We are delighted to bring to you a PPORA Feature special ahead of this week’s Cheltenham Festival! David Maxwell is a well-known name in the racing game, owning horses in training with big names in the sport, being Paul Nicholls & Philip Hobbs. An enthusiastic owner rider, who juggles a busy professional & home life with horses, David has enjoyed great success at a top level & has his sights set on a Foxhunters’ victory, with his ride this Friday being a top contender!
How are you involved in racing?
I’m a jockey, owner & general enthusiast!
How did you get into racing?
I grew up on a racing yard, but requiring gainful employment I went to London to seek my fortune (like Dick Whittington!) so I didn’t do much racing until my late 20s…it’s quite expensive! Initially, I had a few horses with Richard Pitman, who trained my first winner, then with Giles & Kim Smyly for 15 years who trained lots of point-to-point winners for me, my first hunter chase winner and my first winner in a handicap. All great folk & very happy memories!
You’re riding fancied runner Bob And Co in the Cheltenham Foxhunters on Friday, how’s he feeling at home & what are your chances? Who do you consider to be your main opponents in the race?
He’s in great form apparently, they rarely let me ride him at Paul’s (Nicholls); in fact, now I think about it, I’ve only sat on him on a racecourse! Paul’s horses seem to generally be hitting a purple patch. Obviously the betting suggests that Billaway is the one to beat but Bob And Co is 1-1 against him. I'm more concerned about others; what Dick Cheyne would call 'unknown unknowns'. The hunters' chase has a habit of throwing up funny results.
Tell us about your victory in the Irish Champion Hunter Chase with Bob And Co at Punchestown last year. You beat current favourite for Friday Foxhunters, Billaway, in a very tight finish.
Probably my greatest day on a racecourse. Bob & I both did more right than wrong and won by a nose. He’s a very determined horse - a proper racehorse who loves a head-to-head battle. A few days later a copy of the photo finish turned up in the post. It said 'To the dog, well done. From the lampost'. Turned out it was from Patrick Mullins, referring to the fact that I had said post race that some days you're the dog and some days you're the lampost. 30th April 2021 was definitely a dog day!
Tell us about your rides in the XC race & Kim Muir!
Feu Du Large in the XC; he’s slow but jumps well. I’m just exercising my enjoyment of galloping around a muddy field, jumping fences! Cat Tiger will run in the Kim Muir; he’s one of my favourites. He’s easy to ride, a good jumper & loves his racing.
What’s your racing highlight?
Jatiluwih winning at Cheltenham in 2019. My wife & daughters were all there; it was a special moment. A dozen of my elder daughter’s teachers were there on a weekend trip & they’d all backed him. They ended up in the winner’s box beside the weighing room drinking champagne! Of course, they’re all now totally ruined for the future of racing because that almost never happens!
What is your favourite aspect of racing?
I love the horses; they’re the stars of the sport
Who’s your best racehorse of all time?
Persian Punch. Strange to choose a flat horse but remember how he used to put his head down & battle? I love a horse that just refuses to be beaten.
Do you get to ride out at Nicholls or Hobbs often?
Not very often unfortunately. A trip to the Hobbs stables means leaving at 4am to get there for first lot; Nicholls' is a 5am start. But I love riding out. Come October when the horses come in & start schooling, the first time you point them at a line of 4 fences reminds you why you do it & why it’s worth losing that summer weight.
If you could change one thing in point-to-pointing, what would it be?
Nothing, it’s brilliant. The only thing is that all sport needs constant tinkering with, for example, race conditions to adapt to changing times; think Forumla 1 under Bernie Ecclestone. Pointing & hunter chasing both need to keep evolving, but all the ingredients of heart & soul are there to ensure a successful future.
Where’s your favourite racecourse & why?
Plumpton on a Monday. It's the heart & soul of National Hunt racing, but the scene is repeated at Ludlow, Carlisle, Exeter, Wincanton etc. It's where people who love jump racing meet to see their best friends & watch some horses; Plumpton just happens to be easy to get to on the train!
Who is your racing idol?
Luke Harvey, because he loves the sport & is always smiling, even at Fontwell when it's 4*C & raining. Mick Fitz is the same.
Is there a ride/race you’re most looking forward to this season?
The race formerly known as the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ Steeplechase (on Friday).
What’s your racing career aim?
Cheltenham & Aintree Foxhunters (either, but preferably both!).
What’s your earliest racing memory?
Naas 1985. Got lost in the crowds! Irish racecourses are & were a very particular place; lots of interesting people & very safe.
What rides do you hope to have at the Grand National meeting at Aintree?
Probably something in the Foxhunters’ but I’m not sure what yet.
What’s your favourite aspect of riding & owning racehorses?
It’s the horses & the people.
Any hobbies outside of horses?
That would be my family & my work; there’s no time left!
What does the Foxhunters mean to you and why is it, as an amateur race, still relevant on the grand stage at the Cheltenham Festival?
I think the amateur element is what makes it relevant. Two reasons; one is that it speaks to the history of steeplechasing where the essence is some lunatics try to find out whose horse is fastest across the country between two steeples. The second is that anything could happen & often does. This is 24 half-tonne animals being guided around a field by a bunch of under-nourished, part-time enthusiasts…what’s not to like?!
Thank you so much David for taking the time to share exciting racing memories & your opinion on the sport. Wishing you the very best of luck at the festival this week!