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Horse Racing

The world of horse racing is an exciting place. But how many punters who lay their bets each day think about the people behind the scenes of their favourite sport? All will be familiar with the jockeys and many of the trainers, but what about the others who work long hours in all weathers to bring the sport to the public eye?

The head lad

Every horse racing yard in the country has one, bigger operations may have two. Sex discrimination doesn't happen in racing stables and the head of the yard is just as likely to be a head lass. The head lad/lass is responsible for overseeing the yard when the trainer or his assistant is otherwise engaged.

They will make sure the yard is kept tidy, that the horses are fed and groomed and that all veterinary medication is given to the right horse. They look for the minor detail, the applying of antiseptic spray to a wound, the locks being closed firmly on the door. They also act as a kind of sounding board to many of the staff. If they have a problem they will go to the head lad first.

The head lad can book leave, change working rotas and even hand out a telling off if needed. Think of them as a racing team leader, who does everything that everyone else does with a bit more thrown in for good measure.

The stable lad

These are the true unsung heroes of horse racing. A standard day begins at 7am. The head lad or assistant trainer will already have done the morning rounds of feeding. The stable staff then arrive and get on with the thankless task of mucking out the boxes.

They are normally allocated a set of horses to look after, usually about five, although if other staff are away at the races they can do a lot more. They then start with the exercise of the horses. Placing them on and off the horse walkers, riding them on the gallops and cooling them off.

Every horse will be washed down, dried off and checked over. Any abnormalities are reported to the head lad, and then hay is given to all the horses. Most stables have an off period in the afternoon then everyone gathers back at the yard at some point after four to start the rounds again. No riding this time, just tidying up beds and doing the evening feeds.

Being a stable lad is hard graft and is not for the faint hearted. Recent legal changes have brought in an NVQ qualification in racehorse care and all stable staff under the age of 19 have to complete this course before they can work with a trainer.

The course is held at the country's two racing schools in Doncaster and Newmarket. To get on the course a fitness test has to be passed just to prove to aspiring stable staff that the life they are choosing involves physical work. Staff get every other weekend off working a six day week in most yards. Going racing is a perk of the job, but involves long hours, late starts and early finishes.

The racing secretary

This is the person responsible for all the administration of a horse racing yard including entries to races. The bookwork, wages, invoicing and ordering of feeds and equipment all falls under the remit of the racing secretary. A course for racing secretaries is also run at the British Racing School in Newmarket, along with courses for amateur jockeys and new trainers.

Horse racing is a sport strictly governed by the Jockey Club and the British Horseracing Authority. Gone are the days when a person could just take a fancy to becoming a trainer of horses. Today's trainers have to undergo strict investigation and yards are constantly checked to ensure they are complying with the rules.

Trainers fees are being forced upwards in accordance with the level of licence fee they have to pay and also to meet the rising costs of feeds and bedding. Many trainers sadly, despite being talented, drop out of the ranks every year as they struggle to meet the rising costs.

Those who do stay in the game will admit that they rely heavily upon their staff to keep the cogs turning at home as their job is one of travelling and meeting and greeting owners at meetings. A trainer also has to source the horses for owners, often at his or her own financial risk.

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