Trainer Suzy Smith has gained Gold Accreditation as an employer from the Lycetts and NTF Team Champion initiative and is passionate about breaking down barriers and perceptions about racing
Doing things the hard way
We have a fantastic team of staff here and something I do understand from having done things the hard way, is that if you want something enough it is possible. Helping my staff reach this mindset and achieve their own personal goals is particularly important to me. The Lycetts Team Champion Gold Accreditation is awarded to yards that have shown outstanding levels of team ethos and staff engagement, and we were proud to be awarded the top category during last year’s judging.
Sadly, there is still discrimination and inequality in parts of the industry. I feel it may well often not be realised and subconscious, but it is there, nevertheless. Building people’s confidence and giving them training in order to go for senior roles and raising awareness of the valuable contributions that people from different backgrounds can bring to our sport, are essential.
Another realisation is that racing is often regarded as ‘elitist’. I have had multiple owners say that they were very apprehensive of being involved in racehorse ownership or even contacting a trainer as they felt they might be judged in some way. Having had discussions with people with no inside knowledge of racing, or that know very little about the sport, they typically have a perception that we are all extremely wealthy, drive around in Bentleys and spend all day drinking champagne! I think it is important to get across that trainers, owners and racegoers are fantastically welcoming people and that the sport is for everyone. There is, in fact, already huge diversity in our great sport and more could be done to portray this to attract new people into racing.
The young might not appreciate a Saturday Derby
Growing up in Epsom, together with having a love of riding from an early age was really the start of what was to come.
Although I had no real family links with racehorses, my grandfather, a farmer in Ledbury, had a keen interest in point-to-point and jump racing. There were many days spent going to the races or watching it on TV, so he was a big influence on me when I was young and gave me the love of the countryside.
If there was a reason for almost any child at my school in Epsom to love the Derby, it was because the school closed when it used to be held on a Wednesday owing to all the traffic and chaos that ensued. I’m not actually sure that it wasn’t because the teachers wished to go themselves! It was always an exciting day out and I still have photos of Lester Piggott and various other well-known jockeys of the time leaving the weighing room.
Epsom was a large thriving training centre back then and I always had a fascination watching the many strings of racehorses in training on the Downs and heading to the gallops in the mornings. I admired their riders, who sat there, riding ridiculously short, as was the fashion, while their horses played up and they just sat there smiling away. I was always thinking, what a wonderful life that would be!
Heaven rather than work
I was encouraged by my parents when I was 14 to get a weekend job and naturally, I chose a racing yard, which to me seemed like heaven rather than work. I turned up at the yard of Flat trainer Andrew Denson in Worple Road, which has sadly since been turned into houses and spent as much time there as I could. After a few months I was happily going up the gallops and had completely made up my mind that I wished to train racehorses. This could have been mistakenly identified as a phase, but I was not to be swayed.
It was probably not the easiest career choice in the world, particularly as my family was not involved in racing and I did not have access to vast amounts of money. It also appeared to be a source of frustration to my very academic school ‘Sutton High GPDST’ whose careers advisers tried hard to dissuade me from pursuing a non-academic option. Time was spent at careers evenings with the advisors coming up with helpful lines such as ‘surely you mean you wish to be a vet’ and my usual response of ‘not at all!’ I felt I was now deemed to be a ‘failure’ as teachers told me racing was an unsatisfactory career choice. This led me to become more disillusioned with school and I couldn’t wait to get out of there, seeing much of it as pointless. I still focused mainly on the subjects I felt would be most useful in my training career, French, English, Maths and Biology.
Some tough advice
My father had for some reason, told me at 16 ‘that if you haven’t made it by 25 years-old, you won’t’. This seems harsh advice looking back but for some reason it stuck in my head. With this ‘deadline’ in mind, I left school that year to go into racing. I was considered a drop out at this point by my school and many people outside horseracing. Criticism from others about my idea of becoming a trainer did not cease, even when I was inside the horseracing world. For example, comments such as, ‘you’ll never be able to train without being from the right background, family, serious financial help etc’. It was all ‘it’s who you know in this game’ and I was made to feel that the fact I wasn’t from a family involved in horses or racing was a barrier, a theme that cropped up for many years. Anyway, I fortunately had my blinkers applied and I chose to ignore all the negative comments.
I worked for various trainers, both Flat and jump, here and in France, then took out my licence in 2002; I was 25 at the time. I only had five or six horses in training and did virtually everything myself, with occasional help at the races or with exercising one or two horses. I had several placed horses and thinking I was destined not to have a winner in my first season, took a one-eyed mare to Market Rasen for the bumper on the last race, of the last day of the season. She duly bolted in by about 10 lengths and that mare, Material World, put my name in the limelight and became an excellent racemare. She was second at the Cheltenham Festival and secured a large fan base owing to her bravery, talent and her slight disability.
We have grown to a stable of 20 and have had excellent success with my first winner on the Flat from just a handful of runners in that sphere, being a Royal Ascot winner. We proved that you don’t have to be a huge operation to have great success.
Making a difference
If I could make a difference, it would be to break down false perceptions of racing and make sure it is portrayed as more welcoming and inclusive and where everyone is treated the same, with equal opportunities. It should be a supportive environment where everyone can be themselves and reach their best without having to overcome unnecessary negative barriers and mindsets. I am particularly looking forward to working on projects that encourage different communities into horseracing and giving everyone an opportunity to discover this fantastic sport.
It is very exciting to be involved in the Diversity in Racing Steering Group and with so much valuable work having been done already with the raising the profiles of very successful female jockeys and the amazing achievements of Khadijah Mellah, I am hugely looking forward to the projects of 2020.
The next one to look out for is the International Women’s Day Fixture at Southwell Racecourse on Sunday 8th March in partnership with Great British Racing, Women in Racing and Arena Racing Company. The fixture will not only be a card dedicated to female jockeys with both Flat and Jump contests but will also raise funds for charity Smalls for All, providing underwear to women and children in Africa and the UK. Find out more here: https://www.southwell-racecourse.co.uk/whats-on/international-women’s-day-mixed-meeting