Catch-Up With: Harry Bannister
How old were you when you first started riding?
I’ve been riding my whole life. I think I first sat on a horse when I was around 2 years old. Horses have been a huge part of our family for as long as I have known – my Dad, Nick Bannister, is joint master of the Pendle Forest and Craven Hunt and is currently a committee member at Haydock Park racecourse.
Is horse racing something you have always been interested in and when did you decide to pursue a career as a jockey?
I was very young when I knew I wanted to be a jockey. To be honest, I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else. When I was six years old we went to Cheltenham Festival to watch Dad’s horse, Hussard Collonges, win the RSA Chase. It was that moment that fired up my ambition to be a jockey and the dream that one day I would ride horses like him.
Was your family supportive of your decision to become a jockey?
Yes! Of course, my family have been the driving force of my career. Though my Dad definitely kept me grounded in some respects. It’s not an easy industry and Dad understood that. I was desperate to finish school at 16 but Dad convinced me to carry and do my A Levels.
Tell me about your first job at a race yard – what was your role and who did you work for?
I first started riding out while I was still at school – I think I was about 15 years old. I was riding for two trainers, Mick Easterby and Charlie Mann. I started point-to-point racing when I was 16 years old and when I finished school at 17 years old, I began working for Mick full time.
What does a typical working week look like now?
A working week in the summer months aren’t as busy as the main season. That’s because there is more evening racing. I get a lot more time in the morning but we have much later nights. There’s pros and cons to both but I’m not a huge fan of eating late which is unfortunately the case with evening races.
From October to April, I will usually get up at around 5:30am and ride out. After that, I’ll travel to wherever in the country I’m racing that day. There’s a lot of travel involved and plenty of early starts. Racing usually starts from 12:00pm and I could be racing in just 1 race or up to 6 races in a day. I try to fit in some exercise during the day – I usually run around the track with my dog Jasper when I arrive at the course. It kills two birds with one stone as I can get a feel for the track whilst keeping fit.
What does a typical day off look like?
Unfortunately, a day off doesn’t involve chilling out or binging on box sets. I still get up early and ride out – a day off really is just a day off racing and that’s it. It does give me a chance to catch up on a bit of life admin though.
Who are you currently racing for and how often does this change?
I have an agent, Chris Broad, and he is responsible for sorting all my rides out. That’s what riding out is all about – it involves sitting on horses that you might potentially ride in the races. The key trainers that I’m currently racing for are Warren Greatrex, Charlie Mann, Tony Carroll, Alex Hales and Mick Easterby.
Leading up to an important race, how do you prepare and do you have good luck charms or a ritual / routine that you always stick to?
I do have one good look charm! I have a wristband that I’ve had since I was 8 years old that I got on a family holiday in the Lake District. It had to be removed during surgery and it never went back on my wrist properly so I started putting it in my right boot instead.
What does a typical race day look like?
I usually arrive around 2.5 hours before the first race. My first job is to run around the track and then I’ll have something to eat. There’s then a bit of time to chill out for a bit. Around 40 minutes before the start of the race, I weigh out. Each horse in a race has to carry a certain amount of weight. To make sure that it does so, all jockeys must weigh out before a race to make sure that they are the right weight including their kit and saddle. After that, I give the saddle to the trainer so they can get the horse ready to race and I’ll start putting my silks on. Once the race is over, I have to be weighed back in again with all the kit – this is to confirm that the horse carried the right weight.
On race day is there any banter with the other jockeys or is at all very serious?
On the bigger meetings and festivals things are a bit more serious inside the weighing room but generally there’s plenty of banter between the jockeys and the valets – they are responsible for our kit. Everyone gets on with everyone and it’s usually a pretty good atmosphere.
What is most challenging thing about what you do?
It would have to be the driving! There’s a huge amount of time spent on the phone. Without a doubt that is the hardest part. But it’s just part of the job and something that I have to accept.
During your career, have you had a favourite horse and if so, why?
I would have to say that I’ve had a couple of all-time favourites. The first has to be Fine Parchment – he was owned by my Dad and was kept and trained by Charlie Mann. He was my first ever winner – this was at Cartmel on Dad’s birthday in 2013. It was really one to remember. He then went on to win his next two races after that and that really helped to get my name out there.
Ganbei would be another favourite – again he was owned by my Dad and was one of his favourite horses. He is just a really cool horse and I had some great races with him. He retired this year and he’s now my Dad’s hunter.
Race horse names are always a popular topic of conversation – what has been the most unusual horse race name that you’ve ridden?
I’ve not ridden that many horses with unusual names to be honest. Though Ganbei has a pretty good story – it means “cheers” in Chinese. At the time Dad was working in China which is how he got his name.
Have you had any stand out wins that you have been most proud of?
It would have to be winning the Grade 2 Champion Novices’ Chase at Ayr on Bigmartre on Scottish Grand National Day last year. That was a tough race but Bigmartre’s jumping really won the race.
Another stand out was with La Bague Au Roi winning The Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle Race at Newbury in 2016. This was a huge achievement for me as it was quite early on in my career.
What have been your best and worst moments in your career so far?
The best moments have to be my wins with Bigmartre and La Bague Au Roi – they were both such monumental achievements at that time in my career and I definitely won’t be quick to forget them both.
I would have to say that the worst moment was breaking my wrist a few days after the win at Newbury on La Bague Au Roi. It really slowed down momentum and it was extremely difficult to make up for 3 months on the side lines.
Have you had a dramatic fall? Or how many serious injuries have you had?
I’ve had my fair share of injuries! I’m not quite sure we have enough time for me to list them all! My wrist injury was by far the worst because I was out for the longest. But I had a pretty serious face injury that resulted in fractures to my cheek bone and eye socket. I now have quite a bit of metal in my face which makes going through airport security interesting. I’ve been lucky not to have any serious arm, leg, back or neck injuries.
What track was your first ever win at and do you have any preferred tracks?
My first win was at Cartmel on Fine Parchment. Like most jockeys, most of the bigger tracks like Cheltenham are very nice to ride round. I must say though I’ve had a lot of luck at Stratford and Fakenham.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I’m not sure about long term career ambitions but a win at Cheltenham Festival would be great! In the meantime, I’m just focusing on riding as many winners as I can.
Do you have any advice for a young person looking to get into the industry?
You have to be 100% dedicated and work hard. It’s an extremely tough road and it will involve years of training to gain both experience and a reputation. Be prepared to start from the very bottom – you have to be in it from the start and understand the kind of commitment that it takes. Within the industry, most people are there to help so make sure you listen to their advice.