EVER wondered what it is like to be a small trainer in Ireland, and what challenges they face on a daily basis? Probably not. Today, you have an opportunity to do so.
John Fitzgerald shared his day with The Irish Field. While it was not necessarily a typical day, given that he had a runner at Limerick on the afternoon in question, much of the routine he lists applies to every day of the week – all seven of them!
He told me: “This may help in understanding how some small trainers have daily challenges in relation to time, staff, planning and logistics on a raceday. These trainers are often under severe pressure and stress just getting a horse ready, not to mind getting to the races.
“You will often see the trainer driving the lorry/horsebox and even leading up themselves, with the jockey standing alone in the parade ring. I feel there is a lack of empathy from the authorities in relation to these challenges.” For many smaller yards, they may just need one person on a casual basis, as costs will not allow for a full-time staff member.
John detailed his day on December 28th when he saddled Rebecca May’s Dashing Dusty in the opening maiden hurdle at Limerick. Thankfully the racecourse is his local track, given the difficulties he was to face. He needed to be on course at 10.55am, an hour before the first. His plan was to leave the yard by 10am.
Given the time of year and circumstances, John was working on my own that day as no staff or yard help was available.
John holds a restricted trainers’ licence and feels that more could be done to help people in his position, and smaller trainers who pay the same for a licence as the big yards do. He had 14 runners in 2019, which he says equates to a cost of €70 per horse to hold his licence. Meanwhile a trainer with 50 horses pays the same, and this averages out at €2 a horse.
At a time of increased pressures, he also believes that industry surveys and analyses are not reflecting what is happening in the hundreds of small yards dotted around the country. Even finding time to complete surveys, in addition to the administrative duties which are part and parcel of training even a handful of horses, is well-nigh impossible. Looking at his log below, it is easy to see why these would be shelved.
7am Wake and feed all horses (seven in total)
7.30am Coffee and toast
8am Check travel bag, tack and other items for raceday – prepared the night before
8.30am Groom horse for races
8.45am Put other horses on walker
9.15am Load horse truck with travel bag and all other raceday items
9.45am Take horses off the walker
9.50am Load horse for races, but he refuses to load. Try for 15
minutes but no joy
10.05am Decide to walk horse to track two miles away. Need wellies but first have to drive truck with travel gag, shoes etc. to the track in advance
10.15am Do Covid-19 check-in at the racecourse
10.20am Drop bags and equipment at the stable-yard and drive back to
10.25am Try to load again but no success. Start walking/jogging/trotting on back road to the racecourse in heavy rain
10.45am Nearing the racecourse entrance get a telephone call from jockey to say he cannot ride horse today as not feeling well
10.46am Call jockeys’ agent to get new rider
10.50am Put horse into stable at race course. Get shavings and sort out racing bag, change wellies for shoes
11am Wash the horse’s legs
11.10am New rider confirmed. Go to the stewards and advise of them of jockey change
11.15am No colours as they are with the original jockey. Call him and he has them delivered outside horse yard just in time.
11.25am Deliver colours to the jockeys’ room
11.30am Back to the yard and prep horse for race
11.40am Run to collect the saddle from the jockey and tack up the horse
11.45am Find someone who will lead up for me
11.50am In the parade ring
11.55am Race time. Pulled up on heavy ground. Have a debrief with jockey
12.10pm Wash and walk horse to cool down
12.20pm Grab a coffee at stall on the track
12.30pm Pick up the colours and pack up the travel bag. Leave them outside stable
12.45pm Wellies back on and start to walk the horse home; need to get away before start of the next race
1.20pm Horse home and hayed/watered
1.30pm Drive back to racecourse to pick up bag and equipment
1.50pm Stay and watch the next race
2.25pm Drive home again
2.40pm Put horses on walker and muck out seven stables
3.50pm Finish and go to house to watch the bumper on television
4pm Soup and sandwich
4.10pm Watch re-runs of the big races from Limerick and Leopardstown
5pm Evening stables and unload horse truck
5.45pm Back to house
6.30pm Asleep on couch .............