“Be at the yard for 6.15am, and bring a hat and body protector”. I painfully recalled these wise words of racehorse trainer Chris Wall at 5am, as I dragged myself downstairs to the nearest source of coffee.
An hour down the road at Induna Stables, Newmarket it is starting to get light and the yard is bustling. The board arrives bearing instructions and tells us which beasts we are to ride. The 14 other jockeys, expertly armed with saddles, bridles, rugs and water buckets, sweep off to tack up. Poor Richard, the assistant trainer, is left with the job of explaining to me that a rubber is something that sits under a saddle, rugs are to be ridden in and that the tacking up process should take place in under two minutes. I wrestle my tack on and emerge to find the others circling neatly in the yard under Chris’s watchful eye. Richard ‘legs me up’ and we’re off.
Newmarket is home to approximately 3,000 racehorses, roughly 1 for every 5 people. A significant proportion of these are exercised between 6-10am every morning, leading to a sizeable opportunity for embarrassment. Jogging through the town on the misty morning, being greeted by a stream of hells from other strings, I was taught the basic rules – no getting close to the horse in front, no dropping back and absolutely no overtaking.
Contrary to twenty years’ experience riding, pulling a racehorse in the mouth actually leads to it speeding up, not slowing down. I discovered this the hard way over the first four furlong canter on the infamous Newmarket Heath. Sensibly my 3 year-old filly did her best to ignore me and slowed down in line with our string, and looking slightly redder, we headed towards the second canter. Wiser now, we kept our distance behind stable star Premier Loco. I didn’t think it was worth getting close to a horse who has won prize money of over half a million pounds, however much my arms protested.