How Ritchie Fiddes raced from free school meals to millionaire by 34
Ritchie Fiddes has gone from very humble beginnings to being a millionaire and owning his own thoroughbred stud. Catherine Scott meets him.
IT was Ritchie Fiddes’ grandad who first got him into horse racing.
“My grandparents were the one solid thing in my life,” recalls Fiddes, who grew up in a single parent family on free school meals.
“I lived with them at weekends. They had great values and were very old school – they always told me to work for myself. I owe them so much.
“My grandad really loved horse racing and I’d watch it on the TV with him on a Saturday – I was about six or seven. I’d play Monopoly with grandma and I was always very lucky. I’d beat grandad on the horses and grandma at Monopoly.”
It was a lesson that stood him in good stead.
Fiddes sold the business he shared with partner Simon Chappell for £23m in 2013, meaning he could retire at 34 and follow his passion for horses.
But his main driver in buying Moor End Farm near Ripon was that there was a cottage that was perfect for his grandparents.
“I always wanted to buy them a cottage so that I could look after them and when I saw this place it had two cottages in the grounds and I thought it was perfect. I was lucky with the timing. I sold my business and the house and grounds came on the market.”
His grandma still lives in the cottage he bought her, although sadly his grandad passed away.
The stables and 20 acres are now home more than 20 horses, including four foals delivered by Fiddes and his partner Hazel Elliott, ably assisted by Hazel’s two sons Luke, 13, and Finn, 10.
It is all a far cry from Fiddes’ humble beginnings being brought up by a single parent on benefits in a series of different homes.
When he passed his 11 plus and went to Ripon Grammar school, Fiddes said his poor background made him stand out from his classmates, but his money-making spirit started young.
“I was on free school meals but I would hold my tray up high so that I’d get a bit more food and then sell the extra to other boys.” He also did two paper rounds. “It was tough at the time when all your classmates have the latest computer games and football boots, but you learn about making money and looking after yourself.”
Despite being bright, he decided to leave school at 16, mainly due to finances.
“I always knew I had to make my own money and do something myself,” he says.”I knew that I would never be going to university as we could never have afforded it.”
He worked in IT sales for a few years gaining valuable experience before deciding to set up his own business with Chappell in 2005.
They designed an automated computer back-up service for large businesses. They started from nothing and Fiddes says looking back it was a risk, but it was a risk that they made pay off.
Within months they had signed up two premier league football clubs, followed by the Alliance and Leicester, British Red Cross and many more. They moved offices, employed 16 people and Fiddes found himself travelling the world.
After nine years they decided to sell, for £23m, giving Fiddes the financial security he lacked as a child. It also meant he could not only buy his grandparents a home he could pursue his passion for racehorses.
And it is clear he loves his life. Lockdown hasn’t been a problem for him or Hazel and they have both loved having the boys at home.
“It is a great education for them,” says Hazel, a former secondary school teacher, who met Fiddes three years ago through mutual racing friends.
“They are having an education with a difference helping out in the stables with the horses.”
“We do everything ourselves,” explains Fiddes, who celebrated his 40th birthday during lockdown.
“A mare can go into labour at any time – normally during the night in the early hours, so trying to get a vet here in time would be impossible.”
They are one of the few studs in the north to have their own stallion, Albaasil. Hazel admits,after around two years of nurturing the young horses, when they go off to their trainer it is like seeing a child off to boarding school.
“We have had all the horses back during lockdown which is lovely,” she says.
Fiddes does things slightly differently to many thoroughbred breeders in that he uses the latest technology such as equine treadmills and scientific breakthroughs.
“Horse racing is a very traditional sport, in a way very similar to farming in that businesses and methods are passed down the generations,” says Fiddes. “In other sports things had moved on but not in horse racing.”
He utilised his IT skills and started to use equine genetics in his breeding programme.
“A genetic test can tell you the optimum race distance, potential ability level, soundness and even if they will prefer turf or all weather race tracks.”
And it seems to be working as Fiddes is no stranger to the winner’s enclosure.
One of Fiddes’s former horses, Moviesta, was owned with football manager Harry Rednapp and was a winner at Group level at Glorious Goodwood.
Other winners have included Easton Angel who was owned with Sheikh Joaan Al-Thani’s Al Shaqab Racing who won multiple Listed races and was placed at group level.
Horse racing was one of the first sports to emerge from lockdown and Fiddes is looking forward to having more winners, but it seems that it is the way of life that is as important to him as the winning.