At 34 and still going strong, seven-times champion Will Biddick is already the most successful rider in point-to-point history with 451 victories between the flags, a total that would surely be close to 500 now were it not for Covid.
Son of Cornish farmer Mike and married to international show jumper Harriet, Will also runs a thriving yard in Alhampton, Somerset from which he trains pointers and looks after pre-trainers for the likes of Paul Nicholls.
Jake Exelby had a chat with Will last week about his background, his time in racing… and fatherhood.
Who's inspired you most in racing?
I remember Dad introducing me to Robert Alner as a future rider and asking if he had any advice. He looked at me and said, “You need forward propulsion,” clenching his fists and doing an underarm pump. It was less what he said than the way he looked me in the eye, showing so much passion and emotion in his movements and I still remember it vividly. He was an unbelievable horseman.
And Richard Barber of course. I’d thought about retiring twice – once when I started riding in points as a teenager but was hating it, and then when my time as a conditional under Rules didn’t work out. But I went to work for Richard and if it wasn’t for him, I’d probably still be a farmer in Cornwall, I wouldn’t be with Harriet – we met through hunting – and I wouldn’t have the association with Paul Nicholls.
Which jockeys have you most admired?
Richard Burton and Ashley Farrant. They were stylish, strong and in a league of their own – I’d have hated to try to win the championship when they were riding. They could ride at places like Cheltenham and Aintree and look like professionals, they were such good horsemen.
Who's your favourite horse?
I rode a lot of winners on horses like Ask The Weatherman, Certain Flight and Mendip Express. But I also enjoyed riding the likes of Bathwick Scanno, Posh Totty and Whataknight, even if they weren’t the same quality.
What's been your personal funniest moment in the sport?
I was riding a horse called Coral Bay at Upcott Cross in 2006 in a five-runner race. An outsider brought down the favourite early, then another runner unseated, and I was bucked off with a circuit and a half left. I ran up the field like He-Man, caught the horse, vaulted on, hit him behind the saddle and was bucked off again. This time, I patted him as I got back on, jumped the next fence and thought I’d carry on – three fences behind – for second. But the horse in front was bleeding from the nose and barely cantering, and eventually pulled up. I finished alone – and won the prize for the slowest race in the area that season!
What's been the highlight of your time in racing?
Breaking the record for most winners in a season on Claire Hitch’s Bernshaw at Bratton Down in 2015. I rode five winners that day, even though I’d been at a wedding in Leicestershire until 7am that morning!
What are your career ambitions?
Every year, I set out to either hold on to, or regain the title.
This year, my goal was to be the first jockey to ride ten winners before the New Year. I’d like one of the riders who works for me – Conor Houlihan, Ella Orttewell and Charlie Sprake – to be area novice champion and for Porlock Bay to win the Cheltenham Foxhunters.
Do you have any regrets?
My biggest regret in life was not going into the army at 16, which is something I always wanted to do. But then I wouldn’t be where I am now.
What would you do if you were in charge of the sport?
Give the job back to Peter Wright!
How has lockdown affected you from a racing perspective?
The first lockdown was a big hit to the yard – with no National Hunt racing, the trainers and owners took their horses back and I lost 80% of my business within a week. It was just me and Ella with a handful of horses.
Now, with racing continuing, the yard’s full – one-third of the horses are pointers, whose connections are sitting tight, and the rest breakers and pre-trainers.
What do you think its effect on pointing will be?
I was saying it was going to be tough after the first shortened season, but people who love the sport will continue to support it. Me and my generation know how much benefit it brings to Rules racing, in terms of horses, jockeys and trainers, and we don’t want to lose it.
Who's going to win the Cheltenham Foxhunters?
Porlock Bay of course! He hasn’t proved himself yet and hasn’t run on a track like Cheltenham but everything suggests he stays and, if I was riding, I’d be thinking I was on the best horse and wouldn’t have any issues about coming up that hill.
Lorcan Williams will ride. He’s under-rated and I’m all for supporting young jockeys with ability.
What do you think we should do with the rest of the season?
I don't think we should push to race too soon if we’re not sure – it’s better to wait a month and be certain and it would be great to have 8-10 weeks racing at the end of the season, which will help trainers financially and give us hope for next year.
I’d start earlier again next season too but wouldn’t change too much – the season’s long enough as it is.
What else have you been up to during lockdown?
I’ve become a father (Archie was born on 3rd February). That’s what I’ve enjoyed most – it was a big moment, although my wedding day was still the best. And I’m good at changing nappies – faster than Harriet!
Have you been cooking? If so, what’s your signature dish?
We cook – together – every night and like trying new things. I’m in charge of meat and steak.
Tell me about a TV series you've enjoyed and any books you’ve read?
We’ve been getting stuck into Netflix – the likes of Bridgerton and The Crown.
I don’t read. The last book I read was probably The BFG. Please don’t put that (sorry Will).
What are you most looking forward to when lockdown is over?
Wetting Archie’s head properly. And catching-up with mates like Sam Allwood and Ollie Greenall, who I haven’t seen for ages because they’re based up North.
Who is your non-racing hero?
My Dad, who has taught me so many life skills that I’d like to forward on to my children. Welding, building a gatepost, breaking in a horse…
What are your life ambitions?
I’ve always wanted to go into space, which I’ve always been fascinated by. Although I never wanted to be an astronaut… and I’m scared of heights.
Who else should I do one of these features on?
Colin Heard from Boscastle, who was riding when I started – of his sons, Liam rode over jumps and Tyler is an apprentice on the flat. He’s always been good to me and we still talk a lot. Or Ollie Greenall, an ex-champion who held the record before I broke it.
What other questions should I be asking?
Who would be ideal dinner party guests? Freddie Flintoff for me and David Attenborough for Harriet.
Tell me something I wouldn't know from asking these questions?
I was champion pasty maker at Withiel garden fete as a teenager – I’ve still got the certificate. I make proper traditional pasties – crimped on the top, not the side.