Trainer Talk: Amber Jackson-Fennell

20-year-old Amber Jackson-Fennell

Written by Jake Exelby

20-year-old Amber Jackson-Fennell is a relatively new face on the pointing scene, but is hoping to make a splash over the coming seasons. Originally from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, she is now based near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, from where she trains – and rides – a small string of pointers (which she also owns herself) alongside her day job – as novice jockey for top pointing operation Station Yard Racing (Fran & Charlie Poste). Amber finished last season early to retain her novice status, got off the mark on the opening day of this season – having formed a connection with another top trainer in Joe O’Shea – and is hoping to make a bold bid to be Ladies Novice Champion this year. I (Jake Exelby) visited her recently to get the lowdown on her own horses and what she hopes to achieve riding for others.

Amber currently has two to run – Get Bye and Grenadine Save, both of whom have been placed this season – although Bennaway and Queen Kalamba will come back in training shortly, and Heaven Scent, who won the Oriental Club final at Godstone last year, will reappear in the spring. “We’ll give her free rein once the weather is warmer and the races start thinning out,” says Amber fondly of the mare who provided her first winner as a trainer. “We’d always wanted to win the race – it’s perfect for a yard like ours – and it was quite emotional as she was our first winner… and our first pointer.”

It’s no coincidence that Amber’s two favourite – and most talented – horses are mares. “I love mares, I get along better with them and probably wouldn’t buy another gelding,” she confirms. “They give you everything, don’t keep anything back for themselves, and they’re hardier. The 7lb allowance also makes a difference.”

“Heaven Scent is a real character,” continues Amber with a smile. “She’s flat-bred and only 15.2 hands, loves good ground and loves the sun on her back. She naps and spooks, and she’s quiet one day and runs off with me the next – Mum won’t ride her!” She is also a rare example (of a mare coming back to win after giving birth. Atlas, her ‘lockdown baby’, is out in the field. “There was no pointing, so we decided to put Heaven Scent in foal,” says a proud Amber. “He’s by Schiaparelli and is the spit of his Mum. The plan is to keep him to race, but we’ll see what he’s like as a three-year-old.”

Amber on Heaven Scent
Amber Jackson-Fennellon Heaven Scent. Image credit Caroline Exelby

On arrival at her Showell Farm yard, Amber is ready to canter Grenadine Save round the fields, with mother Bethan on Get Bye. Amber explains her routine. “Once a week, we give them a steady endurance canter, twice round the fields in each direction, which takes 40 minutes. It’s amazing how fit they get. We use Mark Rimell’s gallops or take them to Martin Keighley, Charlie Longsdon or Fran & Charlie’s. And we have a schooling field with a mixture of barrels, pallets and a couple of show jumps.

Although Grenadine Save is still a maiden, she has been placed on all five of her outings in points, and Amber has high hopes for her. “She didn’t like the ground at Ffos Las, was unlucky at Brocklesby Park and should have won at Brafield-on-the-Green,” she admits. “The plan is to run at Larkhill on Sunday, and it would be great to have a winner on my 21st birthday! She’s my best chance of going through the grades, and I’d like to run her in the Mares Hunter Chase at Cheltenham, although she’d have to win a few first. She goes out in the field all morning, whatever the weather, and being in a licenced yard (Richard Hobson’s) probably didn’t suit her as she’s quite an anxious character.”

(L-R) Bethan, Grenadine Save, Amber
(L-R) Bethan, Grenadine Save, Amber Jackson-Fennell. Image credit Caroline Exelby

Mention of Amber’s former employer, who provided her with her first winner under rules in the shape of Eureu Du Boulay, leads us on to her background in racing. “I’ve been riding horses since I could stand,” she recalls, “And did lots of showing with Welsh ponies before progressing to showjumping and eventing.” Bethan jumps in. “Even dressage, much to her disgust! We didn’t have much money,” she adds, “So, we used to find ponies that were quirky or had problems.” Amber takes over again. “I started team chasing at 15 on Storm and Irish sports pony. He was absolutely insane, only 14 hands and 17-years-old when we got him, but he had plenty of gears, was quicker than some of the racehorses, and loved to lead. That’s how I got the need for speed. I used to team chase one day and show mum’s Welsh pony the next – they were opposite ends of the spectrum, but we used to make it work, although thinking about it now, it’s crazy.”

“I started my A-levels, but hated it, so went to the British Racing School at Newmarket to do a four-week intensive course,” adds Amber. “I’d never ridden a racehorse before and got run away with at the start – it wasn’t what I was used to. After that, I did an apprenticeship at Charlie Longsdon’s, which is just down the road and why we ended up here. Before being furloughed at Charlie’s and leaving for a summer in Ireland, our horse dentist – who owned Eureu Du Boulay – suggested Richard, as he’d give me opportunities.”

While her riding career began in 2019, it all started to come together for Amber last season. She thinks she knows why. “Richard gave me a lot of opportunities and as many rides as he could during Covid, so when I made the move – which came about because Charlie had been my jockey coach – to Fran and Charlie’s, not many novice riders had as much experience under rules as me. And a good novice can get horses to run well. I’m hoping to ride the likes of Fan Club Aulmes, For Rita, Hung Jury and Champion Chase for them this season, maybe others. And I’ll be calling other trainers wo haven’t got a jockey booked for a Novice Riders race. Being Ladies Novice Champion this season is 100% my aim and I’ll do whatever I can to achieve it.”

Amber’s outline of their daily routine denotes a strong work ethic. “We’re here at 5am to muck out – every day, including Sunday, as Grenadine Save won’t have a lie-in! I then go to Station Yard, finish at about 1.30pm, come back here and usually work until 6pm. Then on Friday mornings, I go to ride work for Nigel Twiston-Davies, or elsewhere if I need to sit on something I’m riding. We go away and gallop the horses when we can – depending on racing and workload.” How do they manage with just the two of them, especially as Bethan also has a full-time job? “We’ve worked it so that two will run early and the others later in the season, with just a small overlap, replies Amber. “Mum and I do the mornings together and I do the afternoons alone. The other week, when I went to Dunsmore, Mum rode them both. We’re not afraid of hard work.”

The recent trip to Ffos Las was yet another long-distance journey for Amber and Bethan, following Great Trethew and – last season – Lydstep and Bangor-on-Dee. “We’re proper amateurs with other peoples’ rejects,” laughs Bethan, “So we have to travel to find the right races. For example, Edgcote’s convenient, but the racing’s competitive. Plus, being from West Wales, we like to support the courses there.” Amber joins in. “But we’re not afraid to take on the top yards, because anyone could have a bad day. Plus, we often get placed, so even if we don’t win, at least we bring some prize money home.”

As for the future, Amber intends to stay amateur and focus on her riding rather than training. “I never want to train under rules,” she says firmly. “I like having this yard – it’s not too big. I like difficult horses, enjoy helping Charlie with the breaking-in, and I’d love to buy three-year-olds, not to sell-on but to develop. But realistically, I’d rather be one of the top lady amateurs. I want to be one of the people who gets the call to ride round Cheltenham, or in the Aintree Foxhunters. I’d love to ride more under rules.”

“I never want to train under rules,” she says firmly. “I like having this yard – it’s not too big. I like difficult horses, enjoy helping Charlie with the breaking-in, and I’d love to buy three-year-olds, not to sell-on but to develop.”

As an owner-trainer-rider, Amber definitely qualifies as a ‘small yard’, and it is operations like hers that she sees as key to a growth in horse numbers. “I don’t think you’re going to get many more horses in big outfits, unless there are more syndicates, which are a great opportunity to welcome new owners into the sport, so we should be encouraging people with one or two horses, like we were originally, and making them feel welcome. When you start pointing, it’s a minefield. There’s a whole new set of rules, it’s difficult to know what to do, you don’t know anyone, and you have to learn your own way. Even track descriptions can be quite vague! It would have been nice to have had some support from an area representative. Luckily, four seasons in, we’ve got to know a lot of people, many through Fran & Charlie.”

20-year-old Amber Jackson-Fennell
(L-R) Bethan and Amber Jackson-Fennell cantering. Image credit Caroline Exelby

“We need to encourage owner-trainers like me,” continues Amber. “Losing the Oriental Club series was a shame and the races, apart from the final, were well-supported.” While the youngster states firmly, “I definitely wouldn’t want Peter Wright’s job,” she has strong views on races that do and don’t work. “The new format for young horse Maidens is good. Four-year-old only races were a great idea, but they weren’t supported. And I think we spread the mares Maidens across a wider variety of courses – there seemed to be quite a few abandoned last year due to soft ground. But I don’t like bumpers, mainly because they take horses away from the young horse Maidens. They’re good if you want to run for education, but not from a sales perspective, as the races don’t tend to work out well.”

She is also a fan of the way they do things in Ireland. “I spent six months over there during lockdown,” Amber confirms. “I emailed a lot of trainers, Jessica Harrington offered me a job and I was on the ferry two days later. I was only 18 then, but rode work on some very good horses, including two-year-olds who were racing on the flat. I came back with so much knowledge… and Bennaway!” I like the fact that the bumpers over there are for amateurs only. Amateurs over here don’t get the same opportunities.”

Given her tender age, I ask Amber why she thinks more young people aren’t emulating her. “The problem is cost,” she admits. “You need a lot of money, and you don’t get anything back. I couldn’t do it without Mum – I suppose I’m lucky because I’m an only child but all our money is spent on the horses! Buying them isn’t the issue, as we only buy cheap ones – we won’t spend lots of money as anything could happen – it’s keeping them, and we couldn’t afford to pay training fees. You also need knowledge and it’s hard if you don’t work in racing already. That’s we decided to own and train our own horses – we knew outside opportunities would be sparse, as I’m not from a racing background.”

So why do Amber and Bethan do it? “Mum does it because of me,” laughs Amber. “And I do it because I love the horses. I enjoy the routine of working during the week and pointing at the weekend, travelling round the country, catching-up with friends.. Mind you, I’m not a social person during the season – I go to the gym after work and am in bed by 8pm. But anywhere with alcohol sorts me out in the summer!”

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