Irvine hoping to build on novice title success

  • Posted: Friday, 8th October 2021
  • Author: Carl Evans

Natalya Irvine has ambitions beyond the Highflyer Bloodstock novice women's championship which she won last season.

Having gained her Category A licence she had a first Flat race ride in the summer for trainer Ben Haslam, and she is ambitious for more rides under Rules, and perhaps in hunters' chases during the winter. Having ridden four winners she retains her novice status in the season ahead, and she doesn't have to look far to see the absolute pinnacle of women amateur riders, for she rides out each day with Britain's eight-time Skinner's national champion, Gina Andrews.

Irvine, who turns 21 next month, says: "I'd love to be as good as Rachael Blackmore, but if I remain an amateur it would be great to achieve some of the things that Gina has, to ride out my claim and ride winners at Cheltenham."

She rose to prominence in the sport last season when gaining those four wins on Blazing Tom (the pair pictured above in centre of shot), who is owned by her father, Stephen, and trained by her boss, Tom Ellis, who is Gina's husband and who has a yard in Warwickshire. Ten-year-old Blazing Tom is cantering away and might be ready to run by Christmas, but he loves a quick surface and will be geared towards a spring campaign.

Irvine, a full-time member of staff at Ellis's yard, says: "We now start mucking out at 6.30am, and first lot goes out at 7.30am. At the moment we are very busy – it's hard work, but it's worth it for the results."

Irvine with Tom and Gina Ellis at Kingston Blount

Looking back on last season she says: "I didn't set out to win the women novice riders' title. With the season in doubt because of Covid I thought I'd be lucky to ride one winner, and when we first got Blazing Tom it was a love/hate relationship. The first day I rode him he had me in tears. He plunged when you rode him, he turned his backside towards you when you entered his stable, and he tried to kick you when you put hoof oil on his feet.

"We bought him from the Tudors [trainer Jon Tudor in South Wales] and he had been on their farm since day one, so perhaps he was unsettled by the change. One day I came off him schooling and pulled the bridle half off his head. He took off with the reins flapping round his legs, went through a barbed wire fence, nearly crashed into the two-horse lorry then ran into a barn door.

"He tore open a flap of skin on his shoulders, probably ten to 15 centimetres across, and so went on box rest to allow the stitches to work. After six week on rest he had settled down, and now he's like a little pet dog. "

Raised in Lancashire, Irvine's mum Gaynor is from a farming family and her daughter was riding ponies before she could walk. Years later, while taking part in national Pony Club tetrathlon competitions, the Irvines would base themselves with Fred and Caroline Hutsby in Warwickshire, and one year Natalya stayed on with them for two weeks at the end of the summer holidays. For a teenager who had been dreaming of riding racehorses since she was in primary school the chance to ride Fred's pointers could not be missed.

She gained the backing of her father to transfer colleges to continue with an agricultural engineering qualification, moved in with the Hutsbys and, in December 2018, they gave her a first pointing ride on Destiny's Gold, who pulled up at Chaddesley Corbett.

Irvine says: "Fred and Caroline taught me most of what I know – they became like my second mum and dad, and their children Tom and Jack were like my second brothers. I still go and see them now and again, but Fred was getting busier with the farm and cutting back on pointers, so I switched to join Tom and Gina."

Irvine had half a dozen rides and a couple of placings in the 2019/20 season, but had to wait until April this year before her new horse, Blazing Tom, was ready to run in a race. She says: "He'd been in work for about three weeks and he was entered at Mollington. Tom said, 'don't worry if you pull up', and I told my parents not to travel down from their home in Yorkshire because we had no chance. Most of the way round I was waiting for him to get tired, but two out I was still sitting quietly and everything in front of me was flat out.

"I thought, 'I should do something now', so I pulled him out, jumped the final fence upsides and we pulled clear."