Wales coach Warren Gatland's horse racing passion

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Sport Wales: Warren Gatland takes a break

It's a familiar sight. The Wales and British and Irish Lions coach, Warren Gatland, watching over his players.

He's usually in a box high up in the stands, surrounded by his coaching staff with an expression of intense concentration on his face.

Even when his side touch down, there is a faint smile but nothing more.

Now try to imagine him whooping and cheering as one of his horses thunders down towards the winning line. It's difficult to picture.

Horse racing is a passion for Gatland and something he's been involved in for over 30 years.

''When I was playing sport I used to watch the racing on TV, going every now and again," said Gatland.

"A group of 10 of us had a horse when I was in my early 20s and that's how I first got involved.

"I had a horse called Rolling Maul and he was about as fast as a rolling maul.

"We've been lucky enough though to have had a few winners and I just love going to the races and watching a really competitive sport.''

Gatland currently owns three horses in his native New Zealand and visits them whenever he is home. In the UK, he is a regular at racecourses, always attending the Cheltenham Festival in March on his midweek day off.

Last year, Gatland was there three days before Wales' historic 30-3 win over England at the Millennium Stadium.

''I get excited about going to the races," said the Kiwi.

"Seeing my horse win gives me the same feeling as winning a match. If my horse is in contention over the last couple of furlongs, I'm yelling, screaming and jumping up and down.

"I'm definitely excited and I'm not afraid to show it at the races because everyone else is doing it, I can be a little bit anonymous. At the rugby match I try and keep it a bit tempered because it's my job.

"You've got to be focused, but at the races I can be a supporter, get carried away, and cheer and yell and scream like everyone else.''

So, just days before rugby's biggest annual tournament, Gatland is to be found on his day off at Dunraven Stud, a small training operation in Pyle, outside Bridgend, run by David Brace.

''It's nice to come down here and get away from everything, to be able to get close to the animals, get in their stables and give them a pat," said Gatland.

"I like to get away from things in terms of press conferences and training and just take your mind off the Six Nations.

"There's a lot of expectation on the Wales team this year, with the chance for us to be the first team to win the Six Nations three times in a row.

"You need time, yourself, to relax and to think about other things.''

As he watches a horse schooling over fences, Gatland, who was named the BBC Sport's coach of the year in 2013 after the Lions' 2-1 Test series victory over Australia in the summer, draws comparisons between the two sports.

''(In) rugby and racing, we're preparing athletes to compete at their optimum," said Gatland.

"We catch and pass a ball all the time and these racehorses jump and practise all the time to get better. We learn more about our players, what their strengths and weaknesses are, just like a trainer will learn the strengths and weaknesses of a horse.

"The skill of a trainer is to watch an animal and get a feel for it. We get verbal feedback from our players. I hugely admire the jockeys getting up on horses and putting their lives at risk.

"It's a dangerous sport and I admire them for what they go through and what they're able to do.''

Wales are the bookies' favourites to win the 2014 Six Nations, but Gatland is aware of the task that faces them and is not taking anything for granted.

"I wouldn't be betting on the Six Nations," said Gatland. "You're betting on luck and the odds aren't brilliant.

"Trends show France win the tournament the year after a Lions tour.

"The Six Nations sometimes is not all about the physicality; it's about being mentally fresh.

"We're privileged to be involved in professional sport, but to me it's family first.

"The players need to have a happy environment at home so I can get more out of them in training and in games. For me, everything is about balance."

See more on Sport Wales on BBC Two Wales, Friday, 31 January, 21:00 GMT.

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