WHEN Rebecca Menzies was 15, she was called in to the deputy head’s office at her girls’ grammar school.
“She looked across at me and asked, ‘Is everything okay at home?’” recalled Menzies.
“I said, ‘Yes’. So she said, ‘Well is there anything you want to tell me, anything you’ve been doing that you shouldn’t have?’ I said, ‘No’.
“Then she picked up this big file on her desk and said, ‘Well how do you account for all this?’ It was a list of all the internet sites I’d been logging on to in school, and it was Racing Post, William Hill, Ladbrokes, Betfair… they thought I had a gambling addiction.
“I explained that I’d been helping to look after horses since I was little, and just wanted to keep tabs on them and watch them race. She said I should forget them and concentrate on my studies because racing would get me nowhere.”
One wonders what that deputy head is thinking now.
Less than a decade after her dressing down, 24-year-old Menzies is revelling in her status as Britain’s youngest trainer.
Having left school at the age of 18 to join Ferdy Murphy’s yard at West Witton, she worked her way up from being a secretary to eventually run syndicates and become travelling head girl before she was then promoted to the role of assistant.
It was everything she had dreamed of since she first began to muck out for prolific owner Walter Gott at the age of eight, but it threatened to unravel in an instant when Murphy made the snap decision to leave Britain to pursue a new career as a trainerbreeder in France earlier this year.
Should Menzies take up one of the offers that immediately came her way from other trainers? Or, despite her tender years, was the time right to strike out for herself?
“When Ferdy first told us all what was happening, it was a complete shock, “ she explained.
“I remember going back in to see him later that night and saying, ‘What should I do?’ “He didn’t even draw breath before he said, ‘You should get yourself started on your own’.
I think he’d got a bit disillusioned with the way things were going, but he’s never lost his love of racing. He just said it was becoming a young person’s game and it felt like a different era to the one he knew.
“I wasn’t sure at first, but I had a few horses of my own and another three that I was involved with for a syndicate. I thought about having to hand those horses over to another trainer, and I didn’t want to do it. That’s when I knew my mind was made up.”
The hard work, however, was only just starting to begin.
Locating a suitable yard proved extremely difficult, and by mid-July, Menzies was forced to ring her owners to suggest that if things weren’t sorted in another week or so, they should look to send their horses elsewhere in order to guarantee their fitness for the start of the season.
Having all but given up, she received a phone call out of the blue from Peter Beaumont, trainer of 1993 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Jodami.
Having retired in 2010, Beaumont was looking to lease his yard in the North Yorkshire village of Brandsby, close to Easingwold.
“We went to look at it four or five times, “ said Menzies, who works alongside her boyfriend, conditional jumps jockey Tony Kelly. “It ticked all the boxes we needed ticking.
It’s the right size to be starting out with, we live next to the yard so we’re right on top of the horses and we’ve got our own gallops which was something I definitely wanted.
Ferdy came down to walk the gallops and gave it his blessing, so that was reassuring.
“We got everything sorted, but then it was a case of waiting for the license to be approved by the BHA (Britsh Horseracing Authority) and that was nerve-wracking.
When it came through, it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is real now’.”
Menzies’ first runner was Balding Banker at Hexham in October –”second, beaten by three-quarters of a length” - and after an eighth-place finish at Carlisle, her third mount was Texas Rose at Uttoxeter later that month – “second again, this time by one-and-ahalf lengths”.
With 16 horses in the yard, she is satisfied she can give each a great deal of attention, and it was only a matter of time before the first winner arrived – Pistol Basc giving her the honour of being the youngest female trainer to saddle a winner at Sedgefield in November.
“When we were leading Banker out of the stables for that first run, I was just thinking, ‘Please don’t be tailed off and make us look like idiots’. I think he knew how important it was – he gave everything for us that day and only just missed out.”
Three months in, and while things are gradually settling down, the wide-eyed excitement is refusing to fade. A Ferdy-style Cheltenham plot might be stretching things this season, but everything appears to be in place for Menzies to make giant strides in a short space of time.
“If I’m sitting here next year with 16 fit and healthy horses in their stables, I’ll be happy, “ she said. “Just getting through the first year would be an achievement.”