Horse Racing

‘Few Make A Living Doing What They Love

   He has been crowned British racing’s best broadcaster of the year and astounding eight times and but Nick Luck remains as hungry as ever.
   From talking about the success of his daily podcast, the Nick Luck Daily Podcast, revealing that he will make his Melbourne Cup debut this year and providing his own thoughts on the major issues affecting British racing, Luck makes for fascinating reading in this week’s Q&A.

Brian Sheerin: You sat down with Lee Mottershead for the Big Read in the Racing Post almost two years ago. A lot has changed in that time as the Nick Luck Daily Podcast, which you had just launched at the time, has emerged as being required listening for anyone in racing or breeding. 

Nick Luck: When I did that interview with Lee, we were emerging from lockdown and there were still a lot of restrictions so, sitting down and doing the podcast every day was challenging but I had the time to do it. When life started to get back to normal, there was as much racing as there’s ever been, and there was something of an explosion of material online. But people’s lives were getting busier again. The execution of the podcast became that bit more difficult. At that point, the question was, can we keep it up? Thankfully, I had gotten myself into a position where I was sufficiently deep and I am really glad that I did keep going because, with the help of a few other people who are absolutely crucial to me, it’s gone okay.

BS: I have this vision in my head of you cramming like a teenager about to sit a college exam before you cover a range of different topics on the show but I gather it all comes pretty natural to you and you can do everything from memory?

NL: I do have quite a retentive memory but I don’t think that I am alone in that, especially with people who are working in an industry that they love. With people working in horse racing and bloodstock, something that they are passionate about, they tend to find that their brain will retain a lot of information. When it’s something you love, it tends to sit there more readily than if it was something that you found was a bit of a chore. I do have a good memory and I can think about a lot of different things at the one time but the podcast is no different than what the wider racing media is doing because you can never plan too much. You never quite know what is going to drop and when it will happen. The medium allows you that bit of agility and you’ve got to play up to that. I could sit there and plan everything the night before the podcast but I try and leave the real meaty content to as late as I can possibly get away with. I am always thinking about it–it’s always there bubbling away, wherever I am or whatever I’m doing–but I couldn’t tell you what tomorrow’s podcast is going to be called or what the lead news item will be. I can tell you who will be on the podcast but that’s about as far as I can go. 

BS: You obviously adopt the same principles to live television?

NL: Yes and no. For example, say I am doing a big interview on the Sunday programme for Racing TV. You’ve got to book your guests some way in advance of that and you’d be thinking about them-the sort of person that they are, what to make of the person or personality that they’ve become and you really just try and get underneath that. I am someone who tends to ruminate on it for some period of time. I am not someone who sits down and writes out a series of precise questions because I want to have a good all-round understanding of who that person is and, when they are actually sitting there in front of me, be light enough on my feet to go with the conversation and not be too linear. I want to be able to be responsive. I think it’s all about being prepared for anything but not so much that you become overprepared and rigid. That’s just the way I like to work. 

BS: I can hear one of your young daughters in the background making her presence felt!

NL: If you listen to the podcast carefully enough, you’ll pick up all sorts of background noise. My desk is right beside the front door in our house and, when I started doing the podcast, I attempted to close all the doors and make things as quiet as possible. I soon realised that it was completely pointless. If I was going to impose this ridiculous commitment upon my family, well then I just had to go and suck it up and carry on with whatever background noise was going on. That’s completely fine by me-it’s more authentic anyway. You are allowing people into your life. I am usually intruding into theirs. Quite often, a trainer will ask me to call them back if they’re on the gallops because the sound of wind, rain or hooves in the background. I always say, ‘no, it’s fine,’ as it makes it a bit more real. Sometimes, some of the best interviews we do and some of the best items we have got on there are when somebody is in the middle of something else. They might even let you have an interesting snippet of information when they’re only half-thinking of the questions!

BS: I’d put it to you that some people will find it hard to believe that you do have a young family and a life outside of racing because, the one thing people say when your name is mentioned is work ethic. I know you’re just back from Saratoga for example. It’s a lot of balls to be juggling at once, including family life, so how do you manage everything?

NL: I don’t know to be honest. I never think too far ahead and sometimes that can be an advantage as you never get too stressed about your schedule or how busy you might be in the coming weeks or months. You just try to concentrate on the job at hand and make sure everybody is alright. I don’t have an awful lot of time for hobbies now, that is for sure. But when you are working in a sport and an industry where it’s your passion, well then that compensates for that. When I am at home, I want to be spending as much time with my family as I possibly can and try to be as little as a hindrance to Laura [wife] and the girls. I’m getting a bit better at planning holiday time. 

BS: I remember you said that losing the terrestrial television gig with Channel 4 made you even more hungry to attack new opportunities. Nobody could accuse you of failing to do that and I saw NBC’s coverage of the Whitney at Saratoga generated over one million viewers. 

NL: I am coming up to 20 years in the job. I started at the end of October in 2002 and, genuinely, I have never gotten to a point where I felt, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, I want to try something else.’ Contracts have come and contracts have gone and I have shifted between networks but I have never once thought about packing it all in and doing something different. There’s so much variety in racing and it keeps you fresh. I’m going to the Melbourne Cup for the first time this year. That will be my first time doing that and I’m really excited about that. I’m slightly terrified about the fact that I have to do that, and then do the Breeders’ Cup off the back of it, and how it all will hang together logistically. However, when you have the opportunity to do it, I’d be one to say why not have a go at it. Making the racing world a little bit smaller, which is something that you guys do [TDN] on a daily basis, was one of the driving reasons behind doing the podcast. You have that opportunity now to do what you simply couldn’t do 20 years ago. For very little outlay, you can speak to anybody in the world and try to bring people from all over the globe a little bit closer. People must feel much better connected with racing internationally now more so than ever. 

BS: Another thing you have brought to the podcast is the breaking of news stories. Often, it’s the podcast that leads the agenda on a given day. Is that something you set out to do, not only react to news but to break it?

NL: It wasn’t necessarily a goal of mine starting out. I was just trying to produce a nice audio digest of the day’s news and events. Also, it is a luxury being your own editor and having the freedom to chase what you might be interested in. Then you just have to hope that it will be reflected by the people who tune in. Needless to say, we are very lucky with the small group of regular contributors who are always providing insight. I conceived of it as a nice, sharp digest of the racing news that you could listen to while you are walking the dog, having a bath or whatever you’re doing wherever you are in the world. That’s what I was going for. But I think the scope for the podcast is pretty limitless and, part of the beauty of it, is because there are so many dimensions to the sport. It’s very unlikely that one podcast or newspaper can cover everything. There’s always something new for somebody to cover every day. As I said, I never set out to be the guy who breaks all the news, but there will always be something there for you. For example, this morning the TDN had a nice story about the sales at Deaville, the Racing Post had something else, Matt Chapman tweeted about Maljoom (GB) (Caravagio) missing the Prix Jaques le Marois and I was on the phone to Philippa Cooper who told me that she was winding down her breeding operation. I actually rang Philippa about something completely different and that happened to come out. The more people you talk to, the more likely these stories will drop into your lap. 

BS: What about the times when it didn’t go so well; are there many interviews you’d like a second crack at?

NL: I rang Andre Fabre to ask him for a quote on Lester Piggott. I’ve got to say, because I am an English journalist, he is normally very friendly and he was on this occasion. However, I found myself asking him some fairly stupid questions. He kindly, but very firmly told me, ‘I don’t mean to be mean, but I am afraid the questions that you are asking me are pretty pointless.’ There was a very long pause before I said merci and quietly put the phone down. It was lucky I had the luxury of editing that bit out of the podcast although it may have given people more of a laugh if it remained. 

BS: Well you are a braver man than me for interviewing him in the first place. 

NL: To that point, he was very charming about it and I think I had asked him a couple of clunkers. But the beauty about this sport is, everyone will answer their phone and, if they don’t, they will send you a message saying they don’t feel like talking or they may ask to arrange a different time or whatever it is. The access is really good. 

BS: I agree but sometimes you earn that access. When I think of the late Barney Curley, I think of the interview he gave you on Luck On Sunday. Patrick Veitch was another. 

NL: The credit of that Barney Curley interview goes to Barney himself, as he clearly had a distinct idea in his own mind about what he wanted to say and what he wanted to get off his chest. There were things that he was thinking about for years and he wanted to say them out loud as he knew he wasn’t very well. So, there was a slight feel of the last will of testament about that and I just happened to be there at the right time to do the interview. However, my producer Bruce Clement had been curating that relationship for a little while and I always had a reasonably good understanding with Barney. I knew he wanted to do it, it was just a question of when. That’s part of the job; you build a level of respect with people over time and you hope that respect is reciprocated. That doesn’t mean you go around sucking up to people, not at all, but you build a trust so that when you do want to do something with that person if they are in the news for whatever reason, you’ll be in the right slot. Genuinely, people who know me know that I am quite social and I am very interested in people’s lives. Hopefully that’s the driver behind what I am doing. 

BS: Can you let us in on who you’re working on next? Do you have a list of ideal candidates you’d like to interview?

NL: There are people I would like to interview who I haven’t had on before but, whether they will ever do it, I don’t know. The nice thing about it now is that there are people who will sometimes approach us and say that they would like to be on the show. 

BS: As well as your extensive television work, you also have skin in the game and are involved in the breeding side of things. Can you tell us about that?

NL: My own little mare hasn’t exactly been a startling success! Her first runner was a winner and I walked around thinking I was a cross between John Magnier and Marcel Boussac! The barren that followed have swiftly eradicated that notion. I am full of admiration for anyone who can go in at any level and make any sort of success out of breeding because it’s a good game for humbling you. I helped out my late mother, who we sadly lost this year, with the jumps mares. Ironically, that came good laterally with some of her progeny making a lot of money but for other people. We still have Grainne Ni Maille (GB) [the dam of Madmansgame (GB) (Blue Bresil {Fr}) and Gentlemansgame (GB) (Gentlewave {GB})] and she has a filly foal at foot. I’d like to carry that on for my mum. We own Grainne Ni Maille in partnership with Yorton Stud. It’s funny, Dave Flutter said we should keep the Blue Bresil filly out of Grainne Ni Maille as a foal but I said a bird in the hand is better than two in the ditch. We sold her for £16,500 at Goffs in January 2020 but she made €195,000 at the Land Rover Sale in June. That shows what kind of a judge I am! The filly foal is a full-sister to Gentlemansgame so hopefully she can do well for us. 

BS: We hear a lot of doom and gloom about racing in Britain and Ireland right now. You’re normally the one pitching the questions as you take the pulse on the industry on an almost-daily basis but what are your own thoughts?

NL: I have been considering this while looking at some of the data that’s around on the number of horses there are in training, how many races there are, races not filling, various ideas about races being chopped off the bottom end and the Peter Savill plan for the industry. We have been encouraging people to breed a lot of horses for a very long time and it’s a very reductive solution to turn around and say ‘let’s just chop the races off at the bottom.’ On top of everything else, you then present yourself with an enormous horse welfare problem if that’s the solution. Yes, you need to take an intuitive approach to the fixture list to ensure that races will fill but it’s not as straightforward as just cutting fixtures. I feel that the basic principle of the Savill plan is the right one in that you are trying to make the top end of your sport the envy of the world. You get that slimmer part of that pyramid much more intense, much more competitive and enjoyable, and then it becomes something you can sell and people will always be able to anticipate it. Just slicing off the bottom end will not create that environment. You need to incentivise the racecourses to put on the most attractive opportunities possible for the rest of the horse population and actually make things easier. People are in this sport because they want to win. They might say they are in it for fun but they actually want to win. They love their Class 6 horse dearly, I’m sure they do, but they’ll love it even more if they’re winning races with it so that they can go and reinvest in the sport. I’m not sure that I buy this idea by removing a whole load of, quote on quote, bad races, not my words by the way, that you’re going to make the top any better. You have to treat the different parts of the pyramid accordingly. 

BS: So we need to bolster the product but not at the detriment of lower grade racing.

NL: There is a lot to be said for that. We have encouraged the production of a lot of horses in Britain and Ireland. We need to have enough opportunities to cater for these horses but also a robust enough plan in place to cater for their aftercare when their racing days are over. 

BS: You mentioned earlier that you never thought in over 20 years working in racing about doing anything different. I know you may have been advised to do something different at one point in time but you remain fascinated by the sport. 

NL: There are things I would have loved to have done and there are other areas of television that I am sure would give me a huge thrill. Foremost, I love the business of broadcasting, otherwise I wouldn’t have been in it for so long. It’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy doing other things and wouldn’t look at doing other things but I find it impossible to think about walking away from horse racing. There are very few people who make a living at something they love doing and I am lucky to be one of them. 

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