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Read all about the racing world and the daily goings on in the Hugo Palmer Racing camp.
Hugo Palmer Biography
I have wanted to train racehorses for as long as I can remember. The power and grace of a thoroughbred at full gallop has long been something of an addiction for me. I grew up in the Scottish borders and was lucky enough to learn to ride at a very young age.
Pony Club and the hunting field were how our holidays were filled and while I often went racing it wasn’t until I saw Lammtarra win the Derby that the true love affair with the sport of kings evolved. The extraordinary speed with which he caught the leaders that day still leaves me with goose bumps. It became my dream and ambition to be an intricate part of the lives of these fabulous athletes and my decision to train racehorses was made.
What I needed to do was learn how and it is that learning curve that I have spent the bulk of my life on. As a schoolboy I went to the Queen’s private trainer Lord Huntington at West Ilsley and worked with him. These early days taught me from the outset the graft and grit that goes in day to day and makes the winning days so very special.
I left school and got a job at the largest English owned Stud – Cheveley Park. I felt it was vital to understand the entire process of how a racehorse is made. My foaling season there taught me a huge amount about the life of a young thoroughbred and the education that starts on day one.
During my holidays at University in Newcastle I went to work for John Warren who is one of the world’s leading buyers of horses. His judgment is renowned across the globe and his attention to detail famous. He taught me an enormous amount about what he looks for in a horse and how to see it. During my time with him he bought a beautiful colt by Montjeu. We all liked the horse very much and the following summer when I was working on the Warren’s stud in Hampshire he won his maiden in hugely impressive fashion. I bet very rarely but given my involvement in this colt I made the call to Ladbrokes and secured 40/1 for the following year’s Derby. Standing at Epsom a decade to the day since Lammtarra and watching Motivator, as he had been named, destroy the Derby field was a great moment.
At the time I was part of the team that prepared the Warren's yearlings for the sales in the autumn. This next step is a vital part of a racehorse’s life. It is the precursor to the breaking-in process. That year was the first time that Highclere Stud was the leading consignor at the sales and it was a privilege to be part of it. After the sales the team’s attention turned to the breaking of horses. We had about 40 yearlings to break in which included the Highclere horses and the Duke of Devonshire’s horse that were boarded at the stud. Among them was the top class sprinter that they named Asset but my personal choice was a small colt by Saddlers Wells. He was named Ask and it gave me enormous pleasure to watch him win the Coronation Cup. Sadly I was in a bar in Australia at the time but the balance and athleticism he had showed as a yearling five years earlier was evident for all to see.
At Highclere I learned a very valuable appreciation of the second stage of a racehorses’ progression but eager to train the finished product I took a job with Patrick Chamings. Being the assistant trainer is a very high pressure job and I will always be glad that I started in a small yard. Patrick had about 40 horses at the time both for the flat and over jumps. Self Defence was our star that winter with his defeat of Rooster Booster at Sandown. The excitement of the big days is the throbbing heart of racing and the preparation of this gelding for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham was a very special time. Other stars included group three winner Take A Bow and multiple listed winner Foxhaven.
Assistant to Hughie Morrison
My two seasons with Patrick Chamings were fantastic experience and prepared me for the next step. When Hughie Morrison called me and asked me to come and discuss the assistant’s role at his East Ilsley yard I jumped at the opportunity.
The upshot of that discussion was that I spent the next three seasons as his assistant trainer. My first season there was full of excitement. Royal Ascot victory for Baltic King was a particular highlight. The following years though were better still. Being part of Sakhee’s Secret three year old year was a privilege. This was the first time I had been a part of a champion’s life at the peak of his powers. High class horses such as Intrepid Jack, Baltic King, Alcazar, Supaseus and Kasumi were an admirable supporting cast. After a total of five years as a UK assistant I was beginning to get itchy feet though. I realised that if I was to ever work abroad then the time to do it was in my twenties.
It was my great good fortune to secure a job in Australia with Gai Waterhouse. Gai’s dominance of racing in Sydney is one of the reasons that she could be considered a candidate for the world’s leading public trainer. In 16 years she has trained over 100 group one winners; eight of which were during my time there. Gai’s horses are supreme athletes and a huge amount of them are selected personally by her. They are also supremely fit. During my time in Sydney I was lucky enough to spend a huge amount of time at Gai’s side as her protégé. The culmination of this was that I was sent with her horses to train her small string in Melbourne. It was an honour to be trusted by one of the all-time great handlers with the cream of her current crop of horses. The winners we had there were among the real high points of my racing life. Gai’s success is founded on very simple principles; she buys strong, athletic horses and gets them fitter than her competitors. There is another level though. Horses are the essence of racing but they cannot be there without owners. Gai’s ability to ensure that her owners enjoy their sport more with her than other trainers is key to her success.
It is my intention to use what I have learned from everyone I have worked for to achieve my goal. I am determined to train as many winners as possible, treat each horse with the individual attention it needs and never as a number, and above all to do everything in my power to ensure that everyone involved in Hugo Palmer Racing gets the most out of the experience.