He sends out the favourite for Saturday’s R1 million Gr1 L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate and is once again our Western Cape Champion trainer and a proud father of two. Joey Ramsden has come a long way in five years!
Consider this insight into the JR of 2007!
Looking at the way Joey Ramsden churns out the winners, it’s hard to believe that in his first season he gave every impression of being unable to train ivy up a wall.
The man who has been the Cape’s champion trainer three times, and handled stars like Winter Solstice, fared so badly in his initial year that he seriously considered packing it up to become a journalist.
“It was a real duff start”, he relates in a tone that suggests even he can’t believe it. “My best horse broke down. Most of the two-year-olds were no good, the couple of others I had were rubbish, and I was feeding the wrong stuff. I wasn’t making any money either and I couldn’t see the point.”
The fact that he trained 121 winners last season and 130 in the previous one says as much for his perseverance as for the inborn talent that has undoubtedly come from his father, a shrewd individual who turned a passion for racing into a profitable way of life. Jack Ramsden, a regular visitor to Cape Town, always appears on the racecourse in one of his best suits as if he is still the stockbroker he once was.
“He has an incredible knowledge of pedigrees and form,” says his son. “He devoted most of his life to racing. I suppose he has been a professional gambler for most of it too. He was never a huge individual punter, more a cumulative gambler, but a successful one.”
Brought up in London, Joey was eight by the time his father married Lynda in March 1977. His mother, who had little interest in horses, moved to Cornwall when his parents split up. By that stage the Ramsden boy was already riding ponies. He was still at school, Pangbourne College in Berkshire, when he decided he was going to become a bloodstock agent.
“It seemed a good idea, particularly as I wanted to do something with horses although I wasn’t sure what. In fact, while I had an interest in pedigrees, it was nowhere near enough to become an agent.”
Thrown in at the deep end
He got a job with the BBA travelling horses and went to the sales with experts like James Delahooke and Paul Webber, before his father stepped in.
“He thought my interest in racing was not strong enough to tick it out so he arranged for me to go to America and be thrown in at the deep end with a job at Creek View Farm in Kentucky. He believed it would be harder for me away from home and probably a good way of weaning me off a life in racing”
In fact Ramsden loved both the life and the country. He then moved to Australia to join Brian Mayfield-Smith, one of the top trainers in Sydney. But visa limitations meant that he couldn’t stay more than six months. Going back to the States presented the same problem. South Africa was the next option, particularly as Lynda’s brother was living there.
“Their plan was for me to come here and get a job away from racing. It was the final push to wean me away.”
That was early in 1988 although Ramsden tends to be vague about dates – “It was the year Mark Anthony won the Met, whenever that was”.
One of the first people he met in South Africa had a horse with Michael Roberts, no relation to Muis but a trainer near Johannesburg. Ramsden went to work for him and began to make contacts.
One of those he met was Vaughan Marshall who asked him to move to Port Elizabeth and take charge of a satellite yard. Ramsden ran it for three years, during which the winners flowed and other professionals began to take note of the young man running the yard. When he decided the time had come to move on, there was no shortage of job offers. Mike de Kock’s was just one of many, but Marshall persuaded him to transfer to Cape Town with his summer string. “There were only twelve horses so it sounded like a good holiday!”
One of Ramsden’s tasks was to go to the bank to get the money for the wages. On one never to be forgotten occasion he found himself confronted by a gang and ordered to hand over the cash. Any thoughts of heroics vanished the second he saw a gun pointing at him. “It was around the time of the elections. What year was that?” The year 1994 was also important for others in the Ramsden family. That August Lynda won the Gimcrack with Chilly Billy, prompting such demand for her services that she and her husband decided to open a satellite yard at Southwell, 150 kilometres to the south of their Yorkshire stables. Joey was asked if he would like to return home and run it.
Compensations at Southwell
The Southwell operation clocked up quite a few winners in 1995 while Lynda prepared Top Cees to win the first of his three Chester Cups. This remarkable gelding also won the Coral Cup at the 1998 Cheltenham Festival as well as the following year’s Cesarewitch.
Ramsden did not find it that easy working for his family although there were compensations. The secretary at Southwell was an attractive blonde and Ramsden asked her out. Fiona Haynes, better known as Fee, became his wife in August 2005.
Jack Ramsden, possibly influenced by his son’s South African connections, bought some yearlings here. So did a number of English-based people he knew. His son returned to Milnerton to start training. He began that disastrous first season with five yearlings and a few horses that were already in training. “I found it almost impossible to get off the ground and I discovered I had contaminated feed. I never really thought that I couldn’t do the job. After all, I’d done well at Southwell and I’d trained a lot of winners for Vaughan in PE. I had an offer to go into journalism but, when I went back to England on holiday, I thought things over. I decided to give training one good go and then make up my mind.
“I changed the food, and a few other things as well. It proved to be the turning point. The horses started running consistently instead of well one day and like a dog the next. People began to see that I could get the job done and that I was prepared to run them, and they started sending me horses.
“The first good one was Legal Mission who won a couple of Graded races after I’d bought him in a horses-in-training sale for ten grand. Taupo Retreat became my first Grade One winner in the 2001 November Handicap in Germiston and after that things just got better and better.”
They certainly did with Winter Solstice who won a string of Graded races including the Queen’s Plate, Gold Challenge and the Champions Cup in 2005 plus a second Queen’s Plate the following January, finishing Horse of the Year. “He is the best I’ve had, and you don’t realise just how good a horse like that is until he leaves and you find you have nothing in comparison. But I’ve got a lot of nice young horses at the moment and I think we are going to have a big season this time.”
Just Joey – an early riser
Joey Ramsden gives the impression of being incredibly laid-back. He is usually one of the last to collect his jockey’s saddle from the weighing room but, far from hurrying, he strolls casually across the parade ring as if he has all the time in the world. His relaxed approach is all the more marked because the majority of his profession often display signs of the tension that goes with the territory.
He bursts out laughing when this is pointed out to him. “I am normally quite relaxed,” he admits. “But I would by lying if I said I didn’t have a temper. It’s usually the little things that bother me, and I’m incredibly competitive. Too much so, but I try to keep my cool.”
He has the considerable asset of being an approachable individual who is easy to like, and this has undoubtedly played a big part in enabling him to build up a large and wealthy client base. He sees other reasons for his success.
“I’ve bought reasonably priced horses and got good results from them. Also we communicate well with the owners, even though it’s not possible to keep everyone happy all the time. In addition I am a believer in running the horses and trying to make them earn their keep. I don’t believe in hiding them away in their boxes.“
Ramsden’s competitive edge extends to the golf course, although not as effectively as he would like. “I’m mustard keen but the game doesn’t love me. I’ve got to a certain level, handicap 13, but sometimes I’m only able to play once every five weeks and then I lose everything I’ve ever had.”
Writing the “Just Joey” column for the Sporting Post was also a hobby, until he gave it up. One of the problems was that his journalistic leanings never progressed as far as typing. He had to write the article out longhand, and it then took him another hour and a half to correct the grammar !
He lives near Milnerton and is up at 5:15am each day – in Cape Town it’s dark for most of the year at that time. “I go straight to work and get the bad news – what’s sick, what’s lame and what hasn’t eaten – before the first string goes out.” After the second string, he spends an hour on office work, while the third string consists mostly of horses on the easy list.
But, if they can’t race or they need a break, they go to Craig Carey at Arc-En-Ciel. “I have room for 100 horses at Milnerton and I train about 120. I believe in racing them hard and in rotating them. I have a great understanding with Craig and he does a very good job.”
Ramsden is looking forward to moving to the new training centre at Modderrivier. “Milnerton is cramped an difficult, and I think it’s amazing how well the trainers there do, and how competitive they are countrywide.”
With a champion jockey as a brother-in-law – his half-sister Emma is married to Jamie Spencer – there is no shortage of racing talent in the family and Ramsden’s ambitions are centred at the top end. “My aim is to train more and more Grade One horses. They are what gets me out of bed in the morning” – particularly at quarter past five!
With thanks to Michael Clower for SA Bloodstock News – October 2007