No time for valets to stop in the mud and slop
Published 04/01/2013 | 05:00
As a jockeys' valet, the festive period is anything but a holiday. On Christmas Eve, I even felt a bit like Santa. A number of jockeys had ordered riding-out gear as presents, so I was flying back and forth to suppliers all morning to get everything together, before arranging various rendezvous for the hand-overs.
The afternoon was spent compiling lists and sorting racing gear for all our lads that were riding on St Stephen's Day. With three meetings on, it is a crazy day, so we need to be organised and you don't want to be going through it all on Christmas Day.
I had a 5.30 start on St Stephen's Day, so it was still a case of early to bed. I had to have the van loaded up to leave for Limerick at 7.0 and I knew my fate for the day as I drove down the road in the hammering rain from Dublin – muck and slop!
I don't think I saw worse ground all year than I did at Limerick last week; by the end of day one, there must have been two inches of mud in the weigh-room.
You wouldn't see that at a point-to-point, so it was a challenge for all – jockeys, valets and horses.
When the lads come back in their mud-splashed faces, they are practically unrecognisable, their saddles are caked and their breeches turn either green or brown.
As much as anything else, this uniquely Irish spell of non-stop rain is murder on tack and gear.
Apart from the jockeys getting a cheap facial, the only plus is that sales of waterproofs, goggles and gloves go up, so that is some compensation for a gruelling shift.
It was Groundhog Day for the next few days, a 5.30 start, a stop in Naas to pick up my colleague 'Nuggie' and then on to Limerick for the slop.
By day three, there was little or no grass left on the track, so to finish the four-day Festival was no mean feat.
There was a bit of added drama on day two when Patrick Mullins arrived in the hope of getting on Prince De Beauchene for his father Willie, as he was beginning to run out of time to break the record number of winners for an amateur rider in a calendar year.
However, the stewards weren't having it, and tensions ran high. In fairness, Patrick, as ever, was pragmatic about the whole thing. Prince De Beauchene proceeded to win under his cousin Emmet and then Nina Carberry beat him in the bumper at Leopardstown.
My brother Robert was on duty there with my partner Jacqui. By all accounts, Patrick was a bit subdued, obviously fearful that he wouldn't get over the line to break a record that had stood since 1915.
People don't realise exactly how tense and volatile the weigh-room can be.
Jockeys are the hardest of sportsmen, but this is where they contemplate everything.
It's where they psyche themselves up and calm themselves down, where they wrestle with anxiety and disappointment and whatever else is going on.
Patrick's unease might be classed as a first-world problem in there, but that was his particular burden. As valets, we have to be mindful of such emotions.
You learn how to handle each individual differently, almost like a psychologist, and I know we all celebrated when he finally got the required winner on Saturday. Everyone was relieved for him.
It was back to the grindstone at Tramore on Monday, when a lack of scrubbing boards and a short supply of hot water made for a hairy day.
By the time we finished cleaning all the gear, we didn't get home until 9.0, so ringing in the New Year was reduced to a half-glass of wine.
Right now, rain and mud dictate every valet's life. It was the same at Punchestown on Monday, Tramore and Fairyhouse on Tuesday, and Thurles yesterday.
I love jump racing as much as the next man, but there is only so much mud a man can take!
Dundalk will be a welcome reprieve tonight.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie