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My Racing Story

My Racing Story

Camilla Sharples

Camilla Sharples with KruzhlininCamilla Sharples with Kruzhlinin
© Photo Healy Racing

I'm from north west England, Lancashire to be precise. I lived near a place called Lancaster which is near the Lake District. I've been involved with horses all my life. I grew up with them and did pony club, did riding club and did British eventing and British dressage. I was quite successful and did that all through school. I did quite well in my A Levels and I was supposed to go and do Marketing and Advertising at Lancaster University. I had a really good horse at the time and I decided I would take a gap year and event her. While I took my gap year, I went and worked in a local plumbing and heating company in the accounts department. I ended up doing that for two years. I deferred my entry for a year and then I got the bug of earning a bit of money and decided not to go to university! So I took another gap year but, while working in that company, I kept my horse in a livery yard. In the livery yard I became really good friends with a girl called Rebecca Menzies. She kept her horses on the livery yard and we became best pals.

Rebecca went off to work for Ferdy Murphy as his racing secretary. I used to go up at weekends and go racing with Ferdy. The guy that owned the livery yard was called Walter Gott and Becky was very good friends with him. He owned horses with Ferdy and he actually owned a horse called Granit D'Estruval who won the Irish National (in 2004). I got into racing through Rebecca Menzies and Walter and I decided that I would go and work for Ferdy. I went in as a stable-staff member and I didn't have a clue about racing. I remember the first time I got on a racehorse I thought I was riding short and the horse bolted with me. I came back down the gallop and Ferdy told me to put my irons up 10 holes and I couldn't believe what I was hearing! I learned a lot through Ferdy and over time I became a barn manager. I looked after some really good horses like Kalahari King and Watch My Back. I had a good string of horses and I was there for four and a half years and I really enjoyed it. The crowd that were there at the time were like one big family and we always used to go out together. It was just a lovely place to work. He was a brilliant man and nearly every year I was there he would have one lined up to win a handicap at Cheltenham.

Ferdy decided that he was going to relocate to France. I wasn't going to go to France, so I moved to the next closest big yard to my mum's house and that was Donald McCain. I went as Second Travelling and I would go racing once a week. I quite enjoyed it there and I met a lifelong friend there in Katie Young. I was in Donald's for maybe three and a half years. I had met Gordon Elliott and Olly Murphy on the racing circuit when going racing to Perth and Ayr. Olly used to come to Donald's to drop Graham and Diana Whateley's horses off. I got talking to Olly and I remember one day he said Gordon was looking for a Travelling Head and he said why don't I try it. I couldn't really better myself in Donald's anymore and I just wanted a bit of a change. He said if I came for a season I wouldn't regret it. I spoke to Gordon about it as well. Gordon said to me at the time that it would be great, but that I didn't have my HGV licence. After the conversation with Gordon, I booked my HGV training and test there and then. In the next eight to 10 weeks I passed my HGV test and three days later I moved to Gordon's in 2015.

It was a big move, but I had friends over here. I knew Olly and my friend, Katie Young, moved over with me at the same time to Gordon's. So it wasn't as daunting as it sounds. I moved over as Travelling Head Lass. When I first moved to Gordon's, the place wasn't as big as it is now. It was probably a third of the size. There's three or four more barns have gone up since I moved there. The people that were in place before did a fantastic job for Gordon, but there wasn't really a structure in place for how the racing side of it worked. I managed to put my own stamp on it and made the whole job my own. I have a WhatsApp group where everybody that wants to go racing is in. All the race plans and logistics go in there, so everyone knows what they are doing. Every time the office staff put in what has been declared, they will put it into the WhatsApp group and people will respond saying they can go racing. Then I have a form that I have created that has the race time, the horse number, the horse name, the microchip number, headgear it is wearing and the last column is the groom. I do try and spread it out so everyone gets a chance to go racing. I love going racing myself, but it would be nice to have a driver every now and again so I could just sit back and relax!

Obviously, I have been involved in Don Cossack winning the Gold Cup (2016) in my first ever Cheltenham and that was just class and Tiger Roll winning two Cross Country's (2019 and 2021), but Shattered Love winning the JLT in 2018 was a special day. I used to ride Shattered Love and looked after her every day. She was a fine mare, she was like a gelding as she was so big. She was really grumpy in the stable, but I just loved her attitude. She won and then I think we won two more races that day (Delta Work in the Pertemps and The Storyteller in the Plate). It was all just a bit surreal that day. To top that day off, I sold a horse called Andy Dufresne at the Cheltenham Festival Sale. We bought him for 16k and sold him for 330k after winning a four-year-old point-to-point. I had my hands over my mouth, I couldn't believe how much he was making.

Once the Cheltenham Festival handicap marks came out on Tuesday, I could start putting a plan in place. Gordon will tell me which horses are running in which races and I can start deciding which staff are going to go on which days and which horses are going to go on which lorries. It is just like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle really. We have 28 members of our own staff that can go to Cheltenham, so I have to decide the days they are going and the days they are coming home, and make sure there is enough staff there each day. I go on the Saturday with Tuesday's runners and the cross country runners. Then, weather dependent, Wednesday's runners will go out on Monday, Thursday's runners will go on Tuesday and Friday's runners will go on Wednesday. Then we try and get the horses home every night after they have run that day. We are only allocated a certain amount of stables in Cheltenham, so we have to make sure we don't have too many horses there. Willie (Mullins) and us would have the most horses there. There will be a couple of days where I will have 35 horses in Cheltenham at one time - I don't get any more than 35 stables.

Camilla winning a Charity Race on Amir Kabir at Punchestown in 2022Camilla winning a Charity Race on Amir Kabir at Punchestown in 2022
© Photo Healy Racing

My brain is constantly ticking when I'm there because at night I organise the racing plans for the next day and the riding out list. We could have 35 people riding out for us in one go. I message jockeys that might be able to help us out and I assign everybody to a horse, so that in the morning people aren't coming up to me asking who they are riding. To be fair, Gordon leaves it to me. It is one of the most tiring weeks of the year. Obviously, if we have a winner it is very special. Our team are fantastic at celebrating winners, we scream them home up the hill. Cheltenham is like the pinnacle of the year and it is what we train them for. The staff look forward to Aintree, though. Everything in Aintree is a lot closer and Gordon has less horses there. It just seems to be a bit less stressful, a bit more laid-back and Liverpool is a fantastic night out! The races are still big at Aintree and, obviously, you have the Grand National, but there doesn't seem to be as much pressure for Aintree.

I have a few horses that I lead up every time they run - I lead up Gerri Colombe, so that is exciting for the Gold Cup. I lead up Conflated who I think has a leading chance in the Ryanair. I lead up Pied Piper who was second in the County Hurdle last year and he is going for that again. He has a good chance, but I also lead up King Of Kingsfield who I think has been given a fantastic weight in the County Hurdle, as he was second in the Royal Bond (Grade 1, Fairyhouse). I lead up Samcro for the Foxhunters and I ride him out every day as well. He's just quite hard to keep right, so hopefully he'll get there. He's such a dude and I absolutely love him. He's just had his issues in the past and we just try and keep on top of them. He has been winning 'between the flags' and he seems to enjoy it.

I find working in the Irish racing more industry more laid-back than working in the industry in England. From my point of view, I wouldn't want to do all the travelling in England, there's a lot more driving with a lot more traffic. Everyone in Ireland is there to help each other. It is a great way of life and everyone is one big family.

Camilla was in conversation with Michael Graham

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About Michael Graham

Michael has worked in horse racing journalism for more than 15 years, having also written a weekly betting column on Gaelic football and hurling for a newspaper. He is involved in writing the My Racing Story features on this website. He spent a year in South Africa completing a Diploma in Business Administration and also studied Newspaper Journalism in Belfast. He enjoys playing 5-a-side football on a regular basis.

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