RACEHORSE owner Ritchie Fiddes went from leaving school at 16 to retiring at 33 after selling the company he built for £23million.
And now the entrepreneur is using his expert eye for detail in the world of racing – with a thriving yard that breeds winners.
But the lifestyle he enjoys with fiancée Hazel is far from glamorous and couldn't be more different from the high-flying business world.
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The pair are up early and often finish graft after dark at their Ripon home in Yorkshire – where it's more mucking out than glitzy days out.
You have to do it for the love of the horses – and a love of racing was something Ritchie developed with his late granddad George.
Together they would study the form and have little bets, taking each other on to see who could win the most.
Those precious moments lit a flame inside Ritchie, now 40, that today burns brighter than ever.
He told SunSport: “I was from a very poor background and could never have dreamed that I would own racehorses later on in life.
“My granddad instilled old fashioned values in me and he said to me, ‘if you work for someone else, lad, they’ll never quite pay you enough’.
“He never pushed me to go into business but those words stuck with me.
“I went to Ripon grammar school but left at 16 because we didn’t have the funds for me to go to university.
“It interested me more to get into work and get that real world experience.
“I left school at 16 and started working in sales and progressed from there. That led to me starting my own business at 24, an IT business doing data back up and disaster recovery.
“Within our first six months of trading we had signed up Liverpool FC, Cheshire police and the British Red Cross – and everything spiralled from there.
“My business partner, Simon Chappell, and I sold the business in 2013 when I was 33. It had become really successful and we had all these household name customers.
“We got to the point where we got a contract with the BBC and that was as big as we could get being a privately owned business.
“We’d had a lot of interest from people wanting to buy it, over 20 interested parties. Many made offers but we didn’t sell it to the highest bidder.
“People asked why we wouldn’t sell for the most money but it was important we sold to the right business that gave the right opportunity to the staff, who were all retained.
“It was nice to do the right thing by everyone. It wasn’t all sweetness. People do need telling off now and again but it was nice to do the right thing.”
Fiddes’ entrepreneurial spirit started young.
When he was on free school meals he would hold his tray up higher to get a bit more food, selling the extra portions to other boys.
That ingenuity served him well in the real business world.
Although the same could not really be said for racing – especially as he had no idea his first horse would turn out to be a top winner.
Ritchie explained: “Getting into racing and buying a horse happened by accident. My business partner and I both had an interest – and everyone in the North loves going to York races.
“We were working harder and harder and didn’t have time to take a step back.
“I never got stressed or felt pressure but a friend of ours, who had some horses, said we should get involved in a share with a horse
“We thought that was a good idea because when it was running we could take some time out from the business.
“The first horse we bought into was called Ancient Cross and we ran him in a Class 2 handicap at York.
“The trainer said he had no chance over five furlongs. It was the first race of day, all our customers who we treated to a day out had a put a bet on him, but in hope rather than expectation.
“Anyway, he absolutely hosed up and won by two and a half lengths!
“It was a great way to start off but the difficult part comes in trying to find more horses of the same ability.”
Ritchie used his analytical background and applied it to racing, having success with the likes of Easton Angel, Moviesta – who he co-owned with Harry Redknapp – and Glen Moss.
He said: “The horseracing world is incredibly traditional. Using things like heart rate monitors, I could work out what the recovery rate is, the stride length, the cadence, to work out what trip they should be running over.
“I breed my own horses now purely to race them.
“I was fascinated by it – the more traditional something is it’s like ‘that’s how it always been done’.
“The Team Sky thing of marginal gains everyone knows about, but back when I was starting out ten years ago it wasn’t.
“I was just trying anything possible to get an advantage and what I found out definitely gave us an edge and allowed us to run to a higher level on a relatively small budget.”
So is Ritchie the brains and Hazel the brawn behind the operation?
Ritchie, who is keen for the next generation to get into racing through syndicates, said: “No, Hazel is also the brains of the operation. In any partnership one enjoys certain things more.
“Things like vaccinations, veterinary issues and worming, Hazel is brilliant at that and if she has a horse that’s a bit temperamental she’s very patient with them.
“Hazel is the brains – and also the brawn! She underplays her part.”
Such a diplomatic answer bodes well for married life together, after Ritchie ‘finally’ got round to proposing on Christmas Day last year.
After such a tough year, the delighted couple said it was great to provide some positive news friends and family could raise a glass to.
So here’s to them – and a few more winners.
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