Butterfield turning a tall story into one of success

WITH each winner accrued, the sacrifices become even more worthwhile for jockey Jacob Butterfield after the most successful month of his burgeoning career.

York jockey Jacob Butterfield
York jockey Jacob Butterfield

It began with a notable win on Last Sovereign, his horse of a lifetime, at Newmarket’s July meeting, continued with a landmark Redcar double on the opening day of the Go Racing in Yorkshire Summer Festival and ended with Dream Walker prevailing at Ayr on Monday.

Unusually tall for a Flat jockey at 5ft 8in, this 20-year-old fitness freak draws inspiration from his racing idol, Richard Hughes, who is two inches taller and whose own annus mirabilis is today aboard 1000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes heroine Sky Lantern in Glorious Goodwood’s Group One Nassau Stakes.

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As for Pontefract-born Butterfield, who lives in York, he hopes to continue his winning run at Thirsk today on Megamunch – an ironically-named horse given his daily battle to keep his weight at a manageable 8st 5lb.

Take Thursday, one of the hottest days of the year. Within minutes of his alarm clock going off at 5.15am, the jockey is leaving his home in York Minster’s shadow to begin a fast-paced three-mile run with his mother Sally’s partner, Chris Gardner, a former Army physical trainer.

Butterfield takes up the daily routine: “Back home. Quick shower. And then in the Fiat Bravo just after 6am for the drive to Malton to the stables of Ollie Pears – it’s my second season with him and I can’t thank him enough. I’m then mucking out for an hour, anything between three and six horses. Cleaning the stables, making sure they’ve got water and hay. It keeps you grounded.”

The rest of a sweltering morning is spent riding out six horses on Malton’s gallops, including the nine-year-old Last Sovereign who has provided Butterfield, also collector of racing memorabilia, with five winners in the past year – including two at Newmarket.

With no rides, he spends the early afternoon studying the form and honing his technique on an equiciser. A cannily placed mirror allows him to study, and refine, his action – a smooth style is the difference between winning and losing and Butterfield is driven by the need to continue improving as a jockey.

He then mucks out the horses again in the afternoon before heading home for either an early evening run – or a swim.

As for food, breakfast was a banana. The teetotaller had a cereal bar and sips of water during morning gallops and then a chicken caesar salad for dinner with a glass of soda water. He is in bed just after 9pm.

Yet this rapidly-improving apprentice would not have it any other way after Dream Walker’s victory on Monday brought Butterfield’s tally of winners in 2013 to seven – equalling his total for the whole of last year.

His imagination was fired by grandfather Andy, who claims never to have missed a meeting at the town’s racecourse in 60 years. “He could yell you every jockey who has ridden there,” says Butterfield, who rode his first pony at eight before riding out with the Badsworth Hunt while attending St Wilfrid’s High School where he passed an impressive 14 exams at GCSE level.

He was encouraged by his mother – and father Tony – to ride at Doncaster’s Northern Racing College after committing himself to a career with horses, despite nagging concerns about his weight.

Weekends were spent riding out at Tadcaster trainer Tom Tate’s yard – 2005 Scottish National winning-jockey Keith Mercer offered great encouragement – and then six months hard graft at Richard Fahey’s yard before Butterfield joined the Malton yard of Brian Ellison.

It was plain-speaking Ellison who provided Butterfield with his first victory when Thrust Control galloped to a six-length win at Southwell in March, 2011.

As well as Pears, whose stables are among those opening to the public on August 25 for the Malton Open Day, Butterfield is keen to praise Ellison and jockey Dale Swift, the trainer and jockey behind 2011 Ebor winner Moyenne Corniche, for their unstinting support.

There was also a never-to-be-forgotten voicemail message on the morning after Thrust Control’s famous win. “It was from Paul Hanagan. He was champion jockey at the time, but it is a measure of the man that he found time to call,” says Butterfield, who also enjoyed two rides at York’s Sky Bet meeting last Saturday.

“Whenever I go to Newmarket, he’s the first lad in the weighing room to come over and ask how I am getting on. An absolute gentleman. It was amazing when Last Sovereign won at the July meeting. The horse was rated 74 and now runs off 92. We’ve improved together, I hope!

“I try and keep out of the sauna, it’s better that way in order to keep your weight under control, and I’ve read a lot of racing books to see how other jockeys cope. Richard Hughes is incredible. The discipline that he now has in his life, he’s the complete professional. A tall lad, he’s a great horseman and unbelievable rider – he’s someone I definitely look up to and I hope Sky Lantern wins the Nassau today. She was unlucky in the Falmouth at Newmarket to be forced across the track by Elusive Kate.

“Hughesie shows what you can do if you’re dedicated enough. I just want to be known as a strong Flat jockey, riding winners and doing what I love. You’ll never hear me complain about what I do. I’m a firm believer that you get out of life what you put in. If you put enough in, it has to pay off down the line.”

It is an inspiring mantra that drives Jacob Butterfield from the moment that he dashes past York Minster at daybreak to the final furlong of every race. He would not have it any other way.