Passed/Failed: Richard Pitman

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The Independent Online
Richard Pitman, 54, ex-jockey and BBC horse-racing commentator, will be at Ascot/ Haydock on Saturday. He was commentating when his son Mark won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and interviewed his first wife, trainer Jenny Pitman, when she received an OBE in this year's New Year's Honours list. In his 15 years as a steeplechase jockey he rode nearly 500 winners and in his seven Grand Nationals he twice came second. His latest novel, `The Third Degree', comes out in paperback next month.

Under Starter's Orders? My first school was St Gregory's in the heart of Cheltenham. It was run by nuns but I can't tell you of what clan. In my 15 years as a jockey I was concussed many times, from landing on my head or being kicked and without a doubt it affected my memory.

A Race Apart? Although I was a real Just William character with socks round my ankles, I preferred playing with girls at break and lunchtime. Since I was anyway very small, the nuns were worried about me being picked on and tried to discourage me from this. They cured me: they made me bring my desk to the front and face the class, tied pink ribbons in my hair and said, "Be a girl for a day". It gave me acute embarrassment. Although I'm now an after-dinner speaker and quite brash, I still get embarrassed.

To The Manor Bored? I sailed through the 11-plus with very little work. Tewkesbury Grammar School was a manor house in 90 acres of grounds. Every year I'd get a seat in a dormer window overlooking the park and spent the time day dreaming about country pursuits.

Racing Uncertainty? My sister Pam - I was the youngest of four, the other three were girls who were bright and have all done well in the teaching profession - made me go riding at 5.30 in the morning before school. She would whack the pony on its backside and it was off. Suddenly playing truant on Cheltenham's fifteen race days seemed preferable to going to school. I would kiss my mother goodbye; then I would dash across the railway line and get - for nothing - into the racecourse a mile away from my home.

A Fall At The Last Hurdle? Every year at school I used to finish in the top five. I passed nine O levels in the mock exams. In the actual exams, I thought it was all easy and finished every paper well within the allotted time. The results came by post and at first I thought they were another boy's: I had failed nine O levels. I had read the questions quickly, didn't take them in and answered different questions of my own.

Jockeying For Position? My father was very upset. He said: "Go out and apply yourself in the world of work." There weren't any exams for being a jockey then. But if you were small and could carry a "muck-sack", you could go and work in a stables.

The Whip Hand? I was only caned once at school. At an Old Boys' reunion they produced the log-book, which said, "Seven strokes for cheating". I'm not proud of that. It was probably for English, my worst subject. Until I retired as a jockey at 32, I'd written nothing except letters to owners thanking them for champagne. I dedicated my first novel to my English teacher - tongue-in-cheek.

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