Story and Photos courtesy of Graham Potter and www.horseracingonly.com.au
By Robert Heathcote | Thursday, September 2, 2010
By Robert Heathcote | Thursday, September 2, 2010
I am often asked why we work the horses so early in the mornings? Is it because we all like getting up early six mornings a week?Why are they worked in the wee hours of the morning when most 'normal' people are home snug in their beds? To be honest I am not entirely sure of the correct answer to that that one, but I think the most logical answer is that the racing tracks in the training centres require a lot of maintenance work on them and this is generally carried out during the day by the track maintenance staff.It would not be possible for this work to be carried out with the use of the required machinery with horses actually working on the training tracks. This would be dangerous to the horses and riders and also to the track staff.Therefore we have to have our horses worked and off the tracks by a required time. This may well vary at other training centres but I think most major Metropolitan and provincial centres would adhere to this rule.At Eagle Farm where I train, the training track is open from 4 am until 8am six mornings a week. The track maintenance staff begin their day at 7.30 am, so we have to have our track work session finished and the horses off the training tracks by 7.50.There are days when it goes later than that when there are barrier trials and jump outs but most of the time it’s full on for us to get them all worked in the four hour session.
Those who have private training facilities may well work their operation differently as they would have a number of other options available which is maybe why some of the bigger southern trainers have opted to go this way?
I know in England where the training is not done on tracks they can work their horses right throughout the day!Here in Queensland where we are blessed with a fantastic climate. The early morning is the best part of the day for the majority of the year and during the hotter summer months, it’s far better for the horses to work earlier in the coolest part of the day.Our winters are never severe although it does get quite chilly at times but nothing compared to what our southern counterparts have to endure.Bitterly cold and wet for most of the winter, they sure have my sympathies and they do it a bit tougher than us here in Queensland. Mind you it's no fun working in steady constant drizzle as we have had to do a few times this past winter and the summer was a wet one!In this industry we often get to see the higher profile players such as the top jockeys, the trainers and in some cases the owners, especially the higher profile owners of the 'good horses'.We rarely get to see or hear about the people behind the scenes. The track work riders and the stable staff. The people who really are at the coalface of the industry who in my eyes are really the unsung heroes of racing.Most trainers will tell you that the success of any stable cannot happen without the tireless efforts of the stable staff. They don't earn the big dollars of others in the industry but they are nonetheless just as important.Just recently the Racing industry awards were held and I was very pleased to accept the 'Strapper of the year' award on behalf of one of my staff in Robert O'Leary. Robert is currently down at Flemington looking after Buffering and doing a great job.I am pleased that this part of the industry was recognised by the control body and it represents all of those who get up at the ungodly hour each day to work in a profession that most would have to love.Maybe they should even include a category to acknowledge the top 'Track Rider' of the year?Sure, it's a job like all jobs, but to get up and work at 3 am each day, and to face the dangers they face each and every morning, well you would have to enjoy it as there are other many other work options with civilised hours and a hell of a lot safer.Rain, hail or shine, warm, cold or bloody hot as it can be at times, it doesn't matter as the horses have to be worked. The track work riders are there 'punching' them around every morning.Most of the horses are a pleasure to ride but some less so. It's coming into the new juvenile season and many of the 'new' youngsters are certainly quite a challenge for the track riders until the new 'babies' gain their confidence and learn to adapt to their training life on the race track.Often we hear the warning siren each morning with the call of 'one away' as a rider bites the dust taking a tumble … usually off a wayward youngster and I can assure you that there are many jockeys out there who simply will not ride the youngsters until they are assured that they are safe and well mannered.Understandably so as I have seen some right cranky buggers at the track at times so it can be very dangerous and it requires a steely nerve from the riders. This is why It is critical that the youngsters have been well educated and handled before they come to the race track.Fortunately most get it right and they are safe to handle and ride, but not all the time. I have the privilege of having most of my youngsters educated by Kevin Thomas at Washpool Lodge, so it's very reassuring when my track riders ask me where the new horse has come from and I answer … ‘from Washpool’ so they readily jump on in the knowledge it will be bomb proof!I had an example once where a horse came to me from elsewhere with the knowledge that it was safe to ride and not a problem. As soon as my Stevie rode it out of the stables it bucked like a mule and drilled Stevie into the turf.He broke his ankle and was off work for six months. I lost a valuable staff member for a long time and he went through a lot of pain! I am now very wary of any new horse that comes into my stables unless I know exactly the history of the horse as safety for my staff is paramount.Working with horses however will always have an associated risk attached as they are a powerful animal which must be respected at all times.This is why appropriate training of staff and complete compliance to work place health and safety rules are essential as horses can and do hurt people if not treated with the respect they deserve! I run a stable where I have a fulltime compliment of staff both on the ground and track riders to get all of my horses worked.There are mornings where jockey's come to the track which helps maintain their fitness and weight and eases the work load on the track riders. I like to have a very steady work routine for both my horses and my staff. You don't often hear about the behind the scenes workers, but just about every trainer will tell you about the workers who are just about indispensable to their training operation.They don't get interviewed on telly or the radio (although a certain strapper of Sunline got to be well known) all that often and their names are rarely mentioned in the press but, take it from me, the staff behind the scenes are the unsung heroes of this industry.
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