An Interview with Dominic Toole - Stable Manager at Epsom Downs and Sandown
Dominic Toole, in his capacity of stable manager, is an integral part of every Derby Day at Epsom Downs and all the Flat and Jump meetings at Sandown. He maintains the stable yards, controls the stable allocation on race days and puts up the Derby winning plaques outside the relevant stables a couple of weeks later – just a few of his many tasks that keep the stable yards in tiptop condition. He is an ex-jockey, whose love of Flat racing is very clear, with a little love for National Hunt thrown in.
Dominic, 50, grew up alongside a brother and sister in Ormskirk, Lancashire and now lives near the Surrey racecourse in Epsom with wife Sharon and a three-year-old German Pinscher called Archie.
How did you get into racing?
I was very small and didn’t really have any real ambitions for when I left school but, in my final year, my dad said “find a job or join the army”. The army wasn’t really an option at five stone wet through and five feet tall. Back then, I don’t think I’d have got through the gates.
Everyone in my family joked about me becoming a jockey because of my size and there just happened to be a lad in my year who worked at a local racing stables, so I went there and became a weekend worker which led to full time employment.
Were you ever a jockey?
Yes, at the age of eighteen and only been riding about two years, I had my first ride. As an apprentice, I had six winners from three hundred and fifty rides. I got the chance to ride again at thirty-eight for a season and got another winner on my second ride back.
Whilst working for M Haynes in Epsom, I first got my riding license and after four years there, I went on to TG Mills, also in Epsom, where I spent the next twenty years working for him.
Dom riding his last winner, Summer Winds at Newmarket 2010
How did you start working as a Stable Manager?
The Stable Manager at Epsom was retiring and the job became available. I started on the 30th March, 2015. It was an opportunity that I thought I’d really enjoy.
Which racecourses have you worked at and in what roles?
I’m Stable Manager at Epsom Downs and Sandown Park
Please describe your job:
I look after everything that happens inside the race stables on and before a race day. That’s making sure all the stables are clean and disinfected, ready for the runners to come in and also that the stable yard is all tidy and clean.
Epsom's stable yard
Please describe your daily routine:
I start at 8a.m. If we’ve had racing, I will start by mucking out the stables and putting fresh bedding where needed, as well as checking the stables for anything that might cause harm, like a protruding nail or a door that doesn’t shut properly. I finish at 5p.m.
Please describe your usual race day routine:
The day before, I will check all the stables to make sure all is well and check the lights to see if they all work, replacing any bulbs that have gone... I also make sure the saddling boxes and unloading/loading ramps are clean and tidy.
After racing, I will go around and close all the doors up and turn off the lights.
Please describe the Derby week from your point of view:
That’s a tricky one as I treat every race as if it’s the Derby. Derby week generally starts on the Saturday the week before, when we get the entries and we start seeing who may be coming in early, like the foreign runners.
Derby day itself is very magical because you get to see the cream of the crop of three-year-old colts and fillies.
Dom in-between Piggot and Eddery at Folkestone in 1992
Have you ever had any funny or strange requests from trainers?
I haven’t yet, but there is a stable at Epsom that a trainer wanted a stable to have a window into the one next door and then paid for the racecourse to install it.
Please describe the different challenges between Epsom and Sandown?
Epsom has a lot more greenery, with lots of grass and hedges that need cutting and pruning as well as stables that are all the same size, whereas Sandown stables are very old and are all of different dimensions. Sandown also is all tarmac with very little grass. Epsom is by far the prettiest.
What is the best aspect about racing?
Seeing these fantastic athletes at the peak of their fitness and the stable staff looking so proud whilst walking them around.
And the worst?!
Too much racing. We are being drowned with too much weekend racing, which isn’t very good for the stable staff and this will make them seek other employment. Racing at the moment is struggling to cope with a staffing crisis. It will only get worse with more weekend racing.
Photo Credit: The Jockey Club
Which have been your favourite race days at Epsom and Sandown?
At Epsom, it would be Harzand winning the Derby in 2016. He’d spread his front shoe getting on the plane from Ireland on the way over and when he arrived, it was touch and go if he would race. But with a lot of hard work and ice, we managed to get him on the racetrack, and he went on to win. It was lovely to see a great jockey in Pat Smullen winning a Derby too, as he was an excellent rider.
At Sandown, it was the Tingle Creek meeting where Gary Moore had six winners in two days and topped it off with Sire De Grugy winning the big race. I’ve known Gary from when he was a jockey and when he started his training career in Epsom, so that made it all the more special for me.
Who is your racing hero?
Steve Cauthen. When I first came into racing, Steve was at the top of his game. He had hands that would put the strongest puller to sleep and he always knew where to be at the right time in the race. Even now, if I talk to the younger generation I will tell them to watch him on YouTube.
Which is your favourite racecourse?
Unfortunately, my favourite is no longer in use and that was Folkstone Racecourse in Kent.
I had a lot of luck there, both as a rider and a stable lad. I also rode in a three-horse race there and the other two jockeys were Lester Piggot and Pat Eddery. That was a great thrill as a young apprentice and I had an article in the Racing Post about it too.
Which is your favourite race at Sandown?
Probably the Tingle Creek. I’m a Flat person at heart but there’s something special about watching racehorses go so fast over two miles over the Sandown fences. If they get it right, it looks amazing as well.
Which has been your favourite Derby winner?
Golden Horn, as it was my first Derby.
Which Derby Day has been the most special to you personally?
It would be my first, as it was all a great and exciting experience.
Which has been your favourite racehorse?
A horse I rode at home for Terry Mills called Resplendent Glory. He had problems as a young horse but, after giving him a bit of time, he turned into a Group winner and was very fast, which gave me a great adrenaline rush.
How has racing changed over the years?
There are so fewer stable staff now. When I first started in racing, the older members of staff took you under their wings and showed you how to do everything properly. Nowadays, there’s no time as everyone is understaffed.
Favourite meal: Thai.
Favourite Drink: Apple and Elderflower cordial.
Favourite holiday destination: Anywhere hot!
Other interests: DIY.
What’s your ideal day off? Watching Liverpool on TV.
Dom (in red) riding out at Jim Boyle's, four years after not sitting on a horse!