My best teacher

1st December 2000 at 00:00
I was taught by two lovely ladies at Dunover primary in County Antrim: Miss Mitchell, who's now dead, and Mrs McIlveen, who came over when I did This Is Your Life recently.

My mother always kept in touch with them. They gave me a good grounding, so that when we came to England and I went to Tetbury junior school in Gloucestershire, I was able to go in a year above my age. The school in Ireland was small, about 40 pupils, so I suppose I was able to concentrate.

Then I went to Rendcomb college, near Cirencester. It was a good school, lovely surroundings and good for sport. There's a sports master there I'm still close to, David Essenhigh, one of Gloucestershire under-15s' cricket coaches. He was interested in racing, but there weren't many people there who were. I always hated going back to boarding school on Sunday evenings, although once I got back it wasn't too bad. but there was no racing, so my life was cut in two. O-levels went well, and my parents probably wanted me to take A-levels and be a vet, but I knew what I wanted to do. Right from when I was little I'd watched my father training horses, and the Grand National on television.

After my father moved to work with the trainer Paul Kelleway at Newmarket, I rode out every morning in the school holidays. My father would help me sometimes. If I had a problem we could discuss things.

I did go on to the sixth form, but that's when I started to get bigger and I wanted to keep my weight in check. I got pretty obsessive about it. Recently I've learned a lot about diet by reading sports nutrition books, but all the time I was a jockey my diet was pretty unhealthy. I'd eat chocolate, then go and sit in the sauna. A lot of jockeys struggle with their weight. It's not the nicest part of the job.

The jockey who taught me the most was Hywel Davies. He was the stable jockey at Tim Forster's and all the other jockeys and lads in the yard would look to him. I did a lot of schooling with Hywel. He also taght me general racecraft - don't go flying up someone's inner if you haven't got the pace to go for it, and don't give horses too hard a race on their first run because if they aren't 100 per cent they'll take longer to recover.

I also watched Peter Scudamore when he was champion jockey. I noticed his dedication, and technical things such as how strong he was in the finish. Just by working with him, and sitting next to him, I acquired his focus. That's important in any sport; it's always more a mind than a physical thing.

You learn from every horse you ride. And you learn not to trust any of them. I'm certainly not as fond of them now as I was when I started in the stable, looking after three or four of them. Some you can trust a little more than others. Right at the end of my career I rode a horse at Hereford and I trusted him to take off at the last fence properly. He didn't. I fell clean off and it was probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my career.

I've always watched videos of myself - not the races I'd won, but if I'd made a mistake I'd watch it 150 times. It was a way of learning.

Racing's a very individualistic sport. There are no designated coaches, so even though you're with a team and you've got your horse, the yard, the trainers, the owners and the stable lads all behind you, it's down to you at the end of the day.

Jockey Richard Dunwoody was talking to Hilary Wilce

The story so far

1964 born in Belfast 1981 first stable job 1983 first winner 1986 wins Grand National on West Tip 1988 wins Cheltenham Gold Cup on Charter Party 1990 wins Champion Hurdle on Kribensis 1992-1994 Champion jockey three years in succession 1993 Awarded MBE 1994 Best season - 197 winners, including Grand National on Minnehoma 1999 10th consecutiveseason of riding more than 100 winners 1999 retires because of neck injury after riding 1,699 winners, a National Hunt record 2000 publishes autobiography, Obsessed (Headline pound;18.99)


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