From Sandhurst to Sandown: Meet the veteran training Cheltenham's top animals

The Cheltenham Festival is in full swing and a former British Army lieutenant is there training some of the front runners.

Billy Aprahamian won the Grand Military Gold Cup in 2018 and since then, he's been part of Nicky Henderson's team as an assistant trainer.

As he explains, his current role was planned from the moment he joined the military.

He said: "I was in the Army just shy of five years.

"I started at Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Irish Guards. I served with them for four years.

"Going up the steps at Sandhurst with your ironing board and I met a mate there who's now a very good friend.

"I said to him that day 'I want to train racehorses. I want to do five years in the Army and then I want to go and train racehorses. If I can go and work for someone like Nicky Henderson, then that would be the dream'."

Aprahamian's first meeting with the National Hunt trainer came with his successful run at the Grand Military Gold Cup.

Nicky Henderson explained: "We met when I needed a military rider for the Grand Military. I had the horse and I had some owners who very keen.

"We needed a soldier rider. I was told this is the man we needed to have so that's how I sort of first met up with Billy.

The Armed Forces veteran said: "Being in the Army and being keen to ride in the Grand Military, I looked at previous races and basically emailed every single trainer that had a runner in the race ever – probably retired ones as well!

"The only one to reply was the boss and I thought: 'Wow.' If anyone was to reply, this is the one I wanted to reply."

Billy Aprahamian Working In Stables Credit BFBS.jpg
Billy Aprahamian at work in the stables.

When he arrived on day one he saw his name on the board next to the horse, Baden.

"I started off at a 4/1 shot and he was just an absolute dreamboat to ride. I didn't do anything, I just steered."

At the drinks party afterward, 'the boss', Henderson, asked what he wanted to do after the Army.

"I said I wanted to go into National Hunt racing, ideally be someone's assistant trainer and then the big dream would be to set up my own yard.

"He said: 'Well, I might have a job for you.'"

Henderson has been pleased with Aprahamian's work within his team, saying: "You can see a military background in him in how he handles most things.

"It's precise. It's well done. It's well thought out. If we say we're going to do something, it's done."

Aprahamian is now responsible for some of the top racehorses in the country and thinks his military experience helps him.

"Soldiers are very similar to stable lads and lasses," he said.

"They want the same things.

"They want to know when they're getting up, when they're going to bed, when they're going to eat and the other things I probably can't mention on camera!

"Racing, I suppose, is pretty old school. It is very similar to the Army where you have the boss at the top... and they make all the decisions.

"The Army is very all or nothing and horse racing's the same."

The veteran's plan isn't finished though. He's got one more goal before he finishes his career.

"I'd love to have my own yard," he added.

Cover image by Racing TV.

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