Charlie's cracking day out

Top trainer, writer and Cocklebarrow Races co-founder Charlie Brooks on Cocklebarrow's celebrity admirers, the hilarious Tough Farmer Competition - and his new series of children's books

Charlie BrooksHi Charlie. How far back does your involvement with the Heythrop Hunt go?

I’ve been knocking around with the Heythrop all my life. I can’t remember when I got mugged into being the Chairman of the Point-to-Point [P2P] - maybe ten years ago?

Its a pretty old institution, isnt it?

Oh, it’s been going forever. Funnily enough, one of the things that inspired me to waste my life on horse-racing is that my parents took me to the Heythrop P2P when I was a kid.

For me, one of the big things about the P2P is engaging with the next generation of children, getting them enthused, creating a day they’ll enjoy. They’ll discover the horses, the racing.

What would you say to people whove never been to a Point-to-Point before?

Turn up and enjoy yourself. There’s no barrier to entry - you don’t need to know anything. It’s a bunch of horses and jockeys galloping around, but there’s other stuff to do. Like horizontal bungee jumping, bouncy castles for younger children and bucking bronco rodeos for older children.

And, you know, we’re really careful with charging. At any other P2P, you might have to pay three pounds every time your child wants to go on a bouncy castle - it’ll end up costing you a fortune! But we pay for that, we try to find the sponsors. We want people to bring their children, have an affordable day out, and think: ‘This is great, actually, being in the middle of a field at the end of January. We’re having some fresh air and having a lot of fun.’

Whats the Tough Farmer Competition all about?

That is hilarious. It makes me laugh more than anything all year. Basically, it’s this: farmer brings girlfriend along - or young wife - builds a sheep pen, stacks some hay bales, rolls some JCB tracks, stacks some beer barrels, carries the wife back down the course, chucks her into the sheep pen and necks a pint of beer.

It’s so funny. What happens is the crowd ends up joining in - because you can’t shift those JCB tracks on your own. It ends up being a free-for-all, and it’s hilarious.

I heard that Giles Coren chickened out of doing it

Giles Coren did, Alexander Armstrong didn’t. John Inverdale didn’t chicken out.

There are some well-known names who go to Cocklebarrow.

Over the years, Jeremy Clarkson’s come, Jilly Cooper’s come, Giles Coren’s come. John Inverdale came last year, as did Alexander Armstrong. Hopefully, we’ll always have interesting people come because it is a good day out. There are pluses and minuses to holding the event in January, but we’re the most fun to be had in the Cotswolds that day.

Were you involved in the design of the course?

John Wills, really, was the person who laid out the course and designed it. We wanted to move from Dunthrope, which was a poor course for the horses - the contours were wrong, the camber was all wrong, the vets didn’t like it.

Of course, it takes time to establish a new course. The older the turf gets, the better the track will be. We’ve been at Cocklebarrow for three, four years now. It’ll get better every year. The ground is old sheep country. Three hundred years ago, all of that would have been grass and sheep. It’s Cotswold brash. We’ll have lovely old turf when we’re all old.

Point-to-pointing is something of a testing ground for new horses.

Very much so. It’s also where young jockeys should be made. I think there’s also a place for older horses, who are not competitive under rules anymore, to have a job - it’s almost like going part-time in your retirement.

Some people are a bit sniffy about older horses coming back from under rules, taking on amateur horses. But I think that’s nonsense. People love to see good horses, the old favourites running around in semi-retirement enjoying a few P2Ps.

It’s not big money. You’re running for the pride of winning. It’s real, amateur sport at grassroots level.

Of course, Cocklebarrow is racing terriers now, too

Dog-racing is unbelievably popular! You say over the loud-speakers: has anybody got a dog with them? Come and take part in a race and win a can of Pedigree Chum…Suddenly, 200 dogs turn up out of nowhere.

What would you like to see Cocklebarrow become in the future?

I’d like to see the non-racing side broaden out. So that people really think of it as just a cracking day out. The other reason why we need to broaden out the non-racing side is if we get a hard frost, the ground is frozen, and horses can’t run. So we need to make sure that if that happens, it’s not the end of the world.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’m doing three things at the moment. I write for The Telegraph a bit. I’m working on a new series of flat races which we hope to launch in 2019 - that’s still in the early stages of development at the moment. It could be something that’s really exciting, and that could present flat-racing in a more hi-tech, different way. So that is a challenge. It won’t be to the liking of everybody in racing, but we’re doing it to attract people ‘out of’ racing. If we’re not ruffling a few feathers in racing, we’re probably not doing our job!

And, finally, I’m writing a trilogy of children’s books for Harper Collins. They’re the memoirs of a twelve-year-old girl. They’re not horsey, though ponies are peripherally involved in book two. I’ve pretty well finished volume one. Volume two is finished, but needs re-writing, and I’m halfway through writing volume three.

Find out more about Cocklebarrow Races here.