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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

An Interview with Jaimie Duff, Assistant Trainer and Head of Travelling to Lucinda Russell

Jaimie Duff loves racing. She stumbled into working in this sport and has become a huge part of Lucinda Russell’s yard in Kinross, Scotland. Whilst still at school, Jaimie started there at weekends, and went full time at the first opportunity! She started as a groom and by 2000, had risen up to her present role as Assistant Trainer and, by 2013, Head of Travelling. She is a hugely positive, smiley, supportive member of the team and truly loves the horses in her care. At home, Jaimie helps out Lucinda and organises the logistics of the runners and staff for all the racing days. She drives to many of the racecourses, including long distance as she passed her HGV test, and is always on-hand alongside many runners and winners. Most notably, in 2017, Jaimie had an unforgettable day when she led up One For Arthur when he won the Grand National under Derek Fox.

That 'We've Just Won the Grand National' Smile

This massive contribution to Arly House Stables was recognised in the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards in 2019, where she shortlisted to the final three in the Dedication to Racing category.

Jaimie originally comes from a village called Strathmiglo in Fife, but now lives on site at South Kilduff Farm, one of two yards from which that Lucinda trains. This makes the early starts and late nights of racing much easier.

Did you have a pony-mad childhood? We were very pony mad! My mum had my sister and I riding from quite an early age. As soon as we finished school we were changed and went round to the ponies.

How did you get into racing? I got into racing by accident really. I was still at school and a good friend of mine had started riding out at weekends for Lucinda. Anyway, I can't quite remember how it happened, but I ended up riding out one weekend then basically never left! They say racing is a bug and I would say I caught it straight away.

What have been your roles there? I started out working at weekends, riding a few horses and helping out with whatever needed doing, plus going racing the odd day. Back then, we would only have had 25-30 horses and only a handful of staff, so we all just mucked in.

As we gradually got bigger and bigger and were racing more frequently, we decided we needed to all have individual roles (particularly as the numbers of staff had increased!). I had done the head girl job but I really enjoyed travelling with the horses and going racing, so then I became the travelling head girl/assistant.

It’s a great job, I've met some incredible people and made lifelong friends along the way (as well ashaving a few good nights out!).

Why have you been hobbling around at the races lately? I underwent a total hip replacement surgery in June, so that is why you will have seen me hobbling around the racecourses.

What is the best aspect of working in racing? The main reason I work in racing is the horses for sure.

Obviously having a winner at the big meetings is amazing but it means just as much winning at the smaller tracks, especially if it's a horse who has had problems or is a bit tricky and you have been involved in their progress. Also, the jockeys that ride our horses all work in the yard, so when they ride winners, you're delighted for them. We are a big family really; everyone looks out for each other.

Brindisi Breeze winning at the Festival in 2012

Photo Credit: Racingphotos

What is the worst aspect? I think the worst bit for me is the driving. It can be very long days and the weather isn't always very kind in the winter. I absolutely hate driving in the snow and ice. I will have sleepless nights if I have to be away early in the morning in the winter and it's been snowing!

Which have been your favourite racehorse(s)? My all-time favourite racehorse was a little horse called Culcabock. He was my little pocket rocket. Campbell Gillies got on really well with him and won a good few races on him. However, the one race that I will always remember him winning was the conditional jockeys’ race after the Grand National back in 2009 at 66/1 beating Issaquah in a photo finish.

I obviously have a huge soft spot for One For Arthur; he is a legend! It's such a privilege to be involved with him. Lie Forrit is another horse which meant a lot to me, Bold Sir Brian, Silver By Nature, Kumbeshwar, Tap Night, Island Heights, Degas Art, Mr Cavallo, Lauderdale...the list is endless. There are so many horses to which you get attached; it's very hard not to. Big River is a horse which I just adore... I could talk about him all day long!

What’s your favourite racecourse? I love Aintree; it's a very special place for me. Culcabock won there. Winning the Grand National with One For Arthur, well that was just magic, unbelievable.

I also organised, along with the help of a lot of friends/family, a charity ball at Aintree in memory of my good friend Campbell Gillies. It was a fantastic night raising a great deal of money for the Injured Jockeys Fund.

What’s your favourite racecourse canteen?! To be fair the canteens are pretty good, though Victoria looks after us very well at Wetherby; Perth is also very good. I haven't been to Ascot in awhile but the boys love going there, I think they come home two stone heavier!

What has been your best ever day(s) racing? Winning the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham festival with Brindisi Breeze was very special. Also obviously winning the Grand National with One For Arthur; it took a while for that one to sink in, and we did plenty of celebrating on both occasions!

Photo Credit: Dennis Penny

What does racing mean to you? Racing is my passion. It’s a demanding lifestyle full of ups and downs, but thankfully there are more ups than downs.

What was the first ever winner you led up? First winner I led up was a National Hunt horse called Rocket Run. That was a very long time ago!!

How did it feel when One For Arthur retired? It’s been a very mixed bunch of emotions with Arthur, a “few” tears have been shed, though on the bright side, no more sleepless nights before he goes racing! He owes us absolutely nothing and has been an absolute pleasure and a privilege to be around.

I’m not sure I can put into words what this horse means to me. He has given us memories that will last a lifetime. He’s one in a million, a legend. It’s the end of his racing life but, on a happy note, it’s the start of another chapter.

What is your ideal day off? After a long week of racing in the middle of winter when you’re soaked or freezing every day, there is nothing better than having a spa day, lunch/dinner, catching up with friends on your day off, plus a bit of retail therapy.

What’s your favourite drink? Coffee is needed most of the time but when I can relax, I love a gin, Edinburgh Gin Rhubarb and Ginger is almost like drinking juice... Prosecco is also sometimes added to the mix!

What’s your favourite meal? You can't beat a good medium/rare steak.

What are your other interests? In my spare time I catch up on sleep! I try to catch up with friends and family when I'm not racing as in the winter months I practically live in the lorry! I actually enjoy running (never thought i would hear myself say that) but won’t manage that again for a few months yet.

My family live five hours away so I don't get to see them as often as I would like to.

Photo Credit: Dennis Penny

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