JAYNE SIVILLS will need little introduction when her horse of a lifetime Lady Buttons lines up at Newbury today for her toughest racecourse assignment to date.
She will be attired in the purple and white colours to match those that will be carried by jockey Adam Nicol in the two-mile Ladbrokes Handicap Chase at Newbury.
And, by her own admission, there’s every likelihood that she will get slightly carried away if Lady Buttons, trained in North Yorkshire by the in-form Phil Kirby, is leading at the last.
“Don’t get the cameras on me,” she told The Yorkshire Post before the long trip south. “I do get very nervous. You are nervous because your first priority is for your horse to come back safe.
“A lot can happen in a race. At Wetherby, when she won, I did go a bit bananas when she was clear of the last and it was clear that she was going to win. It will be the same at Newbury.”
And with good reason.
After all, Lady Buttons is the progressive – and now popular – horse victorious nine times to date for Sivills and her husband Keith who own and run The Tiger Inn hostelry at Easington near Whitby.
Though the mare’s last win was in the Listed Mares’ Hurdle at Wetherby on Charlie Hall Chase day, there is every hope that the versatile Lady Buttons will be even more proficient over larger obstacles and today’s race will, in all likelihood, determine future plans.
If she performs to expectations, there will be even more options over both codes. “She’s in good form – and she goes there with every chance,” said Sivills, whose two sons will be running the family-run village pub and keeping regulars informed about the progress of Lady Buttons at Newbury’s main meeting of the year.
“Because of her rating, she has to be in races like this. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse. No offence to the local tracks here, you have got to go and take your chance in the bigger races at the bigger tracks.
“You have to see how good she is. She wasn’t disgraced when fourth in a Grade One novice chase at Aintree on Grand National day and this appears to be the obvious race.”
Brought up in a pub, Sivills has always had an interest in horses – and her husband, she says, also has a very thorough knowledge of the breeding industry.
Yet she was slightly taken aback when he telephoned her from the sales. “He had brought the mare Lady Chapp who was in foal with Buttons,” explained Sivills. “It was, he joked, a case of ‘buy one, get one free’. Seriously it was due to good judgement, rather than luck, because my husband is big into the breeding side of horse racing and has quite an eye for it.”
However, there are no guarantees in racing – owner-breeders as enthusiastic as the Sivills are the first to realise this – and it is fortunate that they decided to send Lady Buttons to the aforementioned Kirby as his own training venture in North Yorkshire began to take off.
His rise to prominence has, in many respects, mirrored the progress of Lady Buttons. “Phil has a very good knowledge of all of his horses and works really hard. He knows which races to put them in,” says Sivills. “He’s a trainer that a lot of other owners should look at because he gets the best out of his horses. You watch him walking around the yard and he’s cuddling the horses. They are not a number, they are all individuals.”
It is the same with Nicol who has ridden Lady Buttons in every start under National Hunt rules and who joined agent Bruce Jeffrey this week in the hope of seeking further riding opportunities.
“He’s ridden her from day one and knows her inside out,” says the owner. “He works her at home and plays his part in saying where we should run her. It’s a team effort. The staff in the yard who look after the horse, they’re just as important too.”
Yet, while Sivills says it can take quite a bit of planning to ensure the day job at the pub does not get in the way of her racing, she is taken aback by the level of interest in Lady Buttons.
They were, for example, approached by strangers at Wetherby prior to the horse’s last run to wish them luck – and updates posted on Facebook have a growing following. “You don’t realise how much she means to so many people,” adds Sivills. “It’s special to be involved with a horse like Buttons.”