles from home!
Dubai or Wolverhampton?
JM: Are you serious? Definitely Dubai spent Jan-Apr 2008 looking after the Fitri-Hay horses including Traffic Guard, Lizard Island and Yellowstone. Had a great time and will hopefully be taking some of our horses out there in the future.
If you could pick one horse out of your stable to have a successful winter on the All-Weather, who would it be?
JM: Irish Jugger was a $220,000 yearling that we picked up for £4,500 last year. Had a few problems but finally rewarded a lot of hard work when winning a 0-55 at Wolverhampton. Unlucky the last twice for various reasons and I still feel he’s well handicapped off 59. However, weather has being making things hard as he’s a horse that needs routine, something that we’re struggling to achieve at the minute. Of the others Mustajed has taken over Whitbarrow’s role of stable veteran and should be very competitive in sellers at the age of ten.
What happens on the all weather at Lingfield and Kempton? 3 from 80 at Lingfield, 8 from 95 at Kemtpon but 13 from 75 at Southwell. Do you find the Southwell fibresand easier to ride than these tracks or is it the horses?
JM: As our horses are trained on a woodchip gallop, a deep surface quite similar to fibresand, they are generally very effective at Southwell if handling the kickback. However, most horses trained in Newmarket or Lambourn are trained on a polytrack surface so they are at an advantage when racing on that surface compared to our horses. Southwell is probably the fairest track, best horse will win but on the polytrack, you can get a lot of hard luck stories so I certainly prefer riding round Southwell. Also our owners prefer to run their horses on the grass so the AW string is normally of a lower level and is unlikely to be as successful as is normally the case.
Your biggest wins have been on various 100 rated, listed class types. Horses like Masai Moon, El Bosque, Whitbarrow, Phantom Whisper, and Light From Mars, Shavansky and the unlucky Roi De Vitesse.
If you could pick one out to have as a 2yo again, which one would it be and why?
JM: Of those, for various reasons Roi De Vitesse was the only one that I actually rode as a 2yo and nearly gave me my biggest win when second in the Group 2 Superlative Stakes at Newmarket. Of the others, my old favourite Whitbarrow would be the one, as he won the Woodcote on Derby Day and also the Molecomb at Glorious Goodwood; he was one speedy two-year-old. He was still pretty quick when I started riding him at seven and we managed to get seven wins out of him before he was retired at the age of eleven.
Do you plan to take over the reins from your father Rod when the time comes?
JM: Have done two of my three training modules so the ambition is to train but I’m not sure whether to go it alone or take over from Dad (don’t know if he’ll ever give up!). Ideally I’d like to train 25 horses and be able to do most of it myself but that isn’t really commercially viable. However, with current prize money so poor, I’ll definitely consider starting up in France or the US, if things don’t get much better in the UK.
One last question, do you have any updates on Sherman McCoy who was looking a promising stayer but failed to see the racecourse again in 2010 after his 3rd to Martyr at Newmarket?
JM: Same owners as Roi De Vitesse, you couldn’t ask for a tougher horse and has yet to be out of the first four in his eleven starts in Handicap Company. Was being campaigned with the Ebor in mind but unfortunately suffered a broken pelvis when cast (stuck) in his box. Has had six months off and aim to bring him back in March, you’re never sure if he can return to his best but his great attitude will give him every chance.
We here at OHRacing would like to express our thanks to James who has taken time out (albeit on a snowy period) to answer all of our questions, and has been an absolute gentleman throughout.
James is a very good bloke, and can be contacted on Twitter @JRMILLMAN, add him to your ‘Follow’ list now, you never know what gems you’ll pick up from him over the winter.