Jamie and Lucy Snowden on life in Berkshire, their respective careers and their lucky break
PUBLISHED: 11:01 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 11:02 10 March 2014
Jamie and Lucy Snowden love life at their Lambourn Yard, but fate played a big part in bringing them to West Berkshire, Jan Raycroft discovers
Skills and knowledge picked up from experts plus a huge amount of hard work go into being a successful racehorse trainer. All of that applies to Jamie Snowden at Lambourn, who has grown his stables from one horse to 30. But he’d be the first to acknowledge that Lady Luck always plays a part in what can be a mercurial life with its highs and lows.
Indeed, the man who rode three winners for the Queen in his successful career as an amateur jockey, including First Love in 2006 (the horse had been owned by HM the Queen Mother and passed to her daughter) now sees a “huge silver lining” in the injury which ended that competitive pursuit.
The broken ankle he gained in a nasty fall going over a last fence in 2007 left him with a pinned leg and hobbling round on crutches for a long time. “The truth was that I was never going to make a living out of riding horses,” he says. “It forced me to think about my future and seriously look towards training. In many ways it was the kick up the bottom I needed.”
Well, that future has arrived and he now trains from the beautiful setting of Folly House, the former home of ex-trainer Merrick Francis, son of Dick Francis, the novelist, close to some of the best gallop facilities the racing world has to offer. The house includes an annexe where Dick stayed while at Lambourn.
Most importantly, his life is complete with wife Lucy, clever and busy daughter Lettie, and son Harry, a six-months-old ‘boy boy’, a bouncing, healthy lad scurrying round their farmhouse kitchen in his baby walker. Well perhaps not quite complete, for Lucy says that while one of each is perfect, she wouldn’t completely rule out another child in the future.
The Snowdens took over Folly House in 2011 and perhaps good fortune will play a part here, too. It’s been known as a ‘lucky yard’, Francis had success there and Noel Chance trained Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Mr Mulligan from Folly House.
And fate played its part in bringing Jamie and Lucy together. They met at university where he was studying agricultural business management and she was immersed in a biomedical sciences degree: “I was going to be one of those people with a white coat in a laboratory,” she laughs.
Similar backgrounds and a shared love of horses and the countryside meant they became friends, but there was no romance at this stage. And there might not have been, but for a chance meeting again in 2006.
Life had taken them in different directions. Jamie had gone to Sandhurst and spent three years in the Kings Royal Hussars, rising to the rank of Captain. “The Army is very good at supporting people in their sports achievements,” Jamie says. “Being in a cavalry regiment I was able to ride in military races as well.”
Meanwhile Lucy, having found it impossible to get a job in her chosen subject, instead moved into the financial world of Euromoney and Merrill Lynch.
Fortunately they met again at a party, clicked, and this time ended up engaged for a year and half before marrying.
Their first yard was at Ebbesbourne Wake in Wiltshire and although Jamie sent out 30 winners it was often a tough time. Lucy recalls: “No internet, the phone reception was useless and you seemed to be miles from anywhere.”
Jamie adds: “And it took ages to get to a course and then you had the long journey back.”
The move to Lambourn helped to transform their family life. “Even without looking at it from the training side, it’s brilliant,” Lucy explains. “The children have so many little friends here and have a lot of fun. I can actually walk to the butcher and there are great schools in a lovely community.”
It’s also handy for when they want to visit London, or owners wish to pop in from the city to see Jamie and the horses.
Even so, this is not a life for the faint-hearted or those who want to turn over and switch off the alarm clock on frosty mornings. The Snowdens join their team in the riding out each morning, so even on Christmas Day there was a 7.30am start – horses don’t mark the calendar!
“You have winter horses, summer horses, those that are in paddocks, on holiday as such. There’s always plenty to keep your busy,” Jamie says. And there are the lows to go with the highs, particularly when a horse suffers a career-ending injury or has to be put down. “Everyone in racing hates that because the horses are loved, it’s just the worst moment. But there is no feeling in the world like the one when a plan works out and you win.”
For Jamie, who had been assistant trainer and amateur jockey to Nicky Henderson at Seven Barrows, and also spent a season with Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, having his own set-up at Lambourn has been a dream come true.
He’s also overseeing other people’s dreams with a Racing Club where people can share in the thrills of ownership of a National Hunt horse for around £700 a year. Horses are swapped in and out of the club partnership and there’s an open day in September each year.
Jamie has his own hopes for the future. He’d like to expand the yard to perhaps 50 horses and eventually be able to race them in Ireland and France as well. And, of course, there is the natural desire to have a big winner at the Cheltenham Festival. Racing, as he says, is “a massive roller coaster” but you can be pretty sure that the Snowdens are going to enjoy this ride.
About Jamie Snowden and his horses
Jamie, 35 this year, grew up in the world of show jumping and Pony Clubs, alongside jockey Joe Tizzard. He didn’t have his own horse to compete in point to point racing but was mentored by West Country National Hunt training stalwart John Dufosee.
As the riding obsession took hold, he’s now glad that his parents pushed him to also find time to get some A levels and head for university. At Radley College he was able to ride out for Nigel Twiston-Davies and enjoyed a gap year as an assistant trainer at a New Zealand flat yard.
The breakthrough came as assistant trainer for Nicky Henderson before he set up his own operation in the summer of 2008. Jockeys who ride regularly for him include Brendan Powell, Sam Twiston-Davies and Gavin Sheehan.
He has some horses with real potential at Lambourn. They include six-year-old Joanne One, already the winner of some novice chases. Then there’s Denboy, nephew of the magnificent Denman.
You can see the full list and details of the racing club at www.jamiesnowdenracing.co.uk.