26-year-old Zac Baker is one of the leading amateurs both between the flags and under Rules and is well known in the latter sphere for his association with Nigel Twiston-Davies, for whom he works full time.
Although he comes from a family steeped in racing – brother George was a classic-winning flat jockey - Zac admits to having had “no interest in the sport before I started working for Martin and Sarah Bosley”. And it was the Bosleys who provided him with both his debut ride between the flags and then his first winner – Penric at Hackwood Park in 2011 – of a total that now stands at over 120.
Jake Exelby spoke to Zac last week to find out more about him and what he’s been up to during lockdown.
Who's inspired you most in racing?
My family more than anyone. I used to watch George ride and my Dad gave me the kick up the arse I needed! Godfrey Maundrell – the aptly named ‘God’ of pointing –was another one. We got on like a house on fire and he stuck me on a couple under Rules, which got me going.
Who's your favourite horse?
Under Rules, Denman in the golden era of Paul Nicholls, along with Kauto Star and Master Minded. In pointing, Godfrey’s Arthurian Legend and Green Winter and Templebraden for Sarah Oliver and her late husband Michael, who’ve been great supporters of mine.
Which jockeys have you most admired?
Richard Burton. He was stylish and a brilliant horseman, even though he didn’t work in racing. It was like riding against A P McCoy. Since he’s retired, “bloody Bill” Biddick’s taken over!
What's been your personal funniest moment in the sport?
Not just a moment, but a whole weekend. It started at Stratford on the Friday, continued at Dingley and Bratton Down and ended up in Herefordshire on Monday morning in Tommie O’Brien’s bed next to James King. We were both covered in scratches – we’d been chasing birds (note to readers: Zac means chickens) round a pub car park.
I’d tell you more but you’d run out of space – I could write a book about my funny moments.
What's been the highlight of your time in racing?
Riding a treble at Paxford in 2019. It was a lovely Easter Monday and loads of lads from Nigel’s came along.
I’m lucky that Nigel has put me on such nice horses – I remember watching The New One win Grade Ones and never thought I’d sit on him, let alone ride him to win. My biggest winner was for Nigel on Benbens in the London National – it was very emotional as Mum and Dad were there and Dad is the farrier at Sandown.
Which are your favourite courses?
Maisemore Park. It’s dead flat, they go a good gallop, the best horse tends to win and the viewing’s great. I also like Woodford – it's a bit different with its twists and turns and I’ve ridden a few winners there. Hackwood Park was right up there too – it was such a shame when it closed.
What are your career ambitions?
I’m not sure I’d ever have the ammunition to be champion point-to-point jockey, but I’d like to ride 30 winners in a season and get to 100 pointing winners in total. I’d like to think I’d be there already if it wasn’t for Covid.
Do you have any regrets?
None whatsoever – I’ve done so much better than I thought I would. Mum said, after my first winner, “You can pack up now. You’ve achieved your goal.”
What recent changes have you seen for the better?
I liked the four and five-year-old races they had early this season and think there should be more of them – some of these young horses come on a bundle over the summer.
And I think they should keep the live streaming when racing goes back to normal, putting it on the national website with replays of the races.
How has lockdown affected you from a racing perspective?
It’s not been too bad for me. I’ve been working flat out for Nigel and have been going racing a lot, and I was lucky enough to ride three winners before the latest lockdown.
But I rode in all three amateur races at the Festival in 2020 and doubt we’ll be allowed to this year, which would be a massive loss – hunter chases with professionals are a double-edged sword.
What do you think its effect on pointing will be?
I just hope it's not too deep set and that we can get going soon – if not, I’ll be chasing up Tom Ellis in the food stakes! And I think we should start next season in October again.
I think the biggest impact will be on sales horses – on both sides of the Irish Sea. The likes of the Doyles have been pouring money into pointers and they’re not seeing a return at the moment.
Who's going to win the Cheltenham Foxhunters?
I like Salvatore – I’ve been following him for a few seasons and you forget he’s only eight and has taken time to mature. He’s already run well at Cheltenham.
However, my heart says Latenightpass – homebred by Pippa and Tony Ellis.
What else have you been up to during lockdown?
Not much – I’ve been too busy working, although I was riding out for Richard Hannon during the first lockdown when there was no racing.
Have you been cooking? If so, what’s your signature dish?
I do a mean stilton sauce for steak that melts down into a creamy mess and tastes amazing. I might have a pancake tonight (I spoke to Zac on Shrove Tuesday), just with lemon and sugar.
Tell me about a TV series you've enjoyed and any books you’ve read?
The Crown and The Queens Gambit. I didn't think they’d be my cup of tea but I enjoyed them.
I struggle to read most things, but I do have a copy of George’s autobiography (Taking My Time) signed “To my useless brother”!
What are you most looking forward to when lockdown is over?
Going back home to see my parents – Mum and Dad are both in the high-risk category – and my best mate, Felix Wernham, who’s an international triathlete, so helps keeps me fit. I love my cycling – I’ve got a Pinarello road bike at home.
Who is your non-racing hero?
James Hunt. He was brilliantly bonkers. Rush is one of my favourite films, but if you’ve got any questions about it, ask Willie Twiston-Davies. Every time you go to his place, he puts it on and can narrate it word for word!
What are your life ambitions?
I haven’t thought that far ahead. For now, to stay fit and keep going a bit longer.
Who else should I do one of these features on?
One of the boys from the ‘Shire (Herefordshire) like Tommie, Stan Sheppard or Ed Bailey. Ed would be a good one, as he’s a successful bloodstock agent now.
Tell me something I wouldn't know from asking these questions?
Jack Andrews and I share a birthday so joke that we’re twins from different mothers, but that I look up to him because he’s taller! I even call Joanna (Andrews) “Mum” but wouldn’t dare call Simon “Dad”!