Rab Burns Bright For Gosden Team

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Rab Havlin riding Enable on the gallops in Newmarket | Racing Post

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Look up the race records of Enable (GB), Stradivarius (Ire), Cracksman (GB), Jack Hobbs (GB) and Without Parole (GB) and you’ll find that, bar the fact that they are all Group 1 winners to have been trained by John Gosden, they have something else in common. These top horses, along with plenty of others in the stable, were all ridden to victory on their debuts by Robert Havlin, better known simply as ‘Rab’.

The Scotsman is the epitome of the loyal second jockey. With his humility and the fact that he is often out of the limelight on racing’s bigger days, it would be easy to overlook Havlin, but that would be folly. For the last two decades he has been a key cog in the wheel which keeps turning the champion trainer’s significant operation to a higher level, first at Manton and, for the last 14 years, at Clarehaven in Newmarket. Simply, Havlin would not enjoy the important role he has in Britain’s most successful yard were it not for his work ethic and ability. And enjoy it is exactly what he does.

“Sometimes you have to pinch yourself really. It’s an exciting place to work,” he says with a refreshing sense of wide-eyed wonder even well into his 40s and in the depths of winter. “The boss has always been a great trainer but I think he’s even better now. The owners just leave him to it. The results speak for themselves and he can train them the way he wants to train them.”

He only ever refers to Gosden as “the boss” and, along with a handful of trusted long-serving lieutenants at the stable, including Barry O’Dowd, Tony Procter, Peter Shoemark, Gary Rothwell and Danny Harrop, he would have a greater insight than most on the workings of the country’s most powerful stable.

“Barry and the boss will switch me around a lot on the 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds in the spring and I try to get around them all at some stage or another,” he explains. “We have to give our opinions on the horses and that’s how we work as a team. I’ve worked with Barry for 30 years and he’s great. He’ll say, ‘This one is coming along, see what you think’. The senior members of the staff have all been there as long as me and I think that’s why it works. You don’t have to ask twice because you already know what’s expected of you. Everybody has their own role to play in the machine and it runs pretty smoothly.”

Now 46, Havlin has been a racing man for all of his working life, which began unofficially when he was 10 and in a more formal manner from the day after his 16th birthday.

“I started going to John Wilson’s yard two weeks before my 11th birthday. My mother knew the blacksmith and would drive me there. When I was old enough I was riding the horses back from the gallops and then started riding out on Saturdays and school holidays. Then when I turned 16, I started work for him the next day,” he recalls.

Linda Perratt took over Wilson’s Ayrshire stable at around the same time as Peter Chapple-Hyam started training at Robert Sangster’s sprawling Manton estate. Before long, Havlin got wind of an apprentice position at the Wiltshire stable and blew south to England, where he has remained ever since.

“Peter then went off to Hong Kong and the boss took over and said there would be rides for me. That’s how it started really and now here we are 20 years later,” he says.

“We’ve been here in Newmarket for 14 years. It was one of the best decisions I made to come here with him. Manton was fantastic and I loved living there but as a career move it was the right thing to come here and thankfully it has paid off.”

Havlin has maintained his career as a jockey and has over the years ridden with notable success in Scandinavia as well as being the leading rider three times at St Moritz’s White Turf meeting on the frozen lake, where he could combine riding with his other passion for skiing. The fact that the Gosden stable now has plenty of runners through the winter as well as through the main season means that Havlin rarely has much downtime.

“I think one of the boss’s best attributes as a trainer is that he’s able to give horses time because he doesn’t have the pressure from the owners. He won’t push a horse that’s not ready,” he says. “A lot of the 2-year-olds need a bit longer to mature and with the all-weather racing through the winter it’s great because there are plenty of novice races, so you can give them the time. So if they suddenly blossom coming into December you can go and give them two or three pieces of work and have a nice education and then you can put them away for the spring again. There have been plenty of diamonds uncovered in December or January over the last few years. Jack Hobbs, Enable, Stradivarius, Without Parole—they all won in the winter on the all-weather, and it keeps me busy.”

It’s a statement that almost certainly would strike dread in the hearts of smaller trainers who previously made hay while the sun wasn’t shining. Indeed, Gosden had a formidable 32% strike-rate on the all-weather in 2019 and has already this winter unleashed potential group horses such as Waldkonig (GB), a Kingman (GB) half-brother to the Arc winner Waldgeist (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), who broke his maiden on debut at Wolverhampton in Dec. 7, ridden of course by Havlin. The colt’s nine-length victory earned him TDN Rising Star status and, should the Derby entrant make it through to the Classics, Havlin is pretty sanguine about the fact that he is unlikely to be riding him. In fact, he is delighted to be able to work so closely with Frankie Dettori, who is not just a colleague but a close friend.

“I won on Enable first time, and Jack Hobbs and Stradivarius, but that’s my job and I wouldn’t change it. I think I’ve got one of the best jobs in the weighing-room. There are a lot of lads in there who would give their left arm for my job. I’m lucky to have it and to work for such a loyal boss,” he says.

“If they are good enough to be in the yard then they are pretty decent horses. I’ll ride winners for the stable and Frankie will be on the phone asking if they are any good, and I’ll put him right on the ones that are good and those that we’ve perhaps been luckier to win with. Frankie and I work well together—there’s no rivalry there whatsoever, we’re a team.”

In a stable with a number of Classic prospects each year, Havlin does sometimes have his turn and, after winning last season’s Cheshire Oaks on Mehdaayih (GB) (Frankel {GB}), he was rewarded by keeping the ride on her for the Oaks, which was ultimately won by her stable-mate Anapurna (GB) (Frankel {GB}). He was also on board when subsequent dual Group 1 winner Shalaa (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) landed his first stakes victory in the G2 July S.

“Frankie picked the wrong one that day and rode one of Hannon’s,” he recalls. “I was jocked up on Cracksman at one stage for the King George but the ground wasn’t right for him so he didn’t run. It would have been fantastic to ride him in a Group 1.”

Cracksman is remembered fondly by Havlin as he rode him every day at home, just as he did Kingman, whom he selects as his all-time favourite.

He says, “Obviously it has been special to ride Enable at home but I rode Kingman every day. He was an unbelievable racehorse and he’s looking like he’ll be an unbelievable stallion. I also rode his mother Zenda and she won the French Guineas and has produced some lovely horses. It’s funny riding horses now and I might have ridden their sires or their grandams or grandsires.”

The homework for these horses is not just a crucial part of Havlin’s role at the stable but it also provided sustenance during 2017 when he was stood down from racing from January to September for failing a drugs test in France the previous October. It’s a charge he denied vehemently and fought at great financial cost but ultimately unsuccessfully. At the time, Gosden, who stood by him throughout, described it as an “appalling miscarriage of justice”.

Though Havlin has put that episode behind him, it’s clear that the injustice still rankles and he is full of sympathy for young jockey Robbie Downey, who currently finds himself in a similar position.

Havlin, who had his hair sampled to prove that he had not taken the substances allegedly found in his bloodstream, says, “It doesn’t matter how much evidence I brought they just refused point blank to listen. The appeals system is an absolute farce; you just can’t win.”

As well as Gosden, Havlin was assisted through the episode by the legal expertise of the trainer’s wife, Rachel Hood.

“Rachel was really helpful when my case was going on. She’s a fantastic woman,” he says. “But poor Robbie didn’t really have anybody like that behind him, though the PJA are helping. The good thing for me was the boss kept me busy. I was riding three or four lots then going racing with the boss, or going on my own to saddle up and speak to the jockeys. I really enjoyed that side of it and maybe that’s something I’ll think about doing when I retire, not that I’m thinking about retiring yet. Frankie says he’ll ride for another five or six years and that will do me.”

Havlin bounced back from adversity in the best way possible. In 2018, he set a career best of 127 winners and added another 91 to his lifetime tally last year. Other trainers call on him when they can, and he has already ridden winners this year for Lydia Richards and Michael Attwater, but a significant number are scored for the home team to which he remains true.

“We have that many runners that it’s hard to keep the ride on some outside horses because I just go where the boss and Peter Shoemark send me, but that’s not a bad position to be in,” says the man rightly happy with his lot and with a mindset which many of us would do well to adopt. “You just take what you get and don’t worry about what you’re not getting.”

 

 

 

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