If you need a racehorse trainer, then Micky Hammond is one of the best in the business. The knowledge he has gained from being one of the top jump jockeys in the 1980s, combined with his ability to get the best out of horses on all levels, is what makes his approach to training one of a kind.
Where it all began
Despite his success as a jockey and trainer, Micky wasn’t brought up in the world of horse racing. When he was about to leave school aged 16, he was only 5ft tall and weighed about seven 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 Epsom trainer Brian Swift 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 option as it meant he could stay at home.
So Micky’s career in racing began inauspiciously at a small yard in Surrey. He stayed with Mr Jones for four years, developing his riding skills and learning horse management. He had three rides on the Flat as an apprentice, the last of which was at Bath in a race where both Richard and Michael Hills had their first ever rides for their father Barry.
“Mr Jones’ father, Davy, taught me to ride,” recalls Micky. “That was great for me, as he’d ridden in the Derby and the Gold Cup in his time.”
The switch to jumping
Between the ages of 16 and 19, Micky grew from 5ft to 5ft 7in and went from 7st to 9st, and it was becoming clear that he wasn’t going to make it as a Flat jockey. He decided to go and work for Hugh O’Neill at Coldharbour, a 30-strong jumping yard with Gerry Gracey as stable jockey. Micky went there as a stable lad.
“After a while I became a conditional jockey and had my first jumps rides,” he recalls. “My first winner was Excelsior, who won a chase at Windsor for the ticket tout Stan Flashman in 1982.”
Micky went on to ride out his claim with 70 winners over three seasons around the southern tracks, but in the last season he was riding there, 1984/85, he broke two vertebrae in his back riding American Girl in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham.
“It was a freak accident,” he remembers. “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 two 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 four winners that season and with O’Neill turning his attention to other projects, horse numbers in the yard dropped.
Micky moves North
Micky had previously been offered a job in Middleham by owner George Dawes, but he didn’t think anything of it until his injury at O’Neill’s. He wrote to Dawes after the injury to see if there was still anything available. Dawes had his horses with George Moore, who gave Micky a job as stable 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,” says the boss.
“My first winner for George was Tophams Taverns, on only my second ride, at Market Rasen at the start of the 1985/86 jumps season.” Tophams Taverns went on to win four on the bounce, things continued to go well and the yard attracted more owners over the next few years.
That same season, Micky rode Hardy Lad to win the Scottish National at Ayr, and he didn’t look back after that. He picked up many of the best rides from the various Middleham trainers and other jumps handlers in the north, including Monica Dickinson, Arthur “WA” Stephenson, Jumbo Wilkinson, Neville Crump, Chris Thornton and Jimmy Fitzgerald.
Micky had ridden 63 winners in 1987/88 season, and was lying second to Peter Scudamore in the jockeys’ championship when he broke his leg for the first time in April 1988. “I was riding a horse called Rosskover,” he recalls, “but he made a mistake and came down. I was knocked out and had broken my fibula 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’ horses called Melkono.”
Although Micky made another brief comeback in March 1989, he decided to retire from race riding on 1 January 1990 in order to become a trainer.
“The best horse I rode was probably Roger Fisher’s Ballydurrow,” Micky says. “He was maybe 12lbs short of Champion Hurdle winning form. Other memorable rides were winning on Hardy Lad in the Scottish National and riding West Tip in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.”
“My best performance as a rider? Two spring to mind. Real Guilt in a handicap hurdle at Ayr on Scottish National day, I was fifth or sixth at the final hurdle but I’d 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 start
In his last couple of years riding at George Moore’s, Micky filled in for his boss when he took holidays or was away. “I quite enjoyed that,” he says. “I was also thinking that I was having to waste a lot to make the weights and I was having bad 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 in May 1990 at Tupgill Stables alongside the Low Moor at Middleham, now the Saddle Room restaurant. “I had a lot of confidence, and I expected success,” he recalls. “It started well – in my first season I started with 15 or so horses and then quickly built to 30. I recruited a good team, and we had two winners from our first five runners.”
The new team went on to have 32 winners in that first year, a record for a first season jumps trainer. His first winner as a trainer was the three year old Palmers Pride on the Flat at Ayr, and the same horse was also the yard’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,” Micky says. “But I didn’t cannibalise 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 the likes of Cloudy Lane, Many Clouds and Grand National winners Ballabriggs and Hedgehunter.
An eye for a good horse
Micky showed that one of his key skills was an eye for an unexposed horse with great potential. He claimed the four year old Fishki out of a seller on the flat at Beverley in 1990 and she went on to win two Flat races and also won over hurdles and fences.
Micky went purposely to the sales to buy Valiant Warrior and picked him up for 4,000 guineas. “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,” the boss recalls. “We sorted him out and he won nine more races. He was never out of the first three finishers in his first 19 races for us.”
Micky has also shown that he can get the best from horses who have ability but perhaps haven’t been showing the right attitude. “Clay County came to us from Dick Allan’s, where he had lost his way,” he says. “He won three races in his first season with us. He was also second in the Victor Chandler Chase at Kempton, just caught by Ask Tom.”
Towards the end of the 1990s, Micky was regularly amongst the top ten trainers, and was consistently one of the leading lights in the north. He moved into a new yard, Oakwood Stables, his present home, in 1997.
With skilfully nurtured horses like Sir Peter Lely, who was claimed off the Flat and finished fourth in the Grand National in 1996, Deep Water, who won the Class A 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 consistently deliver success.
His high to date was 6 winners in a single day in 1996.
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 says. He returned to training at Oakwood in 2002, but 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 winner’s enclosure. His current 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 our most successful Flat season ever, while the jumps horses enjoyed a particularly good 2015/16 as we had our 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 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 eight 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.
The yard's success was highlighted in February 2016 when Micky's long serving assistant, Gemma Hogg, was named Employee of the Year at the Godolphin Stud & Stable Staff Awards in London. Head Girl Becky Smith and stable girl Lauren Lucas were also finalists on a memorable and very proud night for Oakwood Stables.
“I have always been a determined person, and I feel like there is unfinished business,” says Micky, looking ahead. “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 getting better and better.”