Noel's odds on for a successful horse racing venture
Teesdale is proving to be the ideal setting for a former jockey turned trainer with big plans for the future, as reporter Wendy Short found out when she dropped by at Marwood Racing on the outskirts of Barney.
NOEL Wilson moved to Mount Pleasant farm, in Marwood, in 2016 from his previous yard in Malton, bringing with him 14 horses and owners under a partnership/ management arrangement.
The site now boasts 25 stables, an all-weather arena and a full set of gallops, with Marwood Racing owned by Kevin Everitt, a racehorse owner of long standing who lives in Barnard Castle, who previously made his home at the farm.
He is likely to be pleased with his decision to appoint Mr Wilson, because the yard’s first season in 2017 produced 15 winners out of 18 horses; a promising initial result by any standards.
This year, the business will have 25 horses in training and Mr Wilson aims to saddle at least 18 winners among them.
“I am ambitious, but racehorse training requires a great deal of patience,” says Mr Wilson.
“It also takes a lot of attention to detail, to keep the horses healthy and sound.
“The yard’s position at the top of the hill is ideal, providing plenty of fresh air, which reduces the risk of viral infection. It is a bonus that the horses have a good view into the distance from their stables, which I think helps to keep them feeling content and is good for their general wellbeing,” he adds.
“Horses like routine, so we stick to the timetable for their care and they are all turned out individually into the paddocks on a daily basis. I only use dust-free shavings and feed Redmills, which is the best product on the market, and a top quality haylage.”
Hygiene is another important aspect of racing yard management and a disinfectant mist is sprayed in the stables every day, while the horses are out on exercise. This prevents disease cross-infection and keeps dust and mites to a minimum. A disinfectant spray is also applied to the horse’s tack every time it is used.
Mr Wilson, who was brought up in Ballyclare, County Antrim, explains that his passion for horses was ignited by chance.
“My sister was not particularly interested in horses, but she had visited a local riding school with a friend and I was sent by my parents to ask her to come home for her tea,” he explains.
“I was probably about 12 at the time and as soon as I saw the horses, I was hooked.
“Straight away I started riding ponies and hunting on a regular basis, working in the riding school in exchange for free lessons. That led on to a job on a point-to-point yard, travelling the four miles each way on my bike before and after school, and every weekend. As soon as I sat on my first racehorse, I left the ponies behind and I knew that I had found my future career.”
Noel came third in his first point-to-point aged 16, describing his performance during the ride as “failing to match the pace”.
Lessons must have been learned because he had his first win under rules just a year later.
By 20 he had moved to England in search of new opportunities, first working for the late Arthur Stephenson, a National Hunt trainer based at Kirk Merrington.
Other famous racing names with whom Noel has been associated in the past include the late Dandy Nicholls, who ran a yard near Thirsk, and the late Mary Reveley, also from Yorkshire.
The most prestigious win achieved by Mr Wilson as a jockey was in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 1993, when he rode Ushers Island.
“A Cheltenham festival win is every jockey’s dream, but I subsequently suffered a few bad injuries, breaking my back and also breaking my leg twice,” he comments.
“I was nearly 30 when I decided to try my hand at training. It was something I had fancied and I had always taken a great interest in the preparation of the horses before a race.”
In total, Mr Wilson rode 140 winners in National Hunt and point-to-point, but today focuses most of his efforts on the flat.
As a trainer, his all-time favourite horse is Hotham, a Komaite-sired bay gelding which notched up almost a dozen notable wins, including three at York and the Scottish Sprint at Musselburgh.
Among Mr Wilson’s other significant winners are Stolt (big handicaps at York and Chester), Pavershooz (Gosforth Park and the Scottish Sprint) and Demolition (the Kilkerran cup and nine other races).
“Hotham was a big, powerful horse with attitude,” he says.
“He had his own take on things and was one of those characters who made you work to get the best out of him. He was very tricky to get into the stalls, but once he started racing, he would give you 110 per cent.
“He wasn’t the best horse I have ever trained, in terms of prize money, but he was certainly the one that stands out for me.”
Indispensable in the yard and Mr Wilson’s “right-hand woman” is his fiancée, Alex Porritt, who has a wide experience of equestrian sports, having worked with show ponies and point-to-pointers, before making the transition into the world of flat racing.
While he frequently visits his family in Northern Ireland, Mr Wilson’s early days at Kirk Merrington meant that the move to Marwood felt like coming home, he says.
“I would never return to the place where I grew up, because there is a lot more happening on the racing circuit in England,” he says.
“I know everyone in the industry in this region, I like living in a quiet rural setting and Barnard Castle is a very nice market town.
“It is also easily accessible for many of the top race tracks in the Northern of England and well-placed for travelling to Scottish races. I am planning to expand, and we will be building another 25 stables in the near future.”
A trainer’s life can involve travelling for four or five days a week during the flat season, which begins at the end of March.
“Every day begins at 6am and on some tracks, the last race can go on until 9.30pm, so I might not reach home until 2am and then have to get up to work the next day,” he says.
“There is not a lot of time left over for leisure, but I thrive on being busy. I’m really loving the job since I came to Teesdale and it is not a question of going to work; racing gets in your blood.”