Wales legend Mike Phillips reveals 'disastrous' foray into new sport

-Credit: (Image: Richard Williams)
-Credit: (Image: Richard Williams)

Mike Phillips admits his time as a racehorse owner was “disastrous” but that will not prevent the former Wales and Lions rugby hero from helping Ffos Las Racecourse celebrate their 15th birthday this weekend.

Phillips will deliver the wisdom and wit derived from a 12-year, 94-cap career with Wales - plus five more with the Lions - when he performs in a Q and A session at the course on Sunday.

The event is just one of a number being hosted by Ffos Las at its 15th Birthday Raceday meeting this weekend, marking the opening of the course in the summer of 2009.

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Like many former Wales internationals – such as Alex Cuthbert, Jonathan Davies, Nicky Robinson and Andy Powell – Phillips has dipped his toe into the sometimes treacherous waters of racehorse ownership, whether outright or through a syndicate.

“I had a share in a horse at the stables of Rebecca Curtis, down in Pembrokeshire,” says the former scrum-half turned TV pundit, speaker and businessman, now based in Dubai.

“Rebecca is a one of the best trainers around, she’s been very successful, but unfortunately this horse got injured and hardly raced, so, all told, it was a bit of a disaster.

“It was right in the middle of lockdown, there wasn’t much money coming in, so I must have thought, ‘there’s a good investment!’”

The 41-year-old does not profess to be a racing expert, but he’s enough of a fan to take in the major racing events – including the Dubai World Cup, held every year at his home base, a race created by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, founder of the global Godolphin stable.

About as far removed from the expensive trappings and glitz of Dubai – or even Royal Ascot, which is currently taking place – is Ffos Las, the homely track in rural Carmarthenshire, which has confounded the prophets of doom, some of whom predicted it wouldn’t last 15 months, never mind 15 years.

The main stand at Ffos Las – which houses the “Bridles and Blinkers Bar” where Phillips is appearing - is named the Jonathan Davies Stand.

It’s in honour of Jonathan “Jiffy” Davies, who grew up in nearby Trimsaran, rather than Jonathan Davies, the former Scarlets centre and owner of Potters Corner, the Welsh Grand National winner of 2019.

Rather like his famous tongue-in-cheek claim that if he wasn’t the best No.9 in the world, then he was “certainly among the top one”, Phillips reckons Ffos Las founder and original owner, Dai Walters got it all wrong.

“I think they should really have called it the Mike Phillips Stand, as I’m from not far down the road, as well. What’s Jiffy ever done?

“It’s a great place and although I’m not a massive racing fan, I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere at racing.

“The Dubai World Cup is a really interesting day and I’ve taken my father along there. We even managed to get the app working on my phone so we could have a little £5 bet, as gambling isn’t allowed out there.”

Two days before the Ffos Las meeting, Phillips will be in London on Friday night, as guest speaker - along with his former Wales teammate Powell, at London Welsh – on the eve of the Wales match against South Africa at Twickenham.

Although he officially retired seven years ago, the former Scarlets, Ospreys, Cardiff, Bayonne, Racing and Sale Sharks No.9 also occasionally still puts his boots back on.

He plans to play in a charity match next month and is tempted to turn out for a team of Lions legends against former Wallabies on next year’s Lions tour of Australia.

“It’s bonkers, really, but I just try and avoid the contact. I wish I’d done that a bit more when I was playing.”

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Like many former Wales players, he is saddened by the state of the current team and of the domestic game more widely – although he insists, he’s an eternal optimist rather than a gloomy pessimist.

“There’s too much attention on 15 to 17-year-olds these days and not enough attention on keeping players in the game after that age.

“I came through an U21 system, which was brilliant. If I was playing now, I don’t think I would get spotted because I didn’t stand out at 16 or 17. There are too many players now, who get to 18 or 19 at the end of their time in the academies, who are told they are not good enough and then get lost to the game.”

He also admits the regular flurries of red cards in matches is another irritant.

“I find a lot of games are difficult to watch and leave me frustrated. I know there has to be a strategy to deal with concussion, but this concentration on high tackles seems to be missing the point.

“So many of them are just accidents – rugby accidents in a contact sport – and it’s turned it into a different game. Has it made the game safer? I’m not sure it has, but it’s made it harder to watch.”

Ffos Las – 15th Birthday Raceday. Sunday, June 23. First race at 2.10pm. Mike Phillips will be doing a Q and A session at Bridles and Blinkers bar.