Micky Hammond is one of the top talents amongst the ranks of horseracing trainers, combining the knowledge he gained from being one of the top jump jockeys in the 1980s with an ability to get the best out of horses of all levels with his sympathetic and individual approach to training.
Despite his success as a jockey and trainer, Micky wasn’t brought up in the world of horseracing. When he was about to leave school aged 16, wondering about what sort of work he should pursue, he was only 5ft tall and weighed about 7 stone. As he had an interest in watching racing, it was suggested to him that he was the right shape and size to become a jockey.
So, young Micky wrote to Brian Swift the trainer who was based at Epsom, enquiring about becoming an apprentice jockey, and Swift arranged for an interview. In the meantime, the family’s milk lady mentioned this to local trainer TM Jones and he suggested that Micky should come to the yard at the weekends and help out whilst he was in his final year at school by way of preparation. Micky worked both days every weekend and soon learned the basics of horse care, as well as learning to ride. Towards the end of the school year, Mr Jones went to see Micky’s parents and suggested he went there when he left school, rather than Brian Swift’s and Micky chose that as he could stay at home.
The early years
And so Micky’s career in racing began inauspiciously at a small yard in Surrey. He stayed there for 4 years, developing his riding skills and learning the ropes of horse management. He had 3 rides on the flat as an apprentice in his time there, the last of these being a ride at Bath in a race which was Richard and Michael Hills’s first ever rides for their father Barry. Micky recalls: “They were only about 5st 5lbs each at the time!” Working at Jones’s yard, Micky learned about feeding horses properly, “Mr Jones was a top ‘feeder’ of horses, but looking back he probably over-fed and under-exercised. He was very much old school. His father, Davy Jones (not the one of Monkees’ fame!) taught me to ride, and that was great for me as he had ridden in the Derby and Gold Cup in his time.”
Micky with ATR’s Simon Mapletoft at Ripon
The switch to jumping
During the time between the age of 16 and 19, Micky grew from 5ft to 5ft 7 and from 7st to 9st. As flat jockeys generally need to be able to weigh 8st 7 or less, it was clear that Micky was unlikely to make it in that code. He passed his driving test and decided to go and work for Hugh O’Neill at Coldharbour. O’Neill’s yard was a 30-strong jumping yard, with Gerry Gracey as stable jockey. Micky went there as a stable lad. “After a while I started as a conditional jockey and had my first jumps rides. My first winner was called Excelsior, who won a chase at Windsor for the ticket tout Stan Flashman in 1982.” Micky went on to ride out his claim with about 70 winners over 3 seasons.
O’Neill exercised his horses through the forestry, which was good for the horses. He only had a 4f grass gallop. “There, I learned about laying a horse out for a race – particularly sellers.” Micky rode around the southern tracks, but in the last season he was riding there (1984/85), he broke 2 vertebrae in his back riding American Girl in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham. Micky recalls: “It was a freak accident. The horse behind us pinged the hurdle and his head hit me in the base of the spine. I finished the race, but had broken 2 backbones and it kept me off for a couple of months. The osteopath said it was too inflamed for her to treat it and suggested I went to hospital.” As a result, Micky only rode 4 winners in that last season. Also, O’Neill had invented the Waterhog (much used at golf courses around the world) and he focused his time on that, with the result that horse numbers in the yard dropped.
The move North and emergence as a top class jump jockey
Micky had previously been offered a job in Middleham by owner George Dawes, but didn’t think anything of it until his injury at O’Neill’s. He wrote to George after the injury to see if there was anything available. Dawes had his horses with George Moore and invited Micky up and he got a job as a lad. Moore only had about 18 horses at the time, split roughly equally between flat and jumps. “I worked in the yard as a lad on the understanding I’d ride. My first winner for George was Tophams Taverns (my second ride) at Market Rasen at the start of the 1985/86 jumps season” Tophams Taverns went on to win 4 on the bounce and things went well, so the yard attracted more and more owners over the next few years.
That same season, Micky rode Hardy Lad to win the Scottish National at Ayr, and his career never looked back. He picked up many of the best rides from the various Middleham trainers and other jumps trainers in the North, including Mrs Monica Dickinson, Arthur “WA” Stephenson, Jumbo Wilkinson, Capt Neville Crump, Chris Thornton and Jimmy Fitzgerald.
Micky rode 63 winners in 1987/88 season, and was lying second to Peter Scudamore in the jockey’s title when he broke his leg for the first time in April 1988. “I was riding a horse called Rosskover, but he made a mistake and came down. I was knocked out and had broken my fibia and tibia. I was out until September but shortly after returning, I broke my leg again in a horrible schooling accident up on Middleham Moor on one of Ernie Weymes’s horses called Melkono.” Although Micky returned again in March 1989, he decided to retire from race-riding on 1 January 1990 in order to become a trainer.
Looking back, Micky says: “The best horse I rode was probably Ballydurrow of Roger Fisher’s. He was maybe 12lbs short of Champion Hurdle winning form. Other memorable rides were winning on Hardy Lad in the 1986 Scottish National and riding West Tip in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.”
“My best performances as a rider were probably on Real Guilt in a handicap hurdle at Ayr on Scottish National day – I was 5th or 6th at the final hurdle, but had judged the ride well and booted him home to lead near the finish. Then there was Tingle Bell in the Timeform Hurdle at Chepstow in 1986, who won with a track record under a good tactical ride”.
A promising young trainer
In the last couple of years riding at George Moore’s, Micky filled in for George when he took holidays or was away. “I quite enjoyed that. I was also thinking that I was having to waste a lot to make the weights and was having heavy injuries. I didn’t want to be a jockey forever, so it seemed a natural thing to move into training in my own right.”
Micky started training with a new licence in May 1990 at Tupgill Stables alongside the Low Moor at Middleham (next to Forbidden Corner). “I had a lot of confidence, and I expected success. It started well – in my first season I started with 15 or so horses and then quickly built to 30 or so. I recruited a good team, and we had 2 winners from our first 5 runners.” The stable team went on to have 32 winners in that first year, which is still a record for a first season jumps trainer. His first winner as a trainer was on the Flat at Ayr with a 3yo, Palmers Pride, who was also Micky’s first jumps winner at Perth in the autumn of 1990.
“I was fortunate to be supported by owners I’d ridden for, including from George Moore’s stable. But I didn’t cannabilise what George was doing – he was flying high, and the only horses which ‘defected’ were pretty poor ones to begin with!”
Micky went on to have 38 winners in his second jumps season and 51 in his third season in 1992/93. He had established himself as one of the top training talents and started to attract major owners such as Trevor Hemmings, owner of many top jumps horses and famous for owning Hedgehunter, winner of the 2005 Grand National.
Micky casts his eye over early morning gallops on Middleham’s Low Moor
A skilful trainer
Micky showed that one of his key skills was an eye for an unexposed horse with great potential. A good example of this early in his training career was a 4 year old called Fishki which Micky claimed out of a seller on the flat at Beverley in 1990, having won a claimer a week earlier (where she’d been claimed by Bill Stubbs from Ben Hanbury!). “She won 2 Flat races for us and then also over hurdles and fences.
Another example was Valiant Warrior who was bought for just 4,000 guineas. Micky went purposely to the sales to buy him. “He’d run in the Triumph Hurdle for David Nicholson, having been with Henry Candy on the flat, but was a bit of a rogue. We sorted him out and he won 9 races in the rest of his career with us. He was never out of the first 3 finishers in his first 19 races for us.”
Micky has also demonstrated that he can get the best from horses with ability but which perhaps haven’t been showing the right attitude. “Clay County came to us from Dick Allan, where he had lost his way, and was a bit sickened. He won 3 races in his first season with us. He was also second in the Victor Chandler Chase (at Kempton following abandonment of Ascot), just caught by Ask Tom.”
Established at the top
With horses skilfully nurtured like Sir Peter Lely who was fourth in the Grand National in 1996 (claimed off the Flat), Deep Water who won the Glenlivet Hurdle at Aintree and over £100,000 in prize money, Outset who won a number of good handicaps including the Oddbins Hurdle, Turgeonev, who went on to win the Victor Chandler Chase for Tim Easterby and Colourful Life and Heidi III who both won the Great Yorkshire Chase, Micky was showing he had all the necessary skills to deliver success.
His high to date was 6 winners in a single day in 1996.
Micky with assistant Gemma
A break from racing, but back firing on all cylinders
In 2001, Micky took a year out after his marriage to Alex unfortunately broke down. “I always intended to return, but that was a low time in my life”. He returned to training at Oakwood in 2002, but obviously had to start from scratch.
Since then Oakwood Stables has been home to some of the most popular dual purpose horses in training, with the likes of Mr Crystal, Fair Spin, Pertuis and Dawn Ride regularly visiting the winners enclosure. The stable team have a cracking attitude and continue to achieve excellent results, while Micky has slowly but surely improved the quality of horses and has recently returned to the levels of success he consistently saw in the 1990s.
2015 was his most successfu Flat season ever, while the jumps team have been performing miracles, having their best season since 1997/98 thanks in no small part to multiple winners Roxyfet, Auldthunder, Verko and Caraline, who all made incredible progress. The improvement in quality is reflected by the likes of the hugely exciting and progressive chaser Just Cameron, who finished second to Arkle winner Un De Sceaux in a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival and was sixth in the 2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase, Alderbrook Lad, a winner of seven races and over £60,000 in prize money who Micky bought at the 2013 Doncaster sales for just £8,500, the classy Rathlin, who has run with great credit over Aintree’s Grand National fences and Libby Mae, a first time out bumper winner who went on to make excellent progress over timber.
“I have always been a determined person, and I feel like there is unfinished business. A number of people have put their faith in me, and they are beginning to see the results. We have a good team here, and the quality of horses and their performance is improving fast – I’d be delighted to show you the progress we’ve made.”
If you have any questions for Micky, or are interested in learning more about a stable tour or racehorse ownership, please contact us.