19-year-old Amber Jackson-Fennell is a relatively new face on the pointing scene, but is hoping to make a splash over the coming seasons. Originally from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, she is now based at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, from where she trains a small string of pointers (which she also owns herself and rides in races) alongside her day job – as stable amateur to local trainer Richard Hobson. While she is yet to get off the mark between the flags, she achieved her first success under rules on the Hobson-trained Eureu Du Boulay (main image) in April. Jake Exelby spoke to her to discuss her plans for this season… and beyond.
How did you get into point-to-pointing?
I followed racing as a youngster and grew up showing, show jumping, doing dressage and eventing, then started team chasing aged 15. At 17, I went to the British Racing School at Newmarket to do an intensive four-week course. I was out of my depth – the lads on the course had already been working in racing yards for a couple of years but I had no idea how to ride a racehorse! I got away with it for the first two weeks before I mastered it – I still can’t believe how I managed.
When I left the Racing School, I went to work for Charlie Longsdon and – one day – I went for a schooling morning at the old course at Clifton-on-Dunsmore. That was it – all I wanted to do from then was ride in points. I found my first horse – Heaven Scent – for £1,200 from (advertising website) Preloved. She’d raced under rules, latterly for Donald McCain, was being sold as a broodmare and was a tricky chestnut mare, but she taught me a lot.
Amber on Heaven Scent
What are your plans for this season?
I’ve got five pointers, one of which has already run – Bennaway, who was fourth at Knightwick. During the first lockdown, I went to work for Jessica Harrington in Ireland for six months. I rode him every day and fell in love with him, so he came home with me! He’d been off for a long time before his last run and has had his fair share of problems. He’ll need a bit of rain.
Amber (leading) on Grenadine Save
Others to note are two mares, Grenadine Save and Queen Kalamba. I got the former from Richard, having been fourth on her in a bumper at Newcastle. She’s a big strong mare by Walk In The Park who needs time and won’t run until she’s ready. Chasing will be her forte. Queen Kalamba pointed for me last season, finishing fourth twice. She fractured her pelvis but will be back for the latter half of the season and I think she could win a race. She’s a tough cookie, who will do well for a break and should come back considerably better this year. She needs a left-handed track and better ground.
Amber on Queen Kalamba
What are you most looking forward to this season?
Training and riding my own horses and, hopefully, my first winner in points – that would be a special moment. While I’ve only been racing for two – truncated – seasons, it will be good to catch-up with my fellow jockeys. I also rode for Celia Plunkett and Stephen Allen last season and I’d like to get more outside rides.
Amber leading on Nothing Personal for Stephen Allen
What have been the highlights of your time in racing so far?
Winning on Eureu Du Boulay at Market Rasen – I’ve never had an easier ride. I was lucky enough to go on to ride him at Le Touquet in September, where we finished third. The French tracks are very different to ours – it was like a cross-country course!
What are your ambitions?
To keep learning, and improve my skills and knowledge. I’d love to ride a winner on one of my own horses and to keep progressing under rules with Richard. I don’t like to set myself too many expectations – in the long-term, I may turn professional, but there’s no rush.
Which jockeys do you most admire?
I met Will Biddick soon after I rode my first winner and he was very friendly. I love watching him ride, as he’s got so much experience. I also like Jack Andrews, who’s quiet and stylish. People like Will and Jack are good to learn from and they know the tracks inside out.
Who are your favourite horses?
Fumet D’Oudairies – I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this year. He’s by the same sire – Della Francesca – as my first winner.
What are your favourite courses and why?
I’ve only been to 12! But Great Trethew was an experience I won’t forget. It’s a proper point-to-point track down in Cornwall and I’ve never seen a hill like it. We took Heaven Scent there – I still don’t know how I managed to persuade Mum to go.
What would you do if you were in charge of the sport?
I haven’t been involved long, so I’m not sure my opinion matters, but – personally – I wouldn’t have Novice Riders races. I avoid them if I can – there’s no logic and not much skill to the racing as everyone just goes flat out. They do provide a good opportunity and I have ridden in a few, but there are a lot of nice horses in them that cost £20,000 or more and I wouldn’t have anything suitable (to take on that sort of horse). I’d rather just have a 5lb claim – in all races other than Maidens – until you’ve ridden five winners.
What do you think the effect of lockdown on pointing will be?
I don’t actually think it’s changed much – the sport seems to have gone back to what it was like before lockdown. I think (and hope) that there will be smaller fields this year – it was very competitive during COVID!
How do you, as an owner-trainer-rider, manage to compete with the bigger yards?
No sport’s amateur any more – there’s so much money involved. And the selling yards have worked hard to get where they are, so I have a lot of respect for them. It is a struggle for the likes of me – they have more knowledge and experience, and better facilities – but I don’t mind. I’ll be looking at the Oriental Club races for my horses – sometimes the Maidens can be just as competitive.
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in racing?
I’d be a medic or nurse in the army. My grandad was a pioneer sergeant in the Welsh Guards and I love that kind of thing. I still plan to do that if my career with horses doesn’t work out.
What are your non-horsey hobbies?
I don’t have much spare time, so I don’t have much of a social life. But I love the gym and go almost every day – I’d be very fat if I didn’t!
What are your favourite films and TV programmes?
They’re related to my alternative career – war films and Casualty! Which films in particular? I couldn’t tell you – I’ve watched so many…
What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?
Giving up A-levels to go to the Racing School, but I don’t regret it. Dad didn’t like it at the time – although he’s starting to understand now – but Mum wanted me to do what made me happy.
What superpower would you choose and why?
The power of healing, as there’s always something wrong with me and my horses!