Popham quits saddle and sets sights on making champion of best pal Skelton
There's no time for a rest in this game and Ian Popham was due to begin his new job just a day after announcing his retirement from race-riding.
Jump racing may be on a break after the season-ending meeting at Sandown on Saturday, but entries will be made on Monday for next weekend's meetings so he'll be starting work as agent to half a dozen jockeys, including good friend Harry Skelton.
Explaining the move to book rides rather than take them, Popham said: "I didn't make the decision lightly. I've had a great time riding, I've loved every minute. But I got injured in January – I hurt my shoulder quite badly – and while I was off I did a few courses and spent a bit of time with Niall Hannity and a day with Chris Broad.
"It's something that was always in the back of my mind and when I was off I thought to myself that in the last two seasons I'd ridden only ten or 11 winners. I wasn't that happy with that and could see this could be for me."
Popham, 28, rode for more than a decade and won the Feltham Novices' Chase and Paddy Power Gold Cup on Annacotty.
"I was very proud of what I achieved," he reflected. "Annacotty was probably the best horse I rode and whenever I was in a bit of a low spot he pulled it out of the bag for me. After I broke my pelvis badly he was first big winner to get me back up in the limelight.
"I don't look back and think, 'what if?' If things had been slightly different and I hadn't got injured at certain times I could have been higher up as a jockey, but I don't regret anything and I'm not bitter about it. Hopefully it will stand me in good stead for a new chapter in my life."
One of the challenges in that new chapter is helping Skelton take another step towards the Stobart jockeys' title, having finished third behind Richard Johnson in 2017-18.
"Harry's a great jockey and wants to be better; every year he wants to ride more winners and in time the end goal is that he wants to be champion jockey," said Popham, whose clients will also include Conor Shoemark, Matt Griffiths, Charlie Poste, David England and Harry Stock.
"For me to have someone as ambitious and talented as Harry is a massive thing. If anyone has the drive and will to be a champion, it's him."
Great to see @ianpopham retiring in one piece. Very excited to be one of the first few jockeys on his books as a jockeys' agent. He has every strength and character to succeed and delighted to be part of his journey. #LuckOnSunday— Conor Shoemark (@ConorShoemark) April 29, 2018
Skelton stressed his decision to switch to Popham was no reflection on his former agent Dave Roberts, who also books rides for Johnson among many others.
"I've been with Dave since I started riding. I spoke to him last week about it and it's nothing to do with his services," said Skelton.
"He's been unbelievable for me, I'm forever grateful and if Ian wasn't starting I wouldn't be moving, but Ian is my best friend. His work ethic is very good and he always puts his mind 100 per cent to whatever he does. Being very close to him, I feel I should give him a chance.
"If you're in the top ten, everyone wants to win the championship, but on pure numbers it's going to be very difficult for me. I haven't picked up many outside winners through no-one's fault — I don't ride out anywhere else so it's going to be very difficult, and it will be hard for Ian to get me outside rides."
Skelton, who in William Hill's handicap betting on the 2018-19 title has a 25 head start on Richard Johnson, who is off scratch, with all riders 14-1, was with Popham in their days at Paul Nicholls' yard.
He added: "It's nice to have him out of the game in one piece; there was many a time when I was beside his bed in hospital when he was injured. I'm sure his parents think so too."
Nicholls himself added: "Ian's a good lad, he rode well – he's had a lot of injuries and I'm glad he's come out in one piece. One thing's for sure, he'll make a great success of whatever he does.
"He'll do well as a jockeys' agent, I'm sure there's room for someone else to do a good job, and he will."
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