Steve Jones visited the loveable Roy Rocket during the week and spoke with trainer John Berry about the Brighton favourite

FRANKEL never went to Brighton.

Nor did Brigadier Gerard, Shergar or Dancing Brave.

The Rocket runs at his beloved Sussex track tomorrow
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Even if any of those racing greats had popped out for a day at the seaside it’s hard to think they would have been more popular than Roy Rocket.

John Berry’s snowy-white grey is up there with sticks of rock on the south coast. Tomorrow he will go for win number 10 at Brighton.

It’s thought he currently shares the record for the most track wins with Shikari’s Son. Usually, keen racing historian Berry – who bred, trains and part-owns Roy Rocket – would be an authority on such matters. In this instance he’s not really bothered.

Berry told me: “Whether it is or isn’t a record isn’t a factor for me – it’s not anything I’ve really thought of. It would be lovely but even now I’ve not been interested enough to look into it.


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“It’s just a joy taking him to Brighton and it’s a double, triple, quadruple joy when he wins. The fact that other people have had the same joy in the past doesn’t really matter – I don’t look at it like a competition.”

There was a time Roy Rocket wasn’t particularly competitive. He took two-and-a-half years and 16 races before he managed to get his grey head in front.

You’ll not be surprised to hear that was his first taste of Brighton’s unique twists and turns one spring evening in 2015. He’s been coming back ever since.

Berry remembered: “He was always quite small – an athletic horse but not very strong.

“He was a green, inexperienced, spooky young horse for a lot longer than he should have been.

“It was almost a process of elimination taking him to Brighton as we’d tried everywhere else.

“When you take a horse there for the first time you think there’s a strong chance there’ll not going to give their best running as a lot of horses don’t handle it. Roy ran above form.”

It might have only been a chance meeting – a blind-date set up by Berry – but Roy Rocket’s love affair with Brighton has been hotter than ever this season with a trio of victories.

Not many horses take to the unique test of Brighton, but Roy Rocket thrives there
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He’s yet to win anywhere else, although he did once come close when runner-up at Lingfield. Predictably, he won at Brighton three weeks later.

Berry laughed: “It’s nice to take him to other courses once in a while just to see what will happen.

“It’s a joy taking him to Brighton – everyone makes such a fuss of him. He definitely knows where he is when he arrives.

“The horse box park is across the road from the stables. As soon as you walk across the people manning the road crossings say ‘here’s the champ – is he going to win today?’.

“His style of running is coming from the back. When they start to run downhill he comes to the outside to move forward as the race is warming up. There’s a point when the commentator says ‘Roy Rocket is moving forward’ – there’s always a cheer.

“He is so popular – it is really moving.”

Berry isn’t the only one to find it all a bit emotional. Roy Rocket runs in the colours of co-owners Larry and Iris McCarthy – daughter and widow of long-standing owner Joe.

They bought into Roy Rocket – the third foal from Berry’s first broodmare Minnie’s Mystery – after three uninspiring runs. They could hardly have imagined what was to follow from the gallant grey with more character than a Dickens classic.

Berry trains out of a small yard in Newmarket
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Berry clearly plays a leading role in this tale. His Beverley House Stables – tucked away between terraced cottages not far from the centre of Newmarket – creaks with history.

It was home to 1903 Triple Crown hero Rock Sand and 1923 Grand National winner Sergeant Murphy. The only other stable to have achieved that double feat is Ballydoyle.

These days it houses one of the town’s smaller strings with Berry admitting his ‘hands on’ approach meant he never had a burning ambition to compete on numbers with the sport’s top trainers.

A bigger yard with less of the personal touch might not have allowed Roy Rocket to flourish quite so much. And it’s hard to imagine many others would have put up with his funny ways.

Berry explained: “Every day after exercise I hose him down and just take the bridle off. He walks around the yard for 20 minutes until he’s ready to go back into his box.

“I’ll make his feed and call him – he’ll follow me into his box. If he’s ready for his food before I’ve mixed it he’ll walk into the feed room and help himself.”

It’s obvious Roy Rocket is no ordinary racehorse. Then again, Berry is no ordinary trainer.

His dreams of becoming a jockey prompted him to turn down a place to study theology at St Peter’s College, Oxford University.

Now he combines training with writing for Australian weekly paper Winning Post, Dubai racing magazine Al Adiyat and American publication Thoroughbred Daily News as well as regular appearances as a pundit on At The Races.

The former amateur jockey came out of retirement to ride Kadouchski to win the 3m4f Town Plate in 2011 while wearing his glasses and he even had a stint as mayor of Newmarket.

Berry had a beard long before the hipsters of Shoreditch made it a fashion statement and his dress sense has also seen the odd eyebrow raised among the trilbies of racing’s catwalk.

It would be unkind to suggest he must have hit reverse gear through one of the impressive hedges that protects Newmarket’s gallops from prying eyes but one summer morning some years ago he did cross the line in some eyes.

Berry chuckled: “There was a really hot summer and one day I rode out in my shorts and wellies and without a shirt. You couldn’t do it now as you have to wear a body protector.

“Peter Amos, the Jockey Club’s Estates manager, very politely suggested that I ought to be a bit more smartly dressed.

“The next day I kept the same attire but put a tie on.”

No one would ever dare question Roy Rocket’s style – especially not at his beloved Brighton.

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