As Oxford’s jockeys put the finishing touches to their preparation for the Vision Varsity Horse Race on 10 October, their coach John Reid believes his students have every chance of gaining revenge on Cambridge and taking home the Bearstead Challenge Trophy
“The thing about teaching intelligent people is that they learn quickly”, says John Reid, who has been putting Oxford’s jockeys through their paces in preparation for the second running of the Vision Varsity Horse Race on 10 October.
Reid’s gruelling training regime, which started in the spring, has seen a list of young hopefuls whittled down to a final group of five, and the Northern Irishman has his team exactly where he wants them before the big day.
“They’ve worked really hard,” he says. “I’ve had them on the equicizer [mechanical horse] loads of times, their fitness is good, and they’ve put a huge amount of effort in. I couldn’t be happier with where they are at the moment.”
The Oxford team, captained by economics and management student Alice Stables, have been riding out for trainers in Lambourn and surrounding districts, and have been able to draw upon a considerable amount of expertise. Reid, after all, was one of the best jockeys in the business in the 1980s and 1990s, twice riding the winner of the 1,000 Guineas on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile, the setting for Saturday’s eight-furlong showdown.
Cambridge got the best of the draw last year. But this year, I’m confident that if we get the right horses, we’ve got the right riders
Now a coach who has overseen the development of leading young jockeys such as Oisin Murphy, Reid has not altered his approach in teaching the students, who hail from a variety of equestrian backgrounds.
“I don’t coach them any different to a professional,” he says. “To come from hunting, playing polo, show jumping and that type of riding, and to ask them to ride racehorses, it’s a completely different ball game. But they’ve got to grips with it very quickly.”
And he believes the untrained eye will hardly notice the difference between the students and a regular jockey. “I’d be very confident that all of them are going to look very good in the race,” Reid says.
“Bruno [Steinkraus, a postgraduate student of Biochemistry] is 6ft tall but he gets himself in a very good position, and he will really look the part. But they’ve all put the work in and providing they get on the right horse, they’re all capable of winning the race.”
This is important because the horses, who vary in ability, are randomly allocated to the teams, and Reid is convinced Cambridge got the luck of the draw when they won the inaugural 2014 contest.
He says: “They got the best of [the draw] last year. But this year, I’m confident that if we get the right horses we’ve got the right riders. The improvement in them has been enormous.”
The second running of the Vision Varsity Horse Race takes place before a top quality Newmarket card, which has been generously supported by Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, allowing all those in full time education with a valid NUS card, free tickets to a day’s racing.