Upper Lambourn's Ed Walker is loving the 'crazy game'
Ed Walker’s nomadic Newmarket existence came to an end in 2016 when he found a home at his Kingsdown Stables in Upper Lambourn.
Since his first runner in 2010, he’s endured countless difficult phone calls to disappointed owners and stressful sales but has now trained more than 400 winners, including two Group 1 champions.
“I’m from a horse background, but not a racing background, very close to Kingsclere,” Walker said.
“Mother is a brilliant horsewoman and was the driving force between us and horses and Dad, sadly late Dad, was a big racing fan.
“Dad’s love of racing rubbed off on me and I was hooked, it was mind-blowing.
“Kingsclere’s a pretty special place and if you can’t fall in love with racing there, you never will.”
As an apprentice, Walker went from Watership Down to France and Australia before working with Roger Charlton and then Luca Cumani, for whom he was assistant for four years.
He started training in October 2010 when he rented a small 24 box yard in Newmarket.
“I wasn’t too keen on going to Newmarket, but Roger insisted I had to go, to learn and to meet people, it turned out to be great advice,” he said.
“I was meant to stay for two years but I ended up there for 10.”
Walker’s first runner, Riggins, became a Listed winner in November 2010.
“He was mad, he was at the sales and no one had a look at him, not a single person wanted him,” Walker said.
“I took a punt and I bought him for £18,000 and threw him in a field at Mum and Dad’s.
“That was October 2009 and we sent him to Andrew Balding, who did a brilliant job with him, and then he came to me in 2010.
“He was such a fun horse, such a nice horse and then he won the Hyde Stakes at Kempton in November.
“I didn’t have another winner for six months, classic racing, Henry Cecil watch out.”
After four Newmarket relocations, the opportunity arose for Walker to return to his roots in December 2016.
Perhaps the zenith of Walker’s time in Upper Lambourn so far came in 2021, when Starman won the July Cup at Newmarket, Walker’s first Group 1 winner.
“That was special, I thought I was destined never to win a Group 1,” he said.
Then, in May, Dreamloper became Walker’s second Group 1 winner when she won the Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp.
"It was great to follow it up, to win another Group 1, to become a regular at that table," he said.
Each one of Walker’s winners is the result of thousands of hours of hard work, some well thought out plans and, of course, a bit of luck.
He said: “I suppose the art of training is identifying what you’ve got in front of you, what your horse is, and then producing it to perfection.
“What we’re trying to achieve is very simple, actually achieving it is far more complicated.
“A trainer is only as good as his horses and his staff, and we’ve got fantastic staff and great horses.
“The horses are why we do it, they’re wonderful animals to be around, they’re a great puzzle to try and solve.
“It’s a crazy game, it’s a way of life, a difficult one but it’s incredible.”
For Walker, there's no such thing as a normal day.
"If you train 100 horses and you get through the morning without a problem, you've missed something," he said.
This afternoon, Dreamloper will run in the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood – the "crazy game" continues.
Newbuy Weekly News also spoke to assistant trainer, Jack Steels, to learn more about the day-to-day life at Walker's yard.
Jack Steels, assistant trainer at Kingsdown, made the move from Newmarket to Lambourn with Walker in 2016.
Steels started working in racing for Luca Cumani in 2006 before joining Walker's team in 2013.
"I've been here eight-and-a-half years now, I could see myself doing another eight-and-a-half, for sure," Steels said.
"I start at about 5am, come in, feed the horses and then go and check the riding out lists, check the horses and then go and watch them exercise on the gallops.
"That'll be four or five lots in the morning until about 12:30, then we come back at 3:30, check them and feed them.
"Long hours, long enough, sometimes it's early mornings and late nights.
"I liked going to the races and thought it looked like fun to ride them and I didn't much like school, so that's how it started.
"Ed's a friend as well as boss, he's great to work for because he treats his staff and his animals with such respect."