LIVING THE DREAM; Steve Dennis meets Michael Jarvis, the longest-serving Newmarket trainer who, despite ill health, is enjoying the best seasons of a distinguished career: 'I can look at a horse and know when he's right'.
HE'S been here longer than anyone. Michael Jarvis sits in his comfy armchair, under a portrait of the mercurial and mighty Rakti, and brings another era to life.
He first set up shop in Newmarket in 1968, the summer of Sir Ivor and Royal Palace, the year after the first Summer of Love. They say that if you can remember the 1960s you weren't there, but Jarvis was there and he remembers them well.
Henry Cecil first took out a licence in 1969, Sir Mark Prescott joined the training ranks a year later. Jarvis had Group 1 winners under his belt by then, was steadily establishing himself in the vanguard of the next generation. Generations have come and gone but Jarvis is still here and in the form of his life. The last three seasons have been his best, and although age is inevitably wearying him it doesn't show in the record books. "When I came to Newmarket, there were still the likes of Bruce Hobbs, Sir Jack Jarvis, Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, Noel Murless, Harvey Leader," he says.
"To me they were all just famous names from the newspaper and, surprisingly, they were all terribly nice to me, this young greenhorn dropped into their midst. I suppose they didn't think I'd last five minutes."
Five minutes has turned into 42 years, and Jarvis seems to be saving the best until last. In 2008, at the age of 70, he trained more than 100 winners for the first time and passed pounds 1m in prize-money. Last season was not quite so starry, but this term he is running at an unprecedented strike-rate of 28 per cent, with Opinion Poll's Lonsdale Cup win last week a timely reminder of his capabilities. All this against the backdrop of one of life's crueller twists.
"The last 18 months haven't been my best as far as my health has been concerned," he says, conveying the bad news with a chuckle, a smile, a brave face.
"Thankfully my horses have been running a lot better than I have. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer about nine years ago, and 18 months ago it returned. To compound that, I had to have an aortic valve replaced last September. Now the doctors say the rest of me will wear out before my heart does.
"As a result, I haven't been able to get around as well as I used to, I'm not as mobile as I'd like to be. It hasn't really affected how I get on with the horses, though - I'm training them, doing evening stables, running the place as normal. "The only thing I'm not doing is going racing, because I find that pretty tiring. I did have one day at Royal Ascot, where we had a winner [Rainbow Peak in the Wolferton].
Until you become a little immobile, you don't realise how far you have to walk during a day's racing. "Fortunately, I've always enjoyed training and being at home with the horses more than going racing. Now I'm of a certain age, there are fewer people I know when I go racing anyway. Each year there seems to be a face missing." JARVIS doesn't name any particular factor as the reason for his recent run of fine form, although these days he's well supplied with embryo aces by the likes of Maktoum brothers Hamdan and Ahmed, who account for half the yard between them. Ahmed Al Maktoum has been sending horses to Kremlin House, down the Fordham Road away from the main training hubs, for 25 years, but Hamdan Al Maktoum is a relatively new addition to the fold.
Jarvis gave him the perfect welcome. "Hamdan came along after Ben Hanbury's retirement," says Jarvis. "Eswarah was in the first batch, and Ben was on the phone pretty soon after he knew she'd come here. "He said 'she's good', and I said 'oh, that's good Ben', and he said 'no, I mean very good'." Good enough to win the Oaks, becoming Jarvis's second British Classic winner after Ameerat vouchsafed him entry into that exclusive club after more than 30 years of trying and near-misses with Meadowville and Noushkey.
So is he doing anything differently these days? Jarvis doesn't strike as the kind of man to change his practices, conservative with a large and a small 'c', happy to nod to a new approach but sticking to the blend of common sense and experience that has served him well over four decades. "When I first came here I was told that you really had to work horses at Newmarket because they don't get fit otherwise," he says. "That's absolutely right. You have to do plenty of fast work in Newmarket, you have to stretch horses. Over the years I've seen the odd trainer come here with ideas of doing all steady work on the bridle, but they come round to it eventually. "Most of it comes down to common sense, like most things in life. I saw Richard Hannon on one of the racing channels, and he said he doesn't weigh horses, doesn't swim horses.
I don't weigh them, I think I can look at a horse and know whether he's right. "It's just one of a number of factors regarding a horse's wellbeing - you can't say of a horse, oh, he's at his correct weight, he'll run well. I do swim horses, even though there are no swimming races ... "Now I read about William Haggas training on treadmills, and I think that's an innovation that will become very popular. At this stage, though, I don't think I'll be putting one in - or a weighing machine." Weighing machines were the preserve of the bathroom and Boots when Jarvis began to make his way in the sport. From the same Lewes jjFrom page 13 hotbed of talent that has given us John Gosden and Richard Hannon, Jarvis flirted with life as a jump jockey like his father Andrew - "I was a 'so-called' jockey, three winners from about a hundred rides" - and with the Army before sowing the seeds of a long and fruitful career. "I was going to go under conscription for the Army, but they weren't too keen about taking people on because they knew they were winding the scheme down," he says. "They failed me - I'd had asthma as a kid and they didn't need any excuses. I was delighted. I planned to carry on riding the following season, but was working at Towser Gosden's through the summer and just stayed there.
"I eventually became head lad, then worked for Gordon Smyth when Towser retired, and it was after that I got my chance with David Robinson." Jarvis left Lewes with Smyth's parting words ringing in his ears "He said you'll hate Newmarket, I'll give you a year, you'll be back" - and took over at Carlburg as one of two salaried trainers - the Robinson Rangers - to television rentals king Robinson, whose green, red and light blue silks were among the most familiar in racing. Smyth gave him a year, the incumbent Newmarket grandees may indeed have given him five minutes, but the success he achieved in his first season meant that both would be well wide of the mark. Jarvis won the July Cup and Nunthorpe with So Blessed, the Richmond Stakes with Tudor Music (who would win the following year's July Cup) and the Lowther Stakes with Flying Legs. Little wonder he says of Newmarket: "I immediately took to the place. "David Robinson was a hard taskmaster, he could be difficult to please," recalls Jarvis. "If he gave you a bollocking, which was quite often, you were on the carpet and no mistake. You didn't open the door when you left, you felt so small you just walked underneath it. "Paul Davey was his other trainer and we split the horses between us. It was all very fair. Robinson had around 70-80 yearlings each year, and he'd spin a coin. Whoever called correctly would have their first choice.
"We'd each broken in half the yearlings, and I'd sneak round and have a look at Paul's and he'd do likewise. It worked very well because if you didn't get your first choice you got your second choice, and so on. Paul had My Swallow, Yellow God, Deep Diver and the like, and I had Meadowville, Bitty Girl and so on. I was very fortunate to have some very nice horses straight away. "The first horse I ran was Knotty Pine, and I look back now and cringe about what an idiot I must have been. I prepared him to win at Doncaster on the second day of the season, but Knotty Pine eventually went on to win the Ebor and the Newbury Autumn Cup - and there was me trying to make the poor devil go five furlongs as an early two-year-old." Newmarket was a different place in those days, a ferociously old-school town where women were hardly seen on the Heath and eastern European stable hands were yet to peep between the rusty folds of the Iron Curtain. Bruce Hobbs had one of the largest strings with 75 horses, and people talked behind their hands about how no-one could possibly train that many and do the job properly. Paying his dues, Jarvis moved from Carlburg to Clarehaven, then to Pegasus House when the link with Robinson was broken and finally pitched camp at Kremlin House, from where he has quietly gone about his trade these last 32 years. Along the way he helped to pioneer the practice of raiding big races on the Continent, winning two Italian Derbys and a passportful of valuable prize stable hands were yet to peep between the rusty folds of the Iron Curtain. Bruce Hobbs had one of the largest strings with 75 horses, and people talked behind their hands about how no-one could possibly train that many and do the job properly. Paying his dues, Jarvis moved from Carlburg to Clarehaven, then to Pegasus House when the link with Robinson was broken and finally pitched camp at Kremlin House, from where he has quietly gone about his trade these last 32 years. Along the way he helped to pioneer the practice of raiding big races on the Continent, winning two Italian Derbys and a passportful of valuable prize
"I've always enjoyed being at home with the horses more than going racing" - Michael Jarvis, pictured at Newmarket with Coral-Eclipse runner-up Sri Putra I've always enjoyed being at home with the horses more than going racing" - Michael Jarvis,