Broadcaster Alice Plunkett reflects on a life spent growing up around horses and why she feels privileged to be among the judges for this year’s Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.
My passion for racing came from horses. I was lucky enough to have horses in my life from a very young age. I have always loved being around them, riding them and being competitive with them. That started in my local pony club but for my sixteenth birthday my mum organised for me to ride out for a trainer.
I was wowed by the atmosphere in the yard, the chat amongst the lads and lasses. I was blown away by the beauty and power of the horses, and I loved the competitive nature of the whole thing. From then on I was determined to be a jockey.
I watched National Velvet and believed I could be Velvet Brown! When I was 18 I got the opportunity to ride in some Point-to-Points and the horse, Bold King’s Hussar was a total saint as I was useless. He managed to carry me to a victory and he jumped so well that it was decided that I would be allowed to tackle the formidable Aintree course, the Grand National fences, in the amateurs’ Grand National, the Foxhunters.
I drove up to Aintree the night before and stabled on the course. I woke up early and fed ‘Hus’ and mucked him out. I think the best part of the whole experience was riding out that morning on the track with all the Grand National runners. I honestly thought I was in a scene of National Velvet.
It would be impossible today, but back in 2003 with just four rides in points under my belt, I was able to line up at the start.
Once again, Hus didn’t let me down and I had the most amazing ride round to finish in the middle of the field. I had actually jumped round the Grand National. Mad as that whole scenario was, that was it, I was well and truly bitten by the bug.
That passion has never left me. Horses are my life but now when I go racing as part of the ITV team, I always enjoy chatting to the teams behind each runner: the lads and lasses; the trainers; the jockeys and the owners. They all have a different story and reason for caring about the outcome of a race.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to give back to the sport and have a wonderful role as a director on the board of Cheltenham racecourse. There are seven of us and we are there to offer advice and to support the values of the course and its commercial development alongside the executive team.
Through this role, I really get to see the impact of racing on the wider Cheltenham area. The course supports local charities through fundraising but also by giving access and by being a member of the community.
I had no hesitation in accepting the role as a judge for the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards because I know what it means to those who work with horses each day to be acknowledged in this way. I felt so honoured to be asked. The passion and dedication of the staff behind each horse is always so clear and it is wonderful that these awards really reward that side of the industry. Without these teams there would be no happy horses and so no racing.
Chatting to the incredible nominees has reminded me that working in racing isn’t a job, it is a way of life. For those bitten by the passion, as I was, there are no hours, it is never a 9-5 day; they work weekends and don’t finish until the horses are done but none of them mentioned that in their interviews. All the talk was about the horses and the team.
That is what people often forget, that racing is a team sport and every cog in that team plays a crucial role without which the horse would not be successful.