Luke Harvey talks about riding, owning & training point-to-point horses - his love for the sport & its future
Luke lives at Kingston Lisle - just over the downs from Baydon.Where do I start with Luke Harvey - the man who tweets as @LeglockLuke? Jockey, trainer, TV personality, comedian, bon viveur - all that and he's probably the best-known owner of point-to-pointers in Britain.
Pointing is no part-time hobby for Luke - he cut his teeth as a rider between the flags in the 1980s, riding for the likes of Tim Forster and Henrietta Knight, and has been a huge fan of the sport since that time. I went to see him shortly after he won the prestigious Racing Broadcaster of the Year award.
Luke’s story begins in the Devon village of Bampton, where he was the eldest of seven: “We all rode ponies and hunted with the Tiverton Staghounds. We weren’t rich, we had free school meals and drove beaten up cars. Dad had horses, but they were all useless and bought for ‘meat money’!"
"I left school at 16 and went to work for [trainer] Captain Tim Forster. After three seasons riding in points - and eleven wins - Luke turned professional: “I thought I was a multi-millionaire,” he laughs. “I was getting paid for riding and getting a wage in the yard. The first thing I did was buy a Ford Escort XR3i… red!”
Luke rode his first winner under rules as an amateur on Bickleigh Bridge for John Roberts at Taunton in 1984 and soon found himself in demand on a bigger stage: “I won the Coral Golden Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1987, on Taberna Lord for Jim Wilson. I was just 20, still claiming an allowance, and naturally assumed I’d have a chance of being champion jockey!”
Luke retired as a professional jockey in 1999 after, he reckons, more than 250 career successes: “I started working for the Racing Channel in 1998 and they half offered me a job, but I rode for another year because I was so bad [at broadcasting] when I started that I wanted to mix the two.”
He has a self-deprecating view of his abilities, considering himself 'bloody fortunate' to have got his next role - with Radio 5 Live: “They were looking for someone to do morning slots. For three or four years, I got up at half past three every morning to drive into London.”
His TV and radio work led to Luke’s role with At The Races and - eventually - to ITV Racing: “I was sitting outside the pub having a pint when they called me up and said, ‘Fancy doing some work?’ They were going to guarantee me 15 days a year and I did a practice, which went well, so they gave me 50!”
So what qualities does Luke think he brings to his TV role which have made him Racing Broadcaster of the Year? “My greatest forte is that I’m passionate and I like talking about horses."
"On TV, it’s easy to see through people. I say what I think - it’s a leisure industry, it’s supposed to be fun and if you want to attract new people, you’ve got to make them understand the sport.”
Luke is honest about why it took him ten years from quitting the saddle to training his first pointer. “It’s such a bloody commitment. When I gave up riding and was trying so hard to get into the media, it took up so much time. Also, I’d had enough of horses.
Cheryl often does my horses and when something goes wrong and I start crying, she tells me to pull myself together! When I started, I knew nothing about horses and my stable management was terrible. But Cheryl and Ben are so meticulous.”Luke currently has two pointers in training, Cecil (Porlock Bay) and Willy (Drumlynn). He stables them at Cross Bargain Farm near his home, where he rents a couple of boxes from Ben and Cheryl Elcock: “I couldn’t do it if it wasn’t for them – it’s a team effort.
Luke introduces me to Porlock Bay - known as Cecil: “Cecil’s one of those horses who loves life. He loves his work - he jig-jogs to the gallop - and is the kindest nicest horse you could have anything to do with.”
He tells me how he got hold of the horse. “[Irish pointing guru] Richard Pugh phoned me up saying he had three horses for me to look at and I just knew Cecil was the one."
"He’d had about a dozen runs in Ireland and had been placed a few times, but he’s been a roaring success for me. To win at Lockinge on my fiftieth birthday… well, that just doesn’t happen and he improved as a ten-year-old.”
Porlock Bay injured a ligament after his third win last season and took a while to come right, but is in flying form again and will come on for his Higham seasonal debut: “If he’s good enough to run in a Hunter Chase, great, but I have pointers because I like pointing and his season is geared around [Luke’s local meeting] Lockinge.”
“I went to the sales, looked at Willy and loved him. He’d been placed in his last three Irish points and the form had worked out well, but I dropped out at £10,000. Neil Mulholland bought him for £12,500 and said, “You’re a bloody idiot. You should have him – I’d never have looked at him if it wasn’t for you.” So Luke got his horse.And Drumlynn?
Drumlynn’s debut run - and win - for Luke actually came in a Worcester bumper last June, for which he was trained by Nicky Henderson.
Why didn’t Drumlynnrun in points last season? “I got the job at ITV and didn’t have time to do one horse, let alone two. He was ready to run at the end of the season and he was going well working with Nicky’s string, so I thought ‘Fast ground point-to-point or spin in a bumper?’ Luckily he won first time and he’s still eligible for Restricteds.” I’d like to think he’d be good enough for the Restricted Final at Stratford.”
Luke admits to having a greater passion for pointing than racing under rules. “Pointing’s brilliant. I was at Ascot yesterday and looking at what was winning at Barbury between races! I’m lucky - I go to every big flat and jumps meeting but I still look at the pointing website every day, I find it a release."
“I’d do anything I can to promote pointing. And I always try and promote it on Jumpers and Bumpers [the At The Races show he hosts with Jason Weaver]. Talking about Cecil is good for pointing.”
“Under rules you need licences and permits, you can’t do this, you need sponsorship here… It drives me bonkers! I want to put the boots on, lead the horse up, I just get so involved with the horses."
"When I was riding, the horse was a tool of work. You get on, then you get off. Doing this, I live and breathe it. Looking after the horses keeps me sane and as long as pointing stays like it is and I’m healthy, I’ll keep doing it.”
Talking to Luke about the current state of pointing, he is unwaveringly positive and says he's never afraid of change: “Look at the Barbury bumper – whatever people say, if you’ve got three divisions of a race, it’s been a success. Jockeys have claims now (in Open races), there are different penalty structures, anything like that is good. Now the jockeys and horses are so fit.”
Luke cites the number of horses being bought out of British pointing to race under rules, and the prices they make, as proof of positive change: “Look at those horses of Tom Lacey’s that won at Larkhill. Why shouldn’t a Fame And Glory horse be worth the same as if it had won in Ireland?"
"It’s been the best start to a point-to-point season that I can remember, with the number of entries, the number of runners… I’ve been four or five times and there’s a great, renewed, enthusiasm.”
Pressed on one thing he would improve, Luke - unsurprisingly - has a clear view: “I’d introduce more people to pointing. It doesn’t get the crowds it deserves. Lots of people who go racing have never been to a point."
"It’s really good that the PPA are doing the videos - the website is excellent and I watch a video of every horse entered against mine, but it needs to get out there to a bigger audience and to attract the casual viewer. There are loads of opportunities with social media.”
“But there is still a certain arrogance and resistance to change and you need to spend money promoting a meeting. It takes a lot to attract someone with just a passing interest and point-to-points should become a baby county fair with better stalls and better food. People need to treat it as a proper day out. There’s an untapped market.”
This is a version of the feature Jake Exelby wrote for the Go Pointing online magazine. We are grateful to him for its use on marlboroughequestrian.news