A man who needs little introduction and has much to say about our sport; Luke Harvey joins us for this week's feature. With a lifetime dedicated to racing and an insight like no other, Luke not only has unbelievable knowledge on the sport, but also an unrivalled passion for pointing.
How are you involved in pointing?
Although both my father and mother rode horses, neither actually rode in point-to-points. As children we were regulars at Bratton Down, Bishopsleigh and Umberleigh and it was those experiences that ignited my passion for the sport. I now train the odd pointer!
How did you get into pointing?
Aged 14 I started riding out for Geoff White at the weekends and thanks to his head girl Pauline Johnson I learnt how to ride thoroughbreds. I was not a frequent visitor to Tiverton comprehensive as during my last year at school I had three point-to-pointers to train and ride; a fragile ex John Baker trained chaser called Framland (who broke down on my first ride at Ottery St Mary), Carrigeen Hill (who the previous season whipped-in to the Devon and Somerset staghounds) and a young horse called Native Trail who was at best a moderate jumper. I joined Captain Tim Forster aged 16 and rode in point-to-points for him and local farmer Colin Nash.
Luke finishing 2nd on his second ever ride at Bishopsleigh aboard Native Trail
What is your favourite aspect of pointing?
I’m very competitive but to me, point-to-pointing is as much about meeting people and having a drink in the beer tent. Although much more professional than when I first started the sport has still managed to maintain a sense of fun. On a day off I would never go (National Hunt) racing for fun but given the chance, I always go pointing with or without a runner.
What is your day job?
My day job consists of juggling broadcasting for Skysports Racing and ITV Racing. I have a freelance contract with ITV to do a minimum 50 days a year - last year I did 65. I’m busier for Sky and normally work around a 100 days a year along with a contract with Ladbrokes. Driving over 50,000 miles a year can be tedious but I love my work and enjoy mixing with and meeting new people. I always try and give the lesser-known trainers and jockeys publicity as well as the stable staff. I like to think my rather laid-back attitude helps the people I interview relax making my interviews different to some other broadcasters. I count myself very lucky to make a living broadcasting a sport I genuinely love but I’ve always fancied myself as a trainer. Initially, I intended to take out a permit but there is so much red tape and various courses to attend I never bothered. I started training point-to-pointers about 10 or 15 years ago and have thoroughly loved it. Having ridden professionally for 16 seasons I thought I knew the job inside out but nothing could be further from the truth. But I’ve learnt on the job and find solving horses various issues an enjoyable challenge. Having said that I’d be lost without my wife Charlotte who is the hardest working person I’ve ever met.
Spanish jump after winning at Cothelstone
What's been the biggest lesson in your working life?
There is no substitute for hard work. I might come across as a joker but I’m working harder now than at any stage of my life. I normally wake up at 5am, feed the horse and muck him out. Darkness permitting I ride out before going racing. The day is normally rounded off with a couple of pints in the Corner Cupboard in Winchcombe.
Riding out Porlock Bay aka Cecil, Luke's favourite ever horse
How would you describe pointing to someone that hasn’t been before?
It still amazes me how many established racegoers have never been point-to-pointing. I’m always trying to sell the sport to others. Unlike racing on the track, at point-to-points, you can get so close to the action and see what goes on behind doors that are normally closed. But above all, it's just great fun.
Drumlynn winning at Kingston Blount under Ben Bromley
What’s your pointing highlight?
I’m lucky enough to have plenty of highs in my pointing career from riding my first winner on a mare called Shinning at the now defunct Hackwood Park - there were six runners and five of them ran out at the horse boxes on the final circuit leaving me a distance clear. But turning for home I somehow managed to take the wrong course and by the time I’d retraced my tracks one of the other runners had caught up. Thundering down to the last fence upsides, the other horse made a mistake unseating the rider and I won by a distance! Also, winning the Devon and Somerset Open at the old Holnicote track for my boss Captain Tim Forster. But the standout moment was when my favourite horse ever Porlock Bay (Cecil) won the Old Berks members at Lockinge on my 50th birthday. It was a woeful race with only 3 runners but it meant so much to me and we celebrated like we’d won the champion hurdle.
Porlock Bay & Luke
Who's a figure in racing you admire?
My racing hero would have to be John Francome. He was a supremely talented horseman and the best jockey I’ve ever seen. But more than that I admire his business acumen and his outlook on life. He’s such a character with the most wicked sense of humour. The other person I’ve always admired is Richard Pitman. Like Francome he has a wonderfully cheerful and positive outlook. He was a great help to me when I first retired and moved into broadcasting.
If you could change one thing in pointing, what would it be?
Everything in life and changes over time and pointing is no different. It drives me mad when you hear people bemoaning how things are different compared to the old days. Years ago we didn’t have mobile phones or social media now they run our lives. Never be afraid of change, if it doesn’t work try something else. New ideas don’t need to be permanent. The biggest issue facing pointing is the funding of the sport. Hunts are under pressure and lifestyles have changed so getting volunteers is increasingly difficult. If I could change one thing it’s the fixture list but I fear that could be very difficult. Last season thanks to some forward-thinking the pre-Christmas fixtures were well spread out and produced really good competitive racing. Later in the season when the fixtures became more congested we were reduced to two and three-runner races. Having said that it was an unseasonably dry spring which didn’t help. With the horse population dwindling it makes sense for hunts to join forces and slim down the number of meetings.
Drumlynn winning at Larkhill
Where’s your favourite point-to-point & why?
Last season my horse Spanish Jump won at Milbourne St Andrew and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a nicer days racing. In a delightful setting, the track was beautifully prepared and the crowd were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Everything was run with military precision yet the day had a lovely rural feel. To me it epitomised everything that is great about the sport.
Spanish jump winning at Melbourne St Andrew
What’s your earliest pointing memory?
My earliest memory of pointing was aged 9 or 10 standing on the hill at Williton next to an old farmer boy who’d backed Eagle Moonday - the smallest, scruffiest and most unlikely racehorse you’d ever see. At the back for the majority of the race, he started to make ground two from home and to shrieks of ‘come for home Eagle’ from the old boy he got up by half a length.
What do you think lies for the future of pointing?
Despite the doom and gloom merchants I still think pointing has a good future. Yes, it will need to evolve but as I’ve already mentioned I like change; it's exciting and doesn’t have to be permanent.
What is your current setup/training operation?
Eighteen months ago Charlotte and I moved to Dryground Farm 5 miles from Cheltenham Racecourse and 5 minute hack to Cleeve Hill. The place was and probably still does resemble a dealer's scrap yard but has the potential to be very smart if I work till I’m the same age as Paul McCartney. We have no gallop, no arena or horse walker but we have land and paddocks and a very kind neighbour in Emma Bishop who kindly lets us use her carpet gallop. We box to Martin Keighley’s most Sunday mornings but the majority of our work is done on Cleeve Common dodging sheep, rabbit holes and dog walkers. Unfortunately, we have been forced to retire Spanish Jump due to a breathing issue but he’s staying with us and will hopefully make a nice eventer/allrounder. I will however be getting another horse for the coming season but like my wives, I’m quite fussy about which one I have so I may have to wait a while.
The view from Cleeve Hill
Any hobbies outside of horses?
It sounds boring and probably is but I don’t have any other hobbies other than horses. I play the very occasional game of golf with Warren Marston and DJ Jeffreys but that aside nothing. Charlotte and I don’t particularly like going on holiday and couldn’t be happier scratching around the farm making and breaking things. I’m 56 now but intend to carry on riding and training until I’m unable to do either.
Luke & Charlotte recently tied the knot!
Luke thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with us; as an advocate for pointing on a national scale and a racing enthusiast through and through!