Launching The JockeyCam & Riding The Winner Of The Grand National

Hi it's Nathan here, I hope you're enjoying the sunshine!

Well, if Carlsberg did launches I don't think they could even match what has happened to Equine productions and I during the week of the Grand National.

The reaction to the JockeyCam at Aintree has far exceeded what we expected. This whole journey with EP bringing first person perspective to horse racing started more than two years ago at a trade show in Birmingham and to think that throughout this whole experience, I would be involved with the 2015 Grand National winner. I know, you couldn't write it could you? But I'm going to try.

When asked how easy is it to ride in a horse race, a question I'm asked on a regular basis, I find it very hard to explain, because to be honest it looks pretty easy when watching on the TV. So I'm often defending jockeys as athletes because there isn't a way for a person who has never ridden of relating to what they do and how hard it is.

So when first person perspective, or POV cameras came on the scene, I was desperate to get them on a race-track to show what a rider goes through when competing. So in 2013, when Equine Productions was exhibiting at BETA International, a trade-fair at the Birmingham NEC, we had a quiet moment to take a look around at the other stands. One of them took my eye immediately, a stand exhibiting sun glasses with a built-in camera. This immediately got my head spinning, as all the POV cameras that had been on the market - and we at EP have used on many of our shoots for commercial or features - were slightly intrusive and all needed to be stuck to the helmet, which aren't allowed to be used in most professional sports.

So we needed to make something that would be safe for a rider to use, so when we spoke to the guys from Lyte we asked if it was possible to make the camera into a goggle, something jockeys use all the time.

The immediate answer was yes, so we went to work with our tech partners to bring it to market.

Leighton Aspell wearing our first test model.

Leighton Aspell wearing our first test model.

Now I'm not going to say this has been an easy journey, in fact this whole process of getting this project to come off has aged me and my Equine Productions colleague Sam Fleet ten years and almost didn't happen several times, but to cut a very long story short, two years later we were there. 

One of the interesting challenges along the way was to produce a goggle that would meet the approval of all of the jockeys, and that in turn led to us changing direction a little and actually producing something which worked even better than our original idea.

Rather than having the unit built into a goggle, the unit could be attached to the top of a goggle, or actually strapped around the helmet as a very light camera unit in its own right. We are talking about something which is very strong but weighs just 74 grams and, crucially delivers a brilliant HD image. 

The unit was/is designed to sit underneath the cap's silk leaving the camera appearing on the front of their helmet to capture what the jockey was seeing, the device was light, safe and recorded a great image.

Prior to Cheltenham, the device flew through safety tests and was also sent to the British Racing School where it had been used on a machine to show jockeys how to fall properly, we were ticking off all of the agreements and permissions we needed. 

The camera itself had a few glitches that caused Sam, (our MD) and I to nearly have a number of heart attacks but we were delighted with the images it was providing, but we needed to know what it would work like while riding a horse? Well that would be easy to test, the only easy part of this whole journey was to test the camera on a horse - and that horses name was Many Clouds.

Pressing rewind on my little story. Eight years ago I moved to to Lambourn to start working with Betfair as an on-course executive. When moving south, I became great friends with Warren Greatrex, now a very successful trainer, who was assistant at Oliver Sherwood's, and kindly organised for Oliver and I to meet. 

Me tacking up Clouds before a piece of work. Photo provided by my wife Stephie.

Me tacking up Clouds before a piece of work. Photo provided by my wife Stephie.

I was desperate to ride out somewhere as I have always been around horses all my life and I miss having a working connection with them and I love the atmosphere in the yard. Little did I know that that meeting would lead me to riding out the 2015 Grand National winner every morning, it's a funny world.

I'm often asked what Many Clouds is like and the only way I can describe him is that he is a warrior, he wouldn't know what quitting is, if you were going to war, you would want him by your side, but he is also a gentleman, a horse that is kind and gentle but has an amazing work ethic, so when it came to testing the camera while on horse back I had the perfect partner.

The camera was ready, so we tested it at the Cheltenham Festival with Channel 4 Racing to see how it would work logistically and the camera managed to capture some magic moments. 

Many Clouds and I after a morning workout before his win in the Hennesy. Photo provided by my wife Stephie Horrocks Photography

Many Clouds and I after a morning workout before his win in the Hennesy. Photo provided by my wife Stephie Horrocks Photography

One of them was on the Thursday, we asked Warren Greatrex if Gavin Sheehan his stable jockey could wear the camera in the World Hurdle? He said “Yes sure you can - but you won't see another horse though.” Excited with Warren's statement, we then used it.  

Wazzer was right, we didn't see another horse, Cole Harden won the World Hurdle from the front given an amazing ride by Gavin and the footage was awesome, even if we didn't see another horse, the most exciting part of the footage was watching Gavin coming into the winner enclosure, the shouting and the cheering from the public was amazing. Oh and by the way, Sam and I had a fiver each way, Thanks Waz.

The following day we had the camera on Leighton Aspell who be riding my mate Cloudy, he was running in the Gold Cup and I have to say I really fancied him to win, but unfortunately it wasn't to be.

Leighton said that he didn't travel as well as he had done in his previous races and only his brave jumping kept him in the race, but he finished a respectful sixth, but Coneygree the winner was trained over the hill from Lambourn, so we were all delighted for him and the Bradstock team.

Oliver and the team at Rhonehurst were disappointed, but we were happy that he came back safe and sound and would live to fight another day, so the decision was wether he would run again and if he did, the Grand National was going to the race.

Oliver and I celebrating after Clouds win at the Hennesy. Photo provided by Dan Abrahams.

Oliver and I celebrating after Clouds win at the Hennesy. Photo provided by Dan Abrahams.

The decision to run Cloudy in the National came through on the 27th of March, my 40th Birthday. Now I'm not going to pretend I was happy about this, not because of the National, I think the National is an amazing race, but just because I was worried Cloudy had a long season and his pieces of work weren't filling me with confidence as they had done before he won the Hennessy earlier on in the season. I always thought Clouds would be a National horse, just not this year, how wrong was I going to be?

The Aintree meeting had arrived, we were ready to launch the JockeyCam for C4 Racing and Many Clouds was running in the National, what were these three days going to provide?

JockeyCam all ready for the three days at Aintree.

JockeyCam all ready for the three days at Aintree.

Thursday morning, I was requested to be at the track early because Noel Fehily was guest on C4's Morning Line. Noel and Will Kennedy have been a huge part of our testing process leading up to the launch, and they wanted talk to Noel about the JockeyCam and his ride on Silviniaco Conti. The show went great and it was lovely for me to see what when on behind the scenes.

Day One.

Day One.

Because Noel had been helping us with JockeyCam we all decided to use a number of his rides across the meeting, the first being Silviniaco Conti and Paul Nicholls had kindly given us permission for him to wear the camera.

It was like Cole Harden all over again, Noel had won the race from the front and the images we got were great. We also tested the camera on other runners throughout the Thursday and unfortunately for poor Wayne Hutchinson our camera had its first fall, luckily Wayne and the Horse Winner Massagot were both ok.

JockeyCamera men Will Kennedy and Aidan Coleman ready for the Topham.

JockeyCamera men Will Kennedy and Aidan Coleman ready for the Topham.

On the Friday Aidan Coleman along with Will Kennedy had agreed to wear the camera for us in the Topham chase, what we were about to capture would be in my opinion the best two minutes in racing.

Aidan who was riding Benny’s Mist was getting a little detached from the leaders and then coming towards a fence, one of the loose horses ran across him, causing Aidan to fly off and land the other side of the fence, with the camera still rolling, Aidan lying on the other side of the fence and being told to “Stay There” by one of the medical staff, he captured all the other runners that were behind him flying over his head.

View from Aidan Coleman's Camera.

View from Aidan Coleman's Camera.

This then illustrated perfectly the extreme nature of the sport as never before. If this wasn't exciting enough we then got to see what every other jockey would have done in the same situation, Aidan went to catch some of the other loose horses that had lost their riders earlier in the race, but came across Benny, with a loving pat on the neck and an apology for coming off him, Aidan then climbed aboard and trotted him and another riderless horse back to the stables. This gave everyone a glimpse into the love an affection of what these jockeys have for their fellow athletes and the public were all able to see this the following day on C4.

Sam and I ready for the big day.

Sam and I ready for the big day.

Saturday was the big day, National day and I was nervous for two reasons, one, we were organising the four cameras to be worn in the big race and two, my good friend Many Clouds was having his first attempt at the big fences.

The jockeys changing room is a magical place, in fact its the only place I miss from my riding days as a jockey. The banter and camaraderie from all the riders is unbeatable and the fifteen minuets before the big race is a very tense environment, so I wanted to make the process of attaching the cameras and turning them all on an easy process. 

Once the cameras where turned on and all recording, my work was done and all I could do was watch and see what happened.

I parked myself on one of the seats in the changing room with the valets and a handful of jockeys that didn't have a ride in the race. My colleague Sam had asked me to help keep an eye on what happened within the race so we could see what the cameras might be capturing and make notes if possible.

This went out of the window heading to the first, there was only one horse I was watching, and that was Clouds.

After the first circuit, I can't begin to tell you the emotions I was feeling. Sick, excited, and anxious, all at he same time. I couldn't stand or sit still, one of the valets Craig asked my why I was so fidgety, with me then explaining my connection to Cloudy we were both glued to the Green, Yellow and White colours that Leighton was wearing. When Many Clouds hit the front at the fourth last, I went into melt-down, I completely lost my self and my voice. 

Leighton and Many Clouds past the post first in the 2015 Crabbies Grand National, with, if you look closely, Leighton wearing the JockeyCam. Photo from Dan Abrahams.

Leighton and Many Clouds past the post first in the 2015 Crabbies Grand National, with, if you look closely, Leighton wearing the JockeyCam. Photo from Dan Abrahams.

I have never shouted or cheered and put as much energy into the next thirty seconds of Many Clouds jumping the last three fences than anything else in my life and when he past the line I didn't know what to do with myself.

The first person to congratulate me was Nico De Boinville the winning rider of Coneygree, and told me immediately to go outside to the winners enclosure, but before I would get there I bumped into Sam my colleague. The person that has been on this whole Equine Productions journey with me from the start and the look on his face when I saw him described the words that came out of my mouth, What The F**k Just Happened!!!! apologise for my language but thats what I said and continued saying to myself for the next few days.

Once I managed to get into the winners enclosure I was bear hugged by one of my best friends Josh Apiafi and then a microphone thrust under my nose by Radio 5 Live presenter Cornelius Lysaght. To this day I don't know what I said in fact the next few hours were all a blur.

Leighton Aspell wearing the JockeyCam with Trevor Hemmings, owner of Many Clouds. Photo provided by Dan Abrahams.

Leighton Aspell wearing the JockeyCam with Trevor Hemmings, owner of Many Clouds. Photo provided by Dan Abrahams.

What I do know is that I completely forgot about the cameras that were out on all the jockeys and luckily Sam had managed to get all four of them and get them back to the C4 truck to be uploaded. At least one of us in this business knows what to do in the heat of excitement.

One thing I didn't know was going on was Cloudy had been a bit wobbly after the race, something he has done on a number of occasions, but ten minutes after the race he appeared in the winners enclosure looking fine and all I could do was run and hug him and Lisa, Oliver’s traveling head girl who I have worked with and known for over ten years.

Sam and I in the aftermath of the National.

Sam and I in the aftermath of the National.

This was by far the best day of my racing life, the only down side to all of this experience was the fact that my wife Stephie, a professional photographer who had been at Aintree for the first two days couldn't be there. But she would join in the celebrations once we got back to Lambourn.

Oliver, Tarnya and I celebrating Cloudy's win. What a day.

Oliver, Tarnya and I celebrating Cloudy's win. What a day.

The reaction to the JockeyCam over the next few days was amazing and has continued to very positive, we even managed to get AP to wear it on his last ride at Cheltenham. One comment that was constantly used throughout all social media and publicly was that the amazement of what a jockey and horse endures during a race, the bravery and skill of riders and horse where now being shown in a completely different way.

We had done it, we had managed to show what we had set out to do two years ago and I have to say, I couldn't be prouder of all the people that have helped us reach our goal.

AP McCoy wearing the JockeyCam for his last ride at Cheltenham.

AP McCoy wearing the JockeyCam for his last ride at Cheltenham.

C4 were delighted with what EP had delivered, all we needed to do know was celebrate Many Clouds win back in Lambourn and celebrate we did, for the day after the National, Oliver organised for Cloudy to walk down from Rhonehurst in Upper Lambourn to the George pub in the heart of the village, hundreds of people turned up to celebrate Cloudy’s win, something I will never forget and be thankful that I played a tiny part of this wonderful few days.

Grand National Winners. Team Rhonehurst.

Grand National Winners. Team Rhonehurst.

To see the Grand National JockeyCam footage click here