Most people are looking forward to some time off this Christmas. Racing stable staff are no different but, as always, the horses come first.
They’ll be out of bed on Christmas morning while Santa is still doing his rounds and won’t be able to tuck into their turkey until they’ve satisfied the needs of all the horses.
For three days racing shuts down but that’s the calm before the storm as Boxing Day is the busiest day of the year with no less than eight meetings.
Sarah Peacock, head of travelling for Cotswolds‐based trainer Tom George, is one of thousands of dedicated racing staff preparing for the festive period. Earlier this year she made it to the final three in the Rider/Groom category of the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.
For next year’s awards she has made the shortlist in the Dedication category. If her festive routine is anything to go by, it’s fully justified. Here, Sarah runs us through what it’s like to work in a racing yard over Christmas.
“It’s handy for us to have three days without racing. I’ve got the hairdressers booked on the 23rd because I know there’s no racing and I won’t be away all day.“
“Tom’s really good on the lead up to Christmas as he organises it that everyone has an extra afternoon off so we can go Christmas shopping.”
“On Christmas Eve morning Tom lays on mince pies, sausage rolls and drinks. Most of us enter into the spirit ‐ it’s always a really nice, jovial atmosphere.”
“Some people might wear Christmas jumpers others might put tinsel around the bridles. I’ve got a light‐up Christmas tree in the lorry and an elf on the shelf, who’s wearing a facemask. Some of us bring in extra treats for the horses, like carrots or polos.”
“Tom lets the staff with kids have Christmas Day off ‐ the rest of us are there in the morning. I live on the yard so I’m up at 5am to feed the horses with my dogs running around causing havoc. I’ve got a whippet called Chester and Tom’s old racing greyhound Banjo.”
“We’ll then start normal yard duties at around 6.30am. I’ll probably muck out one or two depending on staff levels and we’ll be giving the horses hay and changing their water.”
“The jockeys come in too – Johnny Burke, Ciaran Gethings and our conditional Tom Doggrell – and we’d ride out all our runners for Boxing Day and those running the day after. All the other horses go on the horse walkers – they can’t just stay in their stables.”
“For one day only it’s a bit different to our usual routine when we ride out five lots. It’s normally two lots each on Christmas morning and, to be fair, riding out on Christmas Day is really, really nice. It’s better than being stuck in watching the telly.”
“Everyone works as hard as they can because we all want to get everything done. We all pull together every day of the year but even more so at Christmas as we want to get the work done to the highest standard but as quick as we can.”
“On normal days the horses get their second feed at about 12.30 but on Christmas day they’ll get their lunch a bit earlier so we can all enjoy ours.”
“I’ve also been looking after an orphan calf from Tom’s pedigree Dexter herd so I’ll give Lexi her milk during the morning. She’s only four months old and is a real darling.”
“Then there’s the cats. Tom’s son Archie brought a cat with him when he came home from university for Christmas and she was having kittens. I came back from racing at Exeter the other day and she’d had four tabby kittens.”
“They are adorable so I’m raising kittens in the racing tack room as well now. It’s not just the horses I’m looking after. On Christmas morning, we try to get finished by about 10.30am and then I’ll drive home to my mum’s in Shropshire to have lunch with her.”
“We split ourselves in two for evening stables. Those that aren’t going away anywhere come back to look after the horses’ needs in the evening.”
“Having the Boxing Day entries come out on the 23rd is a massive advantage to me. It means I’ve got Christmas Eve to do my racing tack, preparing the paddock sheets, colours and everything else, so it’s all ready to go when I come in on Boxing Day morning.”
“It means I don’t have to go in the racing tack room on Christmas Day and I can then stay at my Mum’s as long as I like. “I’ve been to Kempton on Boxing Day for the last four or five years.”
“There’s always a good atmosphere in the yard when you’ve got a few runners, especially when they’re at the big meetings. So you’ve got the atmosphere of Christmas, the atmosphere of having runners on Boxing Day and all the excitement that goes with it.”
“All we need then is a bit of luck and a few winners.”