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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

September 2020 Diary

On 5th September, Imperial Command (Pumba) ran at Haydock under Oisin Murphy. Once again, he ran a blinder and finished third, beaten by older horses. Pumba behaved impeccably and was his usual gentlemanly self.

On the 13th, my husband Joe and I took a few days holiday, embracing the “staycation” due to the coronavirus. We visited the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket which was revamped in 2016 when it moved to Palace House, just off the main street. We had booked over the internet and on arrival received gold cardboard badges, imitating club enclosure badges which was a lovely touch. We were also upgraded to an annual pass for free. Firstly, we followed pawprints on the floor to a Good Companions exhibition, all about famous dogs. There were canines big and small, real life, fictional and from movies. The display was in a small room but I would have loved the canine exhibits to have been on a much larger scale.

The museum itself, set in what was once the trainer’s house, a four-square handsome building, was interactive and informative, clearly depicting the history of the sport and why Newmarket became its headquarters. There was a section on the Royal family and their impact on their racing, past and present. There were lots of old and new mementos, relics, trophies and artefacts, plus rooms of artwork. Throughout, there were activities for children and younger racing fans. Another part depicted the anatomy of the racehorse, and the science behind their ability to race. Outside, in what had been the yard, there was a restaurant, called The Tackroom, and a big display about ROR, which included three ex-racehorses. From there we had a tour about retraining and rehoming. In the old stables, there were smaller displays, including the role of Weatherby’s, veterinary history and breeding. In addition, there was a display of the late John McCirick’s wonderfully eccentric outfits, and in another was mechanical horse. Joe forced me to have a go and I admit to not putting on an impressive show. Firstly, I automatically groped for the absent neck strap, making the gentleman guide say, “This one won’t whip round with you.” I have never been on a mechanical horse before and found it strange and I profess, whilst my facemask slipped down my nose, to not riding a finish on it. Joe chuckled throughout and was totally unsympathetic when I came away with two bad friction burns that took days to heal!

The next morning, we went to Warren Hill to watch the eb and flow of the strings out on exercise. All the yards had their own coloured hat silks - a true myriad of colours, whilst some had saddle pads personalised with colours, initials or logos. The strings cantered up, walked down, operating like smooth clockwork. At regular intervals, the tractor made a slow trawl up the gallops before the horses went up again. The riders called out cheery greetings and, trainers were watching with binoculars.

Different people have different opinions of Newmarket town but I think it is full of history and on face value, it is beautiful. The hedges were manicured, there are expanses of perfectly mown green, traffic lights with buttons at a rider's height, crossings and double pavements, one for humans and one for racehorses. We drove round, mentally ticking off the names of yards and the trainers before driving out to where the great Sir Henry Cecil once trained.

Two days later, six horses from work went to Doncaster sales. Two were in the Trevor Hemmings’ dispersal and it was great that Orrisdale (Orri) came home. Transpennine Star did not meet his reserve so also returned home, but the other four went off the new yards. One was Prefontaine (Stevie) who I looked after for a season; he was sold for £10,500. Although he won a juvenile hurdle, he was never the most willing of horses. He ran on the Flat at Lingfield and over hurdles at Sedgefield within a week, both times showing too much reluctance. He was a funny character, a gorgeous steel grey and lovely to look after but needed to go.


On 21st September, my little Jack Russell terrier Daisy had her yearly vaccination and my question to the vet was “Is she too fat?” (Bear in mind, she shakes, trembles and quakes so much in the vet’s that the weighing scales probably gave an inaccurate reading). He eyed her, pursed his lips and said, “Well, she wouldn’t want to get any fatter.” The scales didn’t lie: 4.8kg to 6kg in a year. I knew she’d become more tubby! The vet then added she must have been quite thin a year ago but whilst if she ideally lost a bit, she does not need to go back to her previous weight. So, she’s on a little diet with strict orders of no titbits, which is always impossible on sausage roll Wednesdays.

Callum Douglas, 22, came here at the beginning of March and was awarded our latest Employee of the Month. The first two times that Callum went racing, he led up winners: Present Chief at Uttoxeter and Locks Corner at Southwell. He was our lucky charm!

Callum has always been a racing fan and has fond memories of watching the Grand National with his family, but back then he felt that a job in racing was only a dream. Yet, this changed when he heard about the Northern Horseracing College and was accepted to join the twelve-week foundation course, having never sat on a horse before. Coming to Jackdaws Castle was his first work placement and is now completing the NVQ Level 2 qualification. He is progressing well with his riding, enjoying learning from the jockeys who he hopes to emulate in the future.

Callum is gangly, willowy thin, has penguin feet and a big thatch of a fringe, and likes an array of music to which he mucks out every morning.

Callum with Locks Corner

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