Georgie Browne: Ambassador for Ladies' Day at the Cheltenham Festival
PUBLISHED: 11:51 04 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:49 20 February 2013
The partner of champion trainer Paul Nicholls is a racing star in her own right
If Georgie Browne has been out since goodness knows when, feeding and mucking out horses and she swears she has then you wouldnt know it.
I always leave the house about 7am; Ill muck out my horses and make sure theyve got something to eat, and then whizz back and do the school run, she says (not a trace of stray straw in sight). And later on, shell be in the saddle, putting the awesome Master Minded through his paces on the gallops.
Shes got the looks; shes got the style; shes got the glamour. But Georgie Browne is no WAG (or whatever the horse-racing equivalent might be). Though nowadays she lives with trainer Paul Nicholls, supporting and enabling his championship work, shes been pretty successful in her own right. For Georgie began training horses as a teenager: while St Marys Calne (her old school) and, indeed, her own dad were advising university, she headed for the yard instead. And when her Phar Bleu romped home at the Juvenile Hurdle in Chepstow in 2004, ridden by Tony McCoy, they had to concede shed made the right decision.
Her combination of easy glamour and racing know-how make Georgie the perfect ambassador for Ladies Day, Cheltenham Racecourses charitable extravaganza, which celebrates fashion, fun and female contributions to the racing world.
And Georgies determined to spread the word. Its a day with so much to offer, she says.
Its opened up racing to a whole lot of women who previously thought: Why on earth would I want to go in the freezing cold to watch a bunch of horses galloping round? But when youre there, you cant help but be caught up in the buzz."
And then theres the betting side, she says, with a twinkle. If you put a pound on something that comes in at 50/1, it doesnt matter who you are: its very exciting.
Is she offering tips?
Not 50/1 tips! she says, with her infectious chuckle.
Its also a chance to glam up, particularly as the best-dressed lady wins the rather swanky prize of an Alfa Romeo Mito for a year. Georgie will be helping to judge - but she wont necessarily be looking for that little Izzey Miyake number. No, she says, pragmatically. Ill probably be looking for something stylish yet practical because I dont think it looks particularly attractive to be in a strapless dress in the bitter cold. People look good when they look comfortable.
As for her own outfit, thats not straightforward, either. Its quite difficult because, with Pauls position, I have to be semi-practical. Big Bucks won last year; and while the girl who looks after him was getting her prize, I was leading him round. So if Im in eight inch heels with stilettos and open toes, it wouldnt work.
But there will be a couple of lucky things which I will wear for the horse I ride every day. I dont care what the weathers like because Ive got to wear them whenever he runs!
That horse is her beloved Master Minded: Its like sitting in a Porsche, she says, with a mixture of pride and admiration. Hes just getting over a mysterious injury a broken rib though rumours are that fellow racer Denman could be looking a tad guilty. They share a field underneath our bedroom window in the summer. Denmans a big oaf so everyones pointing the finger at him. I promise you, if you met him, youd know he means business, and Master Minded is a big drip in the field.
She describes her partnership with this dual Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase winner almost like a love affair. Its funny how it happened because, when he arrived from France, I was riding another horse, Big Bucks, who I just couldnt gel with. Whereas I rode Master Minded for a day and knew he was right up my street. Its all about personalities and chemistry, which is fortunate because, otherwise, wed have one long queue outside one stable.
Despite her obvious affection, is she able to maintain a distance from him? A professional dissociation, such as that between work colleagues?
She shakes her head emphatically, with a wry smile. No distance at all, sadly. I feel sick for three days before he runs. And then, about 24 hours before, I think: Just bring him back in one piece. Which is a bit wet, isnt it?
But he is very special: shy with people he doesnt know, but incredibly kind. Denman is a very aggressive horse, always trying to eat people over the door and you can understand why hes a race horse; whereas Master Minded is a big, strong animal, yet you cant believe hes so gentle.
But when the crowd roars, the competitive spirit kicks in. A bit like someone else, actually. Yes Im hideously competitive! Georgie agrees.
If you want to see that in action, then Ladies Day is the ideal opportunity, for Georgie will be competing against 11 other riders in the Festival Ladies Charity Sweepstake that promises to raise at least 60,000 for Cancer Research. The flat race, over one mile and five furlongs, will be run at 5.15 pm. Fellow competitors selected from more than 130 applicants - include the businesswoman Elisabeth Murdoch, married to Matthew Freud, and Camilla Henderson, daughter of racehorse trainer Nicky.
Apart from the fun, the fashion, and the fund-raising, the day also celebrates the role of women in racing.
And its a role thats increasing each year. I think racing has changed a lot, Georgie says. When I used to train, it never occurred to me that the world around me was mostly men. I just loved what I was doing.
But nowadays, it has equalled out, partly thanks to initiatives such as The British Racing School, where you can do now the equivalent of an apprenticeship, which is an ideal way to further your education. If you walk outside into our yard, weve got 45 full-time staff of which 30-plus must be girls. I think being a girl jockey must be harder than being a trainer, especially in jump racing, because its much more physical - but we have our Hayley Turners. If you look widespread through racing, though, youll see the divide is now much closer to 50:50.
Would she be happy for her and Pauls girls their four-year-old, Olive, and Meg, 12, Pauls older daughter to choose the racing world? Meg has started pony racing and Olives got a pony she drags from pillar to post. Its amazing how much washes off on them. Ive heard Olive dragging people round the yard, telling them, This is Kauto Star and hes won a Gold Cup, and this is Denman... The poor child eats, drinks and sleeps horses!
If there was something else they fell in love with, Id be keen to push them hard on that. The problem is that you have to put your whole life, heart and soul into this business, otherwise youd end up mediocre, miserable and broke!
Putting her whole heart and soul into things is something Georgie knows all about. The recent snow meant a longed-for holiday to Barbados was cancelled at 24 hours notice. We couldnt just go off and leave everyone with that sort of responsibility, she says. But Paul is incredibly focused and I dont think theres a shortcut to being the best at what you do. It helps that I know the business; that Im not going to say, Oh you cant go to Pakenham on Thursday because so and sos doing a nativity play.
If he wants to continue being top of the game, he has to put everything into it - and he has to have a partner that will support him. And, she says, without a quibble, I totally understand that.
- For more information on Ladies Day at Cheltenham Racecourse on Thursday, March 18, visit www.cheltenham.co.uk or buy tickets on 0844 579 3003