Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: From Mishriff To Enable, Every Day Is The ‘Olympics’ For Traveling Tony Proctor

When UK native Antony Proctor checked the odds on Mishriff just before the start of the $20 million Saudi Cup last Saturday, he was surprised the French Classic winner wasn’t getting much respect. As trainer John Gosden’s head traveling lad, Proctor knew the 4-year-old colt was up to the challenge of facing high-profile American runners Charlatan and Knicks Go.

“The boss wouldn’t send him out there just to fill the gate,” Proctor said. 

Mishriff wound up defeating Charlatan by a length, paying $41.60 on a $2 wager in the American pools. Proctor was thrilled, meeting his charge on the track in Saudi Arabia to give 21-year-old jockey David Egan a high five before leading Mishriff into the winner’s circle.

“It was pretty amazing,” said the 50-year-old industry veteran. “You know, people back home say to me sometimes, ‘Don’t you get tired of winning all the time?’, and I have to say, I don’t. It’s not an easy life, and it’s not the best-paid job in the world, but if you’re in love with it, and I am, then it’s one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.”

While Mishriff’s Saudi Cup win was a great one for the entire Gosden team, it doesn’t come close to Proctor’s most memorable moment in racing. That honor lies with champion Enable.

“There’s never been a horse to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up like she did,” Proctor said. “I’ll always remember walking her over for the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, leading her around that walking ring. The American public were just so pleased to see her, and everyone was rooting for her. They’d see her and say, ‘Oh, look, the Queen.’

“It was quite emotional; it was just unreal.”

Antony Proctor, left, gives Enable a pat after her 2018 victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf

The only horse to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same season (2018), Enable won 15 of her 19 career starts, 11 of which were Group/Grade 1 races. She won the Arc twice, in 2017 and 2018, finished second in the premier race in 2019, and won a record three editions of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Her race record isn’t the only reason Enable was unique, Proctor explained. The mare also had a special presence about her, an almost human-like intelligence, that no other horse has ever come close to.

“It was a bit of a family thing, because my partner, Hannah, was the head girl to Enable when she was in training,” he said. “It’s quite funny, because she’s quite quirky in the box, and it’s only Imran (Shahwani, her traveling exercise rider) and Hannah that could catch her at home. But I’d come down and yell her name, and she’d stick her head out and start whinnying. 

“That’s why I think she’s the best, and she’ll always be my favorite. It’s just the character, her whole persona. You’d walk around with her, and she knows she’s good, but she also had a little bit of insecurity to her. She’d look to see where you are, then she’d see me, and it’s like she’d say, ‘I’m okay and I’ll carry on.’

“I saw it because I was beside her, and she’d look for me. I got the best of her; I was there when she won her biggest races, every one of them. I have this relationship with her that will never be topped.”

Head traveling lad Tony Proctor pats Enable on the neck during morning training at Churchill Downs in 2018

There are a couple good reasons that even the best horses look to Proctor for security; first, he’s always there beside them, and second, his quiet temperament and steady touch are a calming presence in unfamiliar surroundings.

His employers also place a lot of faith in Proctor, especially Gosden, not just because he’s good with the horses, but because he is meticulous in his care of them and is also good at dealing with people, from owners to shipping managers.

“I think the biggest compliment I’ve had from the boss was that when I came to Churchill with Enable, I had her and Roaring Lion, and he sent me on my own,” Proctor said. “So to go over there with two horses of that ability, be over there for best part of a week before the boss turns up, obviously there’s a good deal of trust there. He knows the way I work and he’s happy with it.”

Tony Proctor with John Gosden trainee Global Giant in Saudi Arabia in February, 2021

Proctor has been all around the world caring for some of the top racehorses in the game. His resume includes exercising Dubai World Cup winners Dubai Millennium and Street Cry for Godolphin, three years under Henry Cecil, another three under Michael Stoute, and he is now in his ninth year with Gosden, for whom he has worked with horses like Golden Horn, Kingman, and Stradivarius, along with those already mentioned.

Perhaps Proctor was destined to work with racehorses, since his own father was a jockey and long-time employee of four-time champion trainer Major Dick Hern.

Father and son, Brian and Antony Proctor

Brian Proctor taught himself to ride and enjoyed some success as a jockey, but his real talent was as an exercise rider. Among his top charges were Brigadier Gerard, rated as the best racehorse trained in Britain in the 20th century, as well as stars like champion Bustino and Dayjur.

His father was his hero and his mentor, Proctor said. Though his father passed in 2017, he still remembers hearing stories about the journey to America for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Dayjur in 1990. The horse famously jumped a dark shadow over the track in the stretch and lost by a neck, but had he not jumped the shadow, Proctor said, Dayjur likely would have won the race.

“Dad said one of the clock watchers was kind of winding him up, because we were English, and English horses can’t compete with American sprinters on the dirt,” Proctor remembered. “After Dayjur worked later that morning, the clocker said he’d never change that clock again, saying, ‘I’ve never seen anything so fast.’”

Dayjur leaps over a shadow just yards from victory in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint

Proctor’s father didn’t pressure him into the racing business, but by the time he was 13 years old, the young Proctor was riding out on weekends and school holidays. From there, it was a natural progression to become an apprentice jockey.

He was one of the rare few in England who could ride both on the flat and over jumps, and wound up winning just over 200 races in his career, including at Cheltenham, Aintree, and even Royal Ascot.

“I don’t think there’s any place that comes close to riding at the Cheltenham Festival,” said Proctor. “As far as I was concerned Cheltenham was the place to be. I was in love with jump racing; there’s no better feeling than coming up to a fence and the horse coming up to you. It’s like you’re flying.”

In 1997, Proctor got a call from Godolphin inviting him to come down to Dubai.

“I was riding bad horses at the time which isn’t a great feeling, wondering if you’re going to make it all the way around, not where you’re going to finish,” he said. “I got to ride Dubai Millennium for them there, and obviously he was very good, I’d never felt anything like him before.”

After five years in the sunshine, Proctor was ready to head home to the UK. He rode races for a couple more years, then took a job as the third traveling lad to 10-time champion trainer Sir Henry Cecil.

“He was just a perfect gentleman, and we got on like a house on fire,” Proctor said. “I can’t describe how good it was working for him, really.”

Unfortunately there were no opportunities to advance his career in Cecil’s yard, as the two traveling lads ahead of him planned to stick by the trainer until his retirement, so after three years, Proctor decided to move on.

“I promise you now it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” said Proctor, his voice catching with emotion. “I was nearly in tears telling him I was leaving, but I’d been head-hunted by Sir Michael Stoute to be his second traveler. I won’t tell you a lie, I think it was the worst decision I ever made.

“I learned a lot, though, in the three years with him. I’m a great believer in fate, so when the job at Gosden’s came up, I took it, and then got to be first traveler within a year.”

One of the first really good horses Proctor remembers riding for Gosden was Kingman, before the colt made his first start.

“The assistant met me at the end of the gallops, and asked what I thought of him,” Proctor remembered. “I told him, ‘I’ve waited 13 years to ride a horse that quickens like this. The last horse I sat on that quickened like this was Dubai Millenium.’ 

“The assistant said, ‘That’s a pretty brave statement.’ But you look at what he did on the track, and I guess it wasn’t that brave, after all.”

Kingman won four Group 1 races as a 3-year-old and was voted the 2014 Cartier Horse of the Year.

“When you look back and think of the horses I’ve traveled now, from the first year with Golden Horn, then I end up with Enable, Stradivarius, Roaring Lion, and now Mishriff, you sort of think to yourself, I mean, you’ve almost got to pinch yourself sometimes!”

Trainer John Gosden, right, and head traveling lad Antony Proctor, left, with champion Enable following her 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf victory at Churchill Downs

Proctor isn’t just in charge of traveling with the horses. He rides out nearly every morning at home, then gets the racing gear ready, loads the horses, drives to the races, finds lads to get them ready, saddles them, and then drives them back home again.

The most fun part of his job is the trips overseas. Proctor makes annual trips to the Breeders’ Cup, the Arc meet in France, the Saudi Cup, and sometimes Dubai, among other places.

“Just being around good horses, it’s unreal,” Proctor said. “When you’re working for a trainer like the boss, I’m not sure respected is the right word, but you know you’re going there competing, you’re not just making up numbers. It’s like for an athlete going to the Olympics, you’re always at the top of your game, and I think that’s something we all strive for, if we’re honest.”

When he isn’t traveling, Proctor spends his afternoons watching his 20-year-old daughter and two younger sons enjoy their own horses at home. His 6-year-old, Thomas, is an especially gifted rider. 

“I know one thing, I couldn’t ride like him when I was six,” Proctor said. “It’s frightening how good he is. My father was very, very good, he had the best hands I’d ever seen, and I think Thomas has his traits. He’s so soft with his hands, he doesn’t move. He’s a very rare talent.”

Still, Proctor won’t push any of his children toward the racing lifestyle, just as his father never pushed him. 

“You need to be in love with it,” Proctor said. “I’ve been very lucky in my progression, always been with good trainers, but even though I’ve had good jobs, I have to be happy, myself, in what I do to go to work every day. 

“Obviously, I have no intention of leaving at the moment!”

Antony Proctor and his son, Thomas, out for a ride

The post Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: From Mishriff To Enable, Every Day Is The ‘Olympics’ For Traveling Tony Proctor appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

DYFD Winter - 300x90

Comments are closed.