by Jake Exelby

A horse with a suspect attitude and a first-time rider would not appear to be the ideal cocktail for a competitive Maiden Race at a point-to-point. But at Thorpe Lodge on Sunday, 25-year-old Billy Aprahamian and Endofdiscusion proved that a true novice, in all senses of the word, could take on more experienced rivals and fulfil a dream!

“Billy had played a bit of polo, but had never jumped a point-to-point fence before he came to us,” explained Doug Harkin, husband of Endofdiscusion’s trainer Pauline Harkin. “He’s from a farming family, but has no background in racing – in fact, he’d never even been outside the beer tent at a point-to-point until he came with us to Brocklesby Park a week before his first ride.”

“The horse used to be trained by Paul Webber. I’d had my eye on him for years,” Doug added “and I knew the Aprahamians were looking for a schoolmaster for Billy. Endofdiscusion had ‘a bit of a leg’ so Paul sent him to them for rehab before he came her to go pointing.”

Pauline and Doug were so concerned about the combination that they engaged the renowned Yogi Breisner to teach Billy and Endofdiscusion to jump. “Yogi came down on the Monday before the race,” continued Doug. “Billy couldn’t even jump a flight of hurdles – he and the horse were schooling appallingly”. But the master tutor obviously managed to cast his magic, as the inexperienced pair were ready to race together for the first time just six days later.

Billy was introduced to the etiquette of race riding by Pauline and Doug’s stable jockey Peter Mann, but it didn’t all go to plan. “It was hilarious,” chuckles Doug again. “When he got to the start, he couldn’t pull his goggles down properly. Then he dropped his reins. The other jockeys were in fits.”

Until the race got underway, that is. Pre-race instructions were limited to 30 seconds in the paddock because “We assumed he’d fall off by the second fence,” was Doug’s cheeky summary. Pauline kept it simple: “Get a good start, follow Sheila Crow’s horse and when you jump the ditch for the last time, just go for home.”

Billy followed those instructions to a tee. He overcame all the obstacles – including 19 daunting fences in the three mile race – and showed calmness in a close finish to win cosily by a neck from the favourite, the well-bred First Fruit ridden by the experienced Paddy Gerety.

Doug’s post-race verdict? “Beneath the humour, Billy is a very serious and competitive person. He doesn’t have an ounce of fear.” But let’s let the winning debutant have the last word. While Billy has just been accepted for military training at Sandhurst, he was in no doubt about how this victory compared: “Quite simply, it was the greatest day of my life!”