Trainer feature: Neil and Keri Harris

Winners pop up regularly from Neil and Keri Harris’s yard near Brompton Regis, Dulverton where they have two stables at the house and five more in a rented yard nearby.

Neil got involved in point to point racing when he joined Mike Trickey at the age of 18, breaking in horses.

Neil said: “Mike gave me my first ride at the age of about 21 on Anna’s Spirit. My first winner was Size Hill (for Mike) about two season’s later. I had no background in horses but I started riding my uncle’s ponies when I was about 16. I loved my hunting though and would often bunk off school and go out with the Tiverton Foxhounds on my motorbike!”

Neil became a very successful amateur jockey and, of his 246 career wins, around 200 were between the flags.

Keri has ridden since she was two years old and had her first ride in a point at 16 on her own horse Oneovertheight. She rode for a couple of seasons with some success but didn’t put her racing boots back on after foot and mouth disease called a halt to the sport in 2001.

The Harris philosophy on training is to work hard  and to try and keep a very open mind. Neil said: “There are no set rules and you never stop learning. If you can’t give it 100 per cent you might as well stay in bed.

Their training regime is far from strait-forward and very much based around their young family so it varies a bit from day to day according to what child care they have.

They have two boys, Luke, 5, and Charlie, 9 months. Keri added :”In the morning, one of us goes out and feeds/ mucks out while the other gets the boys fed, dressed and sorted for the day. Luke catches the bus at the end of the drive to school, which is great. As for Charlie, we are lucky enough to have our families to help us look after him while we go and ride some horses!”

“On a run of the mill day, we do a couple of lots for Jeremy or Camilla Scott and then get our own ridden out and done up before putting our parent hats back on again! Fortunately a few of Jeremy’s staff (including point to point jockeys Vicki Wade and Tom Humphries) will come and ride a lot for us in their lunch break when we are pushed.”

The Harris’s try to both be home with the boys by 4pm, then, after tea one of them will go and finish up the horses while the other does bath and bedtime duties. At least that the plan!

The couple mainly have young horses in training as they love bringing on youngsters and seeing them go on to do bigger and better things, so they tend to have a lot of new faces each season.

However, this season they are very pleased to have What About Will back in for Keith Wade. The horse spent a lot of last season under the weather with a virus so did well to get a close second and a win from his four runs. He has plenty more to come and, with a clean of health, he shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding his way back to the winners’ enclosure.

King of Alcatraz ran admirably in ground that he hated for most of last season, and ran arguably his career best in the ladies’ hunter chase at Cheltenham. Amazingly after three years, the Harris’s are still learning about him. He has been a smashing horse for his owner Roy Smith who has been incredibly loyal and supportive. Neil and Keri look forward to having the horse back in the spring.

Keri said: “We also have the pleasure of Jump to the Beat joining us again for our dear friends Jenny and Roger Perry. She is a big strapping mare from the family of Ambion Wood and had two educational runs last season. Having summered well back with the Perrys, she should really make her presence felt in a maiden in the new year.”

Of the newcomers, they have Paul Gillbard’s  home-bred 3yr old by With the Flow, a half brother to Alright John and Cadeaux George, both of whom won their maidens from the yard before going on to win for their new connections.

The couple also bought a couple of stores out in Ireland this Summer,  both of which they are very pleased with and the plan is to run them in maidens before selling them on at the end of the season.

With the odd one in to pre train they will have a pretty full house!

Keri said :” We are very lucky to have established a strong support team, without whom we would not be able to function at all. As already mentioned,our families are always at hand to help with the boys. Jeremy and Camilla Scott are very generous in allowing us to use their facilities, which are excellent, and offer help and advice along the way. The horses get first class care and attention from our farrier Ed Menon, and vets Phil Browne and Tom Gliddon at White lodge in Minehead.