June has been a busy month, filled with sunny days and the eager anticipation of horses soon to be coming back into training.
Some horses steal your heart. Gulliver Collonges is one of these. He is known as Oliver, nicknamed by his head lad Alan Berry, and he is THE sweetest horse ever. He’s friendly, quiet, calm and never ever does anything wrong. He’s a beautiful bright bay, like polished mahogany, with white socks and a thin white stripe down his gorgeous face, ending in a pink nose.
You can understand that I was utterly delighted on May 25th, at Warwick, when he won his first ever race. Oliver is perfect to take racing on his own – he loads without a struggle, travels like a dream and just is perfect to do anything with; standing like a statue to be shampooed, plaited and brushed over. The lead-up at Warwick is fairly long, down past a couple of sports clubs and O&T carpark, but nothing like that fazed Oliver, who walked alongside me like an oversized, very obedient dog.
Oliver enjoyed the day out; he strolled around with his big eyes taking in the racegoers and pricking his ears. He was very shiny and I was proud that he won the best-turned-out, the first he has won when I’ve taken him. I didn’t expect him to win the race because he’s only come placed twice and that was ages ago – so when he did win by over two lengths, I couldn’t have been happier. Oliver deserved to win, and Jonj O’Neill gave him a great ride.
It was my first winner of the season and it’s always good to be able to tick that one off.
On the 29th, Lauren Hay had a great day too when ‘her’ Betty’s Banjo won at Uttoxeter. Months had passed since Betty had previously ran at Leicester in November, when she was last on horribly wet ground. She loved the good ground and won by nearly ten lengths. Betty is petite in stature but showed guts. La Dominale (Dominique) won on July 2nd, keeping the girl power surging ahead and clocking up the winners.
The evening of the 5th was the Platinum Jubilee barbeque, organised by PA Clare Bowring and Leah Burnett. I supplied a few metres of jolly bunting, once used at my wedding. Sadly, it wasn’t union jacks but a haberdashery store of ginghams, checks and polka dots. Leah started pinning up the brightly coloured triangles to the social house and the trestle tables, whilst I strung it around the horse lorry, knotting one end to the wingmirror.
Later on, whilst everyone was seated on shavings bales, head lad Johnny Kavanaugh eyed it and said, ‘I’m worried that Harrison will drive off to Newton Abbot like that in the morning.’ The bunting fluttered as if chuckling along with the rest of us.
Having worked the Wednesday afternoon, hung up bunting and gone home to shower and change, pretty much everyone was already there when I drove up. I rang Alex Howitt, asking for her for (a) help and (b) her hostel. Bringing along her burger and beer, she came over and we assembled a life-size cardboard cut-out of Queen Elizabeth, which Amazon had thankfully delivered on time.
The Queen stood there in lilac, wearing a hat, broach and handbag just as you’d expect. ‘Come on Lizzie,’ Alex said and we carried her over to the party.
As more than one person pointed out, she was an ideal date for Johnny, until she was faceplanted by the breeze and had to be propped up against the lorry, secured there by bunting.
Clare, Leah and housekeeper Anna Sciera prepared lots of food, whilst Madalin ‘Doc’ Radu took charge of the barbeque, wielding metal prongs and spatula. There was a bar of drinks and biscuits for afters. The rain stayed away and we all had a lovely time in the fading sunshine. All the dogs begged from burger to bap, noses quivering.
I left as the disco lights and music started up inside and there were plenty of whoops from within.
The 10th was the boss’ Jack Russell Hughie’s thirteenth birthday. His face is silvered, his eyes cloudy and his hearing no longer sharp, but he still flits excitably towards the door at the mention of a walk. My own little terrier is only five but the hairs on her face have recently turned salt and pepper and her eyes now are spectacled by grey. She looks like she’s prematurely aging but is still a bundle of energy.
One of our brilliant yardies, Florin ‘Fred’ Mirea, celebrated his fiftieth birthday on the 13th – he’d already had a night out in town at the weekend and he was given two crates of beer to continue celebrating.
Friday the 18th was scorching, even hotter than the Greek Islands, Madrid and Dubai. The sky was bluer than blue. Luckily, the yard had no runners and the lots were able to go out in the coolest part of the morning. I mucked out, rode one lot and joined the head lads Johnny and Alan Berry, Harrison Day and Lauren, out on the estate with the task of catching some of the horses on holidays. They were only being given annual vaccines, so weren’t coming back into work. Some were well behaved to catch but a few needed corralling into a corner. They still dodged and dived away, giving up eventually.
Out and about, it didn’t feel as hot as the temperature gauge was saying at 32˚. A breeze lifted the heat away, wafting in the mellow scent of hedgerow elderflower.
Some days of June were harder to keep busy, with more horses going out in the fields. Ionut, ‘John’, Dina and Fred were brilliant at pressure-washing all of the empty stables. Alan did hours and hours of mowing, disappearing off in splendid solitude on top of the mower. Johnny fed all the horses, checking them for nicks. Leah joined the office team and everyone else were still scraping, sanding, painting, strimming, creosoting, mowing, sorting, tidying, weeding…as June became a continuation of May’s jobs. I continued washing the rugs, but the concaved glass in the door of the big industrial washing machine cracked, then a chunk fell out. I taped it up and stuck on a sign that read ‘Do not use. Broken!’ and decided to take a few days off on holiday.
July is a sniff away, so the days will soon be busier again. I’m undecided whether we are eagerly awaiting this or that we’re all savouring the last few quiet weeks before the chaos ahead…
Lauren Hay is on her fifth year working for Jonjo O’Neill Racing and has risen in the ranks to become a regular driver to the races and sales. Lauren led up her first winner on her first lead-up at Ludlow with Festive Affair in May 2018 and lived a dream when leading up a Cheltenham Festival winner last year. This season, Lauren looks after Carys’ Commodity, Betty’s Banjo, Balearic (Eric), Zabeel Champion (Zabbie) and Any Givin Sunday.
Lauren’s mum is Carole and older sister is Carys, an investment banker whom Carys’ Commodity is named after. At home, Lauren shares her mum’s cavapoo called Suki, who is just over a year old and a bouncy ball of golden fluff. Lauren’s dad, Jim Hay, is the big racehorse owner whose horses run in the pink and green colours of Lauren’s step mum Fitri, and they have two daughters, Lauren’s stepsisters, Jasmin and Catriona. ‘Through Dad,’ said Lauren says. ‘I’ve had great days out racing at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood.’
Originally from Brentwood, Essex, Lauren, 26, now lives fifteen minutes away from the yard in Blockley, Gloucestershire. She is chatty, smiley and is often heard before she is seen! She loves a party or a celebration, and is often the one to rally round to get people on a night out.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
Nope, I only rode at school and then I had lots of loan ponies. The 11.2hh Rocky was my favourite and was an absolute demon.
How did you get into racing?
I did work experience at a pre-training and rehab yard near Swindon, before going to David Simcock’s. I came here to Jackdaws Castle in February 2018.
What’s been your best day in racing so far?
Sky Pirate winning the Grand Annual at the 2021 Festival. I was lost for words, which for me is quite something.
Carys’ Commodity’s first win meant a lot because he’s my favourite and I also ride him daily.
Lauren with Sky Pirate in the Festival winner's enclosure
Photo Credit: Racing TV
What is the best aspect about Jonjo O’Neill Racing?
The funny gossip that spreads like wildfire from lot to lot. We all have a good laugh.
And the worst aspect?
The mucking out.
What’s been your favourite racing party?
Katie Stubbs’ leaving do.
Lauren on the gallops, with her mum Carole and sister Carys and with Betty's Banjo
Favourite drink: White wine and Red Bull but not mixed together.
Favourite meal: Anything Italian.
Favourite snack: Smarties. They are handy and fit in your pocket, but do rattle in the tube on a walk and trot!
Favourite holiday destination: Bali. I’ve never been to a country more beautiful.
Favourite movie: It’s not a movie but I love Heartland on Netflix.
Favourite music: Rap and anything in the charts.
Other interests: I love going to the odd session down the pub. Plus, travelling and venturing to new countries and places.
I once enjoyed a few polo lessons so that’s something I’d like to try again in the future. At school, I did cavalry training on retired army horses, learning to ride with a sword and lance, and I did tent pegging – so maybe this will stand me in good stead with playing polo!
The Best Day