One story dominated the news on the opening day of the Flat season, but it was not about who won the Lincoln, rather who narrowly failed to win the Lincoln. Bookmakers estimated that Ryan Moore’s neck defeat on Oh This Is Us saved the industry up to £40 million, the punters’ pal having already posted a 575-1 treble in the opening three races.
The horse that denied him in a driving finish wasthe aptly-named Bravery, providing owner Steve Barker with his “best achievement” in racing.
Barker was born in Morecambe Bay but has spent the last 19 years in Antigua – a “better lifestyle change” explains the property investor and developer – yet while he may have moved, racing is as much a passion as it has always been.
“I got into the sport at a very early age – at five I was watching racing every Saturday with my late grandad known fondly as ‘Pop’, who was a punter and off whom I quickly learnt not to gamble!” he says.
“It stayed with me as I’ve childhood memories going back to Sea Pigeon, Night Nurse, Wayward Lad and Red Rum over the jumps, along with the likes of Soba and Chaplins Club on the Flat.
“My pop took me to Jack Berry’s stables as a child, the nearest racing stable to us, and I watched Jack Berry’s progress with his two-year-olds and sprinters. The National was always my favourite race and Red Rum’s achievements still amaze me.
“I grew up watching Lester Piggott, the greatest jockey I’ve everseen, and all the Classic races as a child.”
Watching later turned to owning, as Barker explains, saying: “I started with purchasing Al Muheer from Tattersalls’ horses in training sale. I bought him for 38,000gns, then formed a small syndicate in Antigua called the Antigua Cavaliers and sent the horse toDandy Nicholls.
“Unfortunately we didn’t have too much success but we nevertheless enjoyed every moment. Around May 2011, I made the decision to move to Ruth Carr, whom we had some wonderful days with and won our first race at Musselburgh on July 29, 2011 with Al Muheer.”
Al Muheer was the start but not the finish for Barker, who has now owned around ten horses and runs them under the banner of Thoroughbred British Racing Ltd (thoroughbredbritishracing.com), his owner sponsorship company having previously been called Sprint Thoroughbred Racing.
He continues: “Fort Bastion won the Thirsk Hunt Cup for us and Ruth was overjoyed as she’d been trying to win the race for years.
“Then in or around October 2014 I decided to move to David O’Meara as I felt he was a trainer going places, and it’s proved a good decision.David seems to have the Midas touch and is an excellent trainer and shrewd man.
“Whilst last season was a slow one for David, he moved yards, built a new home and new team, which is always going to slow you down. But what a start to 2017 with Bravery winning the Lincoln – especially switching from a high draw.
“I’d be surprised if David isn’t champion trainer one day. What he has achieved in such a short space of time speaks for itself, plus he’s a genuine, hard-working, down to earth good guy who thinks before he speaks.
“I must also point out he has an excellent young man by his side in assistant trainer Jason Kelly, who’s shrewd and knowledgeable and even at his young age keeps on educating me!”
Asked for his magical moments to date as an owner, Barker replies: “Every time your horse wins is magical, whether a seller or a Pattern race.
“A few standouts include Al Muheer winning at Chester; winning the Thirsk Hunt Cup, more so for Ruth Carr and her grandma Marion Chapman, who were smiling for days; So Beloved winning at York, Haydock and a Group 3 at Goodwood; having my first runner at Royal Ascot; and So Beloved running in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes, which was an especially proud day for me.
“However, the best achievement is without doubt Bravery winning the Lincoln, and what a training and jockey performance it was to win this old handicap in the manner he did, being his first run for us.
“My heroes are Sir Henry Cecil and my late mum, who likewise battled hard through cancer. She recently passed away and was always telling me no matter what to keep following my dream and that one day I’d win a big race, which came true with Bravery winning the Lincoln. I’d dedicate that win to her.”
Danny Tudhope was Bravery’s jockey, but Piggott is Barker’s all-time favourite, and with Dancing Brave hisfavourite horse, he clearly has a feel for the finer things in racing.
The best thing about being an owner, he says, is just being a part of a sport he is very passionate about – “winning is a bonus,” he adds.
“The worst thing is when your horse gets injured or worse. At the end of the day you just want your horse to come back sound and be happy."