Un­sung he­roes of rac­ing get their night in the spot­light

The Godol­phin-spon­sored stud and sta­ble staff awards high­light the work of back­room teams in get­ting thor­ough­breds to the track in peak con­di­tion, writes Siobhán English

Irish Independent - Farming - - HORSES -

EACH week I hear sto­ries of how tough it is to get peo­ple to work with horses. Be it rac­ing, show jump­ing or any other dis­ci­pline, find­ing a com­pe­tent rider or groom these days can be a tall order.

They of­ten work long days, and are not al­ways the best paid, but ask most of those in­volved and they will tell you that ‘they do it for the love of it’.

They will sac­ri­fice the hours and money for job sat­is­fac­tion.

Just ob­serve the grooms of horses at any race meet­ing and you will see the sheer joy on their face when their charge is first past the post.

“There is noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing than see­ing the horse you look af­ter ev­ery day win a race,” says Elaine O’Dono­van.

Win­ner of the ‘Horse Care Award’ at the 2017 Godol­phin Stud and Sta­ble Staff Awards, Elaine knows bet­ter than most the ded­i­ca­tion it takes to be good at your job. She won this pres­ti­gious award last in recog­ni­tion of her 20 years of com­mit­ment to Co Kilkenny-based trainer Eoin Grif­fin.

Set up in 2015, the an­nual awards aim to high­light the in­valu­able work done by these peo­ple in both the rac­ing and breed­ing sec­tors across the coun­try.

With­out good em­ploy­ees it is im­pos­si­ble to run a suc­cess­ful busi­ness, and thanks to this ini­tia­tive by Godol­phin, men and women of all ages are recog­nised through the awards which this year boast a to­tal prize-fund of €84,000.

In 2017 Elaine was nom­i­nated by her long-time em­ployer Eoin and was over­come when she was an­nounced the win­ner from three fi­nal­ists. On the night she was pre­sented with a cheque for €5,000, with a fur­ther €3,000 to be split be­tween her work col­leagues.

“I was chuffed to bits — it was just a fan­tas­tic night,” she re­mem­bers. “Even my par­ents came along and it was great for them to see video clips of all the other nom­i­nees too.

“The awards are such a fan­tas­tic idea and it is great to fi­nally see peo­ple in the in­dus­try recog­nised.”

Elaine has worked with Grif­fin since she was just 12 years old and says that she could not imag­ine her­self in any other role.

“I started com­ing to Eoin when I was still in pri­mary school,” she re­mem­bers. “I was about 14 when I started rid­ing thor­ough­breds.”

Hav­ing quickly risen up the ranks, and even get­ting the op­por­tu­nity to ride in a few school­ing races, Elaine is now head groom and is highly re­spected in her role.

“We have a small team here — just three staff — so we al­ways help each other out. One day I can be in the yard and the next day at the races.”

Elaine says this past win­ter has been par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for sta­ble staff, es­pe­cially those work­ing for train­ers who got badly hit by the snow.

“Eoin’s yard is on a hill so we were badly af­fected with snow drifts. It took sev­eral days be­fore we could even get horses on the walker. A lot of peo­ple do not com­pre­hend the work that goes into look­ing af­ter horses seven days a week, some­times in the worst of weather.”

Elaine has seen many changes over the two decades.

“At the be­gin­ning when Eoin started out we had about eight horses in train­ing and then at one stage we had up to 40. Now we have about 15 which is a nice num­ber.”

As well as the race horses, Eoin also breeds from a few mares each year and sev­eral of these foals have gone on to run on the track.

Progress

One of note is the JP McManus-owned Rath­patrick, who hails from the same fam­ily as one of the Griffins’ foun­da­tion mares, Lady Es­mond.

“I re­mem­ber him as a foal and I have watched him all the way through which has been fab­u­lous,” Elaine says. “The high­light was when I got to travel with him to Chel­tenham in 2016.”

Over the years Elaine has also en­joyed fol­low­ing the progress of other such horses as Don’t Be Bitin and St De­vote, but she says the one to watch now is a horse called Banksoft­he­shan­non.

“My dream is for some of the cur­rent horses in the yard to win big for us this year — maybe at Gal­way in July,” she adds.

Award-win­ning groom Elaine O’Dono­van pic­tured at trainer Eoin Grif­fin’s yard

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