Search
  • Jo O'Neill

September 2022 Blog

September was a month when racing was shocked by the death of thirteen-year-old Jack de Bromhead, and the nation mourned Queen Elizabeth.

On the home front, the yard was as busy as ever, but only sent out a few runners. Without many days out of the yard, everyone enjoyed other moments with the horses and the team, including open mornings for owners and syndicates. The rain returned and turned the browny-yellow grass, parched from weeks of endless hot sunshine, back into a carpet of green.


Racing Mourns Together

Jack de Bromhead, son of top Irish trainer Henry, died after a fall in a flapping race. Racing came together in grief – the tributes as bright as Jack’s future would have been. Even though the accident occurred in Ireland, the heart of racing community over here also broke – he was still one of us. I’ll never be able to imagine what his parents, sisters, grandparents, friends and the yard staff are all going through – that those big wins, the shiny trophies may never quite feel the same.


Parading for the Owners and a 10K

On September 3rd, we held our Owners’ Day – the first, due to Covid-19, for three years. Beforehand, there was the usual brushing, combing of trails, lying flat of manes – and of course, a few horses rolled after their beautifying, once again to be dusted in shavings, clumps caught in tails and manes.

The owners gathered in the first yard, seated on shavings bales, sipping champagne, in an invisible cloud of cologne and expensive perfume. The boss and his sons Jonj and AJ stood on a podium, speaking about each horse in turn. Behind the scenes by the barn, there was a frenzy of activity. The scurry of bridles and lead reins being swapped over, numbered armbands being put on, hooves being oiled, brushes flicking over, the order double checked; peppered with laughter and the odd joke.

It felt an honour to lead the horses round – we all felt a gleaming pride in showing them off to their owners. I only had three to parade but no one was prouder than I was. Arrivederci, shampooed the previous evening, strode easily round, relaxed and easy. At his previous owners’ day, was when he was still a babyish four-year-old, he found it very exciting, dancing and jig-jogging. Now seven, he strolled, non-fussed.

I was equally proud to lead round Cloth Cap, who was like a big Labrador until he saw some scary tablecloths fluttering in the breeze. For a horse who’d ran in two Grand Nationals, he shied and pranced past them as if they were hiding something lethal.

My last one was unraced Zonda, who was resonant of a younger Arrivederci, dark with dapples and snorting, jogging and showing off all the way round. He acted the showman and Arrivederci would have rolled his brown eyes if he’d seen.

The final parade was of the youngsters for sale or with shares still available, before the owners went for a marquee lunch and we fed the horses their scoop. It wasn’t too late; no one had got stressed or fallen out, the horses had behaved and none had got loose and a few were sold. Overall, a very successful Owners’ day.

The next day, I ran the Cheltenham 10K, which was part of the Run Cheltenham weekend. I was pleased with my time and enjoyed running round the routes and roads made familiar with my outings with the running club. My favourite part was finishing all along the front of the empty stands, and under the inflatable arch next to the chute where the horses are led down to the track.


It was a lovely run with a fabulous eco medal and another memory added to my bank of them at the Racecourse. We’ll just forget my poor colleagues were subjected to the sight of me finishing off morning stables, wearing a Wasdell top pulled over my running shirt, and knobbly knees protruding between soccer shorts and wellies.


A Whole Decade

The 7th was my tenth anniversary of working for Jonjo. It seemed longer – many of the people had changed and the horses are different but it was the same busy, bustling yard with banter and jokes. Personally, I’ve had a great ten years at the Castle, not least gaining my HGV licence, husband Joe and dog Daisy along the way. I’ve loved every Cheltenham Festival winner and the other big winners, especially Cloth Cap winning the Ladbrokes Trophy two seasons ago. I love looking after the horses down the pens and going racing – it’s some life.


Rest In Peace Your Majesty

On 8th September, our Queen Elizabeth died, aged ninety-six. She had always been a true constant in our lives, and reigned with dignity and loyalty. She loved horses and racing, and everyone loved seeing winners in her iconic colours.

I’d never worked for a Royal trainer, so didn’t have the honour of leading up one of her horses. Yet, when I led up a Paddy Power Gold Cup winner in 2008, ‘my’ Imperial Commander beat Her Majesty’s Barber Shop and even though she didn’t go, she would have watched and despite finishing second, I hope she admired my horse.

Queen Elizabeth won’t be forgotten, let alone replaced, and her love of this sport will continue through her runners, winners and breeding program. As a mark of respect, the BHA cancelled racing over the two days following her passing and on the bank holiday of her funeral. In between, every racecourse led tributes and minutes of reflection in her honour.

Her smile, knowledge, and the daily odds during Royal Ascot as to the colour of her beautiful outfits will be all missed.


Super Syndicate Saturday

The annual open morning held was held on the 17th. It was the usual fun morning where syndicate members visit the yard and watch their horses on the gallops. The riders always love this morning as they ride out in the horses’ silks. Another moment of pride. Even head lad Johnny Kavanaugh, usually one to scowl and mutter, proudly donned the green and gold of JP McManus – the first colours with the white cap. Aaron Sutherland didn’t mind wearing the green-starred cap of the second colours. Head girl Georgia Plumb, riding her beloved Soaring Glory, looked delighted to be in his maroon and white; pupil assistant Lean Burnett was bursting with pride in the late Trevor Hemmings’ quartered colours on the promising and unbeaten Iron Bridge.

It's so special to pull on the whispering, weightless silky tops and button them over body protectors – an everyday occurrence for jockeys but one hardly ever in the lives of stable staff. Sadly, I wasn’t riding out that lot but seeing the riders’ grins and watching the string trot past, the riders multicoloured jesters, was the next best thing.


What does a racing yard smell like?

The yard reeks of ammonia from all the horse pee and soiled bedding and the abundance of poo but it’s a smell to which we are immune. On bedding-up days, a gorgeous alpine and sap smell of brand-new shavings takes over fleetingly. There’s the distinctive horse smell of their skin and hair, of their dried sweat after exercise, that’s caught in their rugs and on their brushes, as well as on our coats and boots. It’s in the air. Horses smell perfumed after a shampoo at the races but it’s faint and doesn’t last long. The wheelbarrow loads of golden haylage emit a sweet, fermenty scent, which is delicious. When the owners’ suite is rambunctious with visitors and guests, the smell of breakfasts, especially bacon frying, tumble out of the open balcony doors with the raucous laughter.

The feed room has the gentle scent of all the pallets of feed; it’s fragrant and also sweet, tinged with molasses from the soaking sugar beet and salty-sherbet scent from the tubs of electrolytes. The chaff smells of fresh mint and chopped grass, like mowing the lawn early one summer morning. Plus, there’s always treats we buy for our horses; crisp carrots that smell like springtime, apples smell woody and peppermints have a sharp twang.

In the tack room, the saddles and bridles are mostly synthetic so there’s no old-fashioned aroma of saddle soap or leather but this remains in the racing tack room. There’s the scent of neatsfoot oil and the gentle scent of washing powder from the colours all hung up. There are undertones of hoof oil and a dusty, musty smell from the folded paddock sheets, sweat rugs and colours seldom used.

The traces on the breeze can be acrid from a bonfire, the earthiness of stubble being harrowed and coming soon, the fallen leaves in autumn and during the first frosts, scents are sharp and inflamed. The scent of trees is often submerged by that, as grey clouds settle, of approaching rain, preceding the first rain drops.


Say cheese!

September was also the annual team photo, taken on the lawn of first yard by our social medial manager Tom Arkle. Gathering stable and office staff was reminiscent of herding felines. It should have been as easy as tall ones at the back and shorter ones at the front but of course, it was not! A few crouched on the front row held the four canine mascots. Dachshund puppy Rocky lapped up the attention, but Hughie kept omitting grumbling growls, Vinnie wriggled constantly and Daisy squirmed so much she shed white hairs. Head maintenance man Madalin ‘Doc’ Radu had to be radioed and returned from the field he was topping. The boss stood centrally, flanked by his loyal head lads: a headmaster with his deputies. Someone shouted, ‘Cheese’ and Tom finally got his shot, though most of us were squinting as the sun broke out from behind the clouds.

The dogs ran free, Daisy coming straight to me and clambered front paws up my legs. We all galloped off for lunch, hungry as ever by the end of morning stables.


With September over, autumn is here and with it the proper jump racing. The horses are galloping to peak their fitness and we cannot wait.

449 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All