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    Kevin looks at the issue of on course catering for jockeys and says Richard Hughes's decision to retire early from the saddle will pay dividends when he soon takes up training duties.
  • Monday 20 July 2015
  • Blog

Jockey food issue beggars belief

Irish racing has a well-earned reputation for being very slow to change.

As a journalist who often writes about shortcomings in the industry, I have found that the unfortunate reality is that sometimes the only way to stimulate change is to publicly highlight the shortcomings that need to be addressed in an effort to shame the body in question into action.

Thankfully in this day and age of social media, one doesn’t have to be a journalist to have a platform to do the same and not for the first time, the issue of catering in the weighing rooms of Irish racecourses was highlighted by a jockey last week.

Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. In the last couple of seasons, both Ruby Walsh and David Casey took to social media to express their disbelief at the standard of catering for jockeys at Downpatrick and Kilbeggan respectively.

Since then, reports from the weighing room suggest that standards have very much improved at many tracks including the two mentioned above, but as is the case with so many issues involving racecourses, it has become evident that not all tracks are as focused on positive progress as others.

Tweeting from Killarney racecourse last week, DANNY MULLINS (@dan2231) posted a picture of a menu with prices for food and drink including a diminutive €5 salad which was included in the image with the tagline “wouldn’t feed a rabbit!!”

It really does beggar belief that in 2015 professional athletes are being presented with a catering menu that a miniscule €5 salad is the only culinary option that wouldn’t be classed as junk food.

These are professional sportspersons for whom nutrition is a major part of their day-to-day lives, surely they deserve so much better?

While I strongly suspect that the jockeys would have no problem paying for nutritious and well-prepared food, the rather embarrassing reality that the press and weighing room officials, for whom the extent of their athletic exertions at the track rarely extend beyond a leisurely walk from the car park to the weighing room, get well looked after with free food at every track raises the question that if they eat for free, why shouldn’t the jockeys?

There are many big issues in Irish racing that will take a lot of time and effort to work through, but what really frustrates is that comparatively small and easy-to-solve matters such as the above continue to be a problem for some tracks.

Irish racecourses have never had it so good in terms of the sums of money that they receive from media rights, so cost isn’t the issue here, it seems to be purely a matter of poor standards and service.

There really is no excuse for there not being a minimum standard of quality food options for jockeys at every track.

Hughes’s early retirement a declaration of intent

RICHARD HUGHES took many by surprise last week when announcing that he was bringing forward his planned retirement from the saddle from the end of the season to less than a fortnight from now at the conclusion of the Glorious Goodwood festivities.

While the timing of the announcement did surprise, when one steps back and examines the situation, it is an understandable move.

It has been a frustrating season for Hughes, as while his boss and father-in-law Richard Hannon has had plenty of big-race contenders and winners, Hughes has only ridden a fraction of them due to many of those horses running in the silks of owners that have retained jockeys of their own.

That must have been a great frustration for Hughes and with him already having one-and-a-half eyes on his imminent switch to the training ranks, one can see why those frustrations would lead to him making the decision that he has.

Indeed, it could well prove to be a wise decision to give full attention to his new career as early as possible. Training is a completely different job to riding and the list of top-class jockeys that failed to make a successful transition to the training ranks is a long one.

Hughes may have an excellent CV for the job, being the son of top-class jockey that successfully transitioned into a top-class trainer in the late, great Dessie Hughes, as well as being a well-liked and well-connected man who always comes across as insightful, but success cannot be taken for granted.

Training racehorses isn’t just about what happens on the gallops and the racecourse.

The coming months are a crucial time for all flat trainers, as the decisions, purchases and connections that are made at the yearling sales in that time will have a major impact on not just next season, but the season after that too.

Hughes is clearly all too aware of this and choosing to give that job his full attention, possibly leaving some big-race wins in the saddle behind him, is certainly a declaration of intent that bodes well for his training career that lies ahead.

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