Ownership Matters - meet Mouse Hamilton-Fairley
Having switched from eventing to point-to-pointing in the 1980s, Mouse Hamilton-Fairley owned and rode the leading mare in her area in 1987 and decided to try her in hunter chases. This led her to take out a permit and later a full dual trainer’s licence, which she held until 2011.
Her mother, Ann Plummer, was already in the breeding game at this point and had considerable success with her foundation mare Drama School, whose progeny have gone on to win from generation to generation, the best of which on the Flat were Group-winning and placed Merlin’s Ring and Rada’s Daughter.
This bloodline continues in the family today, with her Grade 2 winning hurdler, Third Wind, bred from a descendant of that original mare and in training with Hughie Morrison.
Mouse has been involved in racing from every angle over the years and presently enjoys her role as sole owner of hurdler Third Wind, now an eight-year-old. She is also in a family partnership with her mother, sister and sister-in-law owning three horses plus a small share in a Make Believe two-year-old with Richard Hughes, and a share in the Velocity Syndicate with Harry Dunlop.
What do you enjoy most about racing and owning racehorses?
I have been involved with horses all my life from Pony Club to eventing, point-to-pointing to racing – I simply couldn’t imagine a life without them. Having owned, bred and trained racehorses during my career, I still find the anticipation of running my horses, the involvement with the yard and the staff during the build-up, watching the horses develop and progress, the planning and choosing which race and where to run, to be the most satisfying elements.
We all have good days and bad days at the course and you have to learn to live with expectation, elation and disappointment, but I get as much out of involvement in the day-today parts of training as I do from the racedays themselves.
What are the key matters that impact on your ownership experience?
For me it is the ease of the raceday – I don’t want any added stress or hassle as I am perfectly capable of piling that sort of pressure on myself, especially with a jumper. I want to be able to enjoy the raceday whatever the result. Therefore, I think good viewing for owners at the courses is essential, a friendly welcome, good food and hospitality facilities – a better choice of wines at some courses wouldn’t go amiss!
I also think more courses need to include connections of the placed horses in their after-race hospitality. What makes racing fun to watch is a battling finish and it can be very dispiriting when post-race no-one from the course acknowledges you at all, even if your horse provided part of the spectacle but just didn’t have their head in front at the line.
There is also the continuing dissatisfaction of the irregularity of prize-money across the grades and growing frustration at some of the potentially unnecessary ongoing BHA charges for owning racehorses, such as annual colours registrations and authorities to act.
What does the racing industry do well for owners and which areas could be improved?
I have always felt that the racing industry is my larger family – it is made up of a remarkable group of people who all work tirelessly looking after our beloved equine athletes. I read an interview the other day by Nathan Horrocks about how Lord Grimthorpe had rushed to console CJ, the lad who looked after Many Clouds, after he died – it is a sport like no other that unites people from all backgrounds.
In my view, all trainers should be obliged to have an annual owners’ day so we can meet other owners from the yard to enhance our collective experience and involvement. I also think owners should be notified by the racecourses when their horses have been declared on a live music night, as it could affect our decision as to whether to attend or not.
I understand the financial need for the concert evenings but think owners should be notified ahead of the declaration that there is a concert to give them the choice as it can affect the raceday experience.
Some racecourses need to improve their accessibility – having been racing quite frequently with octogenarians and nonagenarians, it is not always that easy moving about the courses With those who are less mobile and some owners’ facilities do not sufficiently take into account or cater for their less able customers. Covid has obviously not helped this situation, with some lifts not being in operation and one-way systems making getting around the courses harder and so forth, but I still think it is an area that could be improved.
What are your thoughts on welfare in relation to your horses in training and in terms of aftercare?
I passionately believe that we have got to be much more proactive in our approach to equine welfare. With all the recent bad press we are increasingly being targeted in this area and the force of the opposition to certain aspects of our sport will only gather pace so we must not rest on our laurels.
I think the recent National Racehorse Week was a good initiative,but it needs better promotion outside racing as it is non-horsemen who need to understand and see what we do. Whilst Retraining of Racehorses does a wonderful job there needs to be a far more extensive network of those offering retraining, so it is easier for owners who are not necessarily part of a wider horsey community to find suitable outlets for their horses once their racing days are over.
There needs to be better education of owners entering the sport to highlight the importance of this issue and to make them aware that their liabilities do not end when their horses have run their last race – for those not suitable for a sale ring, retraining can be lengthy and expensive too, and allowances need to be made in owners’ budgets to ensure that there are sufficient funds retained to finance it before they embark on purchasing another horse to race.
Trainers can be too quick to encourage owners to move a horse on whilst simultaneously encouraging them to invest in new bloodstock and there needs to be more balance in this process, especially as the sales calendar makes this harder with the yearlings on offer before the horses in training sales.
The breeders, sales houses and publishers also need to step up and play their part by being more accountable and helping us improve the overall image of the sport, which has taken a battering on the welfare front. As always it seems to be the owner who has to foot the bill, but we do need to work together to show more collective responsibility for what happens to our horses in their old age and improve their traceability worldwide.
Which courses look after owners particularly well?
My heart has always been in jump racing, and nothing beats the welcome from the West Country tracks – Taunton, Newton Abbot and Exeter. They may not have the best facilities, but they are always welcoming and are pleased to see you. Ludlow was also a particular favourite as they go the extra mile for their owners and the food is always good combined with a fun atmosphere.
On the Flat, Salisbury also takes the trouble to really look after their owners to make it a truly pleasant experience running horses there. I haven’t been there recently, but Hereford always used to go out of their way to make owners feel special as well.
Of the larger tracks with bigger budgets, if I was being critical, Sandown could do with a larger owners’ facility as on big days it gets very crowded. Newbury’s hospitality has always been first-rate for owners and winning and placed connections, but recently the prize-money at the track has been poor, which has made it less rewarding. At Ascot you tend to feel a bit far from the action in the owners’ facility as it is always preferable to be closer to trackside. Chester, Goodwood and Cheltenham are all superb as you would expect – as is York.