There can be little doubt that the spring is one of the most exciting times of the racing year. There are major jumps festivals and it’s the start of the Flat season. If you are an owner with a foot in both camps, it must be a particularly heady time.
Michael Pescod is one such owner, though admittedly his interests are heavily skewed towards the Flat. He has only two National Hunt horses, but one is already very good, and the other is
“On the Flat, a horse is quite likely to be racing with me for two seasons only, whereas with National Hunt one sees them develop over a long period of time, and gets to know them better.
“At Wincanton there are always dozens of old Land Rovers in the car park – and a similar number of sheepdogs and labradors!”
Pescod continues: “I have had horses in training with Roger Charlton and Richard Hannon (snr and jnr).
“Jnr taking over from Snr was the most impressive management succession exercise one could see in any walk of life. And he manages me very well, too!
“When I retired, my wife and I got a place in Somerset. The county is good for jumps, not so good for Flat, and my wife prefers the jumps to the flat.
“Harry Fry trains six miles from us, over the Dorset border, and after getting to know him – a friend was his Thirsk’s brand new owners’ and trainers’ facility is now open following a £1.8 million investment by the course. Named after the trees that border owners and trainers, in order to make racing as competitive as possible at Thirsk. The views across the racecourse from the spectator terrace are second chases this season, the Rising Stars at Wincanton and Pendil at Kempton, while Green Dolphin also hit the target at Wincanton in a bumper, on just his second start. In between the pair – and likewise trained by Harry Fry – came An Siltean, but he was sold.
Explaining his background to ownership, Pescod says: “Some years ago, a City friend of mine, John Leek, asked me to join his racing syndicate. I agreed, though I knew nothing about racing. That evolved into owning horses jointly with him, then sole ownership.
“I do have three or four horses jointly with another mate, Justin Dowley, but the majority of my horses are solo – and I always have too many!”
He adds: “I used to work in the City, as a lawyer, and then an investment banker. In those days I found racing the perfect antidote to work stress, the stress of watching one’s horse in a race easily obliterating any work issues.”
His horses down the years have proven to be more than just stress relievers; several have provided plenty of magical moments, too.
Pescod admits: “I’ve been lucky enough to own some good horses over the years, including Arminius, Big Audio, Boogie Street, Bronterre, Frenchmans Bay, Potemkin, Minor Vamp, Steel Of Madrid and Summoner on the Flat. Bags Groove was my first jumps horse.
“All the above gave me a magic moment or two. The longest ‘moment’ was the 30-minute stewards’ inquiry to decide Potemkin had indeed won the Brigadier Gerard, despite shoulder- charging one of his competitors out of the way – he was a bad-tempered horse!
“The biggest prize was Minor Vamp’s Goffs Millions win. She was an outsider in terms of betting, but also in the draw, which we thought not ideal for the Curragh. Until, that is, a smiling Mick Kinane said that shouldn’t be a problem, and rode the horse to win without there ever being a doubt.
“The latest magical moment was Noel [Fehily] riding Bags to win at Wincanton. The penultimate fence is in front of the stand, which was packed. Bags put in a magnificent leap, and the whole crowd cheered.
“It was a very emotional moment – hairs on back of neck, etc – and one where I did ‘get’ jumps racing completely.”
He adds: “It’s a very different experience going jumping as an owner, or a racegoer, compared to the Flat.
"It took me decades to get to grips with Flat racing, and I know I have no chance of gaining much expertise on the jumps side. But I enjoy it a lot. I am very lucky with Bags of course – and Harry is a fine young trainer.”
If Pescod does have a bugbear it is the loading of so many decent cards onto Saturdays, to the detriment of midweek action.
“I had planned that my retirement would involve visiting real tennis courts, football grounds – I was born in South Shields and am a Newcastle season ticket holder – and racecourses around the country,” he says.
“Such a high proportion of decent racing these days is on a Saturday, however, which makes life complicated. I understand it from the racecourses' point of view but for selfish reasons I wish it wasn't so. I'd be very happy to go to Sandown and Ascot midweek, and to a good meeting as well on a Saturday.
It is, of course, to use an oft- repeated phrase, ‘Saturday horses’ that all owners want, a term indicative of Pescod’s point about fixtures.
“Bags’ next race will be at Aintree and then it’s the Flat, where I’m hoping Floating Artist and Urban Icon will deliver a happy summer,” says Pescod.
For those of you compiling a list of Flat horses to follow, there are two to get you up and running.