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Marcus Armytage: My route from jockey to journalist



I grew up around horses. My father trained, and my mother was an international showjumper, riding for Dorothy Paget, who owned Golden Miller. I always thought I’d do something horsey, but it wasn’t necessarily going to be in racing. My father bought me a horse, and I used a category B amateur licence when I was sixteen which, in those days, didn’t involve any of the training and fitness tests you do now.


The horse I was given was bred by the late queen, and was called Honours Even. We ran in every amateur racing going, getting numbers up to ride in open races at Windsor during the winter, when I was allowed one lesson off a term. My father was very patient, particularly as my younger sister was much more precocious, competitive, and gung-ho than me. That approach probably cost her in injuries, but it meant she had a double at Cheltenham before I’d even ridden there!



Not a day goes by when someone doesn’t mention my 1990 Grand National win on Mr Frisk. I was the fifth amateur to win since the War, and my reign was only eclipsed last year, when Sam Waley-Cohen won on Noble Yeats. When I rode, there were four amateurs in the National, and amateurs were winning it once every ten years, so the strike rate was about right. I don’t know if amateurs went out of fashion, but many started turning professional, though Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry came very close to victory in the years between Sam and I.



Aintree remains one of my favourite course, and I always say the Grand National is the most colourful ten minutes in sport, because there’s so much going on in the race. It’s also an easier watch since changes to the course were made in 2012. Once you’ve won the Grand National, you just want more, so I rode at Cheltenham often, and I love that course. I also rode at many courses around Europe.


Merano is a particularly stunning course: I rode there often, though don’t think I ever had a winner. I’ve also covered the Breeders’ Cup at most venues in America for The Racing Post and The Telegraph, and I went to Tokyo at the end of last year for the Japan Cup, which is a trip I’d recommend everyone tries. I’ve been a journalist since I was 20, starting on the Newbury Evening News. I've found that sports journalism has changed over the years, particularly as there’s so many sports papers need to write about nowadays, not least with women’s sport emerging. It means that when you’ve got six or seven meetings in the summer, there’s often very little room for editorial, and that can be frustrating.

 

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