A Day at the Races with Laura Winstanley
One of the best feelings in racing is watching a horse you love try their hardest for you and really stick their neck out to win a race for you. It makes the early mornings and the bad weather absolutely worth it when you can see what a difference your hard work and total dedication can make. We do not all just work in racing for the winners, we do it because we love our horses but it is that passion that gets them to the racecourse and gives them the edge.
One highlight of my racing career was being able to lead up my colt Dannyday to win the first running of the Northumberland Vase Handicap at Newcastle on the 25th June 2016. I am so lucky to be able to look after and ride a horse like Dannyday because he has such a willing temperament as well as being a gentleman to ride. He always gives you one hundred percent and you really cannot ask for much more! After galloping him at home I knew he was going to the race in great form and I was hoping we would win.
On the morning
On the morning of the race my Travelling Head Lad had given Dannyday a small feed at 5.30 a.m. and checked his legs for any cuts he may have got overnight. I went down to the racecourse stables for 6.40 a.m. and got Dannyday fresh water and hay before brushing him over and tacking up. My boss wanted me to do a short trot and a steady canter to give the horse a stretch and loosen him up for the race. It was a fantastic experience to ride on the racetrack past the winning post – even if we were only going slowly! I gave Dannyday a wash down and put him in his box so that he could eat his feed and rest before the big moment!
At midday the Travelling Head Lad and I went to check on Dannyday to make sure that he was comfortable and relaxed before taking out any feed or hay that he had not eaten. This is so that the horse does not run with a full stomach as it can affect their performance and in some cases cause colic. It was then time to declare, this involves taking the jockey’s colours and the colour bag (containing the girths, shamois and foam pad) to the Weighing Room. It is the responsibility of the Travelling Head Lad to check that the details on the declaration sheet are correct and sign it so that the horse is confirmed to run. They must then take the colours and the colour bag to the jockey’s valet so that the jockey will have everything he needs to weigh out with.
An hour and a half before the race
About an hour and a half before the race I tied Dannyday up and began to get him ready to make sure that he would be looking his best in the parade ring. I brushed him over thoroughly with a body brush and a stable rubber, dampened his mane and tail and marked up his quarters in the hope of winning best turned out! Before pulling him out I made sure that his racing bridle was clean and correctly fitted and that his hooves were oiled. This is the time I usually start to get nervous but I was pretty confident that Dannyday would run a big race!
I began walking him round the racecourse stables with the other runners about fifty minutes before they were due to jump off. The horses began to hear the commentary and some of them started to get a bit excited , except for Dannyday who is always pretty laid back.
In the paddock
Once all the runners were saddled we made our way to the parade ring past the crowd. I was getting butterflies at this point because it was nearly time! Soon enough the jockeys were filing out and the jockey, Ted Durcan made his way over to us; I knew Dannyday would be in very safe hands because Ted had ridden him at home and knew how much he means to me! The Travelling Head Lad got Ted on board and I took him out to the track, wished him good luck and gave Dannyday a pat before letting them go.
Once I have let my horses go I can never stand still because there is too much anticipation! It seemed like ages before they jumped from the stalls but then they were off and running and I felt like holding my breath. I love the thunder of the horse’s hooves as they come galloping past. The runners had done a full circuit and I could see them making their way round the final bend in the distance so I moved onto the rail so I could start shouting them home. Ted was in a pocket of other horses until the final furlong and I was getting scared that he was going to leave it to the last minute. He managed to find a gap and started to push Dannyday, he picked up with a burst of speed and began to overtake the horses in front of him. He was running on really strongly and I knew then that he was going to get his head in front. They were coming up to the line and Dannyday flattened his ears and started to stick his neck out. Right on the post Dannyday was in front and I could not help but jump around screaming!
After the race
I am sure my face was absolutely beaming when I walked out onto the track to collect Dannyday and to congratulate Ted. It may have been nerve-wracking to watch but Ted gave him a great ride! As I led Dannyday into the winner’s enclosure I was bursting with pride. All the preparation at home had come together for the perfect day. You do not always have a winner when you take a horse racing but the most important thing is that the horses get the same high standard of care whether they are winners or not. Racing staff put their heart and soul into looking after their horses because we know how much we ask of them and how rewarding it can be.