Christmas As A Racing Trainer

| December 20, 2017 | Reply

Season’s greetings to you all!

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Today I thought I’d go with a festive theme for the article, and it just remains for me to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2018!


Christmastime, mistletoe and wine…

The festive season is one of the busiest periods on the racing calendar, with 10 Boxing Day meetings in the UK and another six on New Year’s Day.

The Boxing Day highlight will undoubtedly be the King George VI Chase at Kempton but, alongside that, over 400 horses will line up in races ranging from Class 6 all-weather affairs at Wolverhampton to the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby…

So, as you settle down in front of ATR and Racing UK for a bumper fix of racing delight, accompanied by cold turkey sandwiches, mince pies and alcohol, spare a thought for what goes into making this festive racing possible.

This week I spoke to local trainer Zoe Davison about the impact of Christmas on a racing yard or, if you prefer, the impact of a racing yard on Christmas.

Zoe currently runs a small racing yard in West Sussex and describes it as “a family yard in both the literal and metaphoric sense”. But her experience in racing stretches back over 40 years as a jockey, then through assistant trainer for her father, before finally taking over the reins herself 20 years ago.

To coin a phrase from a previous article, horses aren’t machines. So, unlike many industries where the power is switched off on 23rd December and stays off until 2nd January, this doesn’t apply to racing yards.

Christmas Day will dawn the same as any other for yards up and down the country…

While many of us will also be woken up at 05:30, we will be dealing with over excited children (or if your house is anything like mine, an over excited other half!). For the stable staff though it’s business as normal. Muck out, feed, water, change rugs etc. For those horses that hold entries over the festive period they will also be worked as normal as well.

Although Zoe is lucky in having local staff at her yard, many yards are staffed by lads and lasses who are not local and many will be given leave over Christmas to go home, but for those left behind it simply means even more work. Like many yards, Zoe and her family will welcome the staff for a quick Christmas lunch before afternoon/evening stables need to be done.

But it doesn’t end there. There will be horses, particularly from the bigger yards, which hold entries at venues which require travelling down on Christmas Day night and staying over at the racecourse ready for Boxing Day. So, the travelling lads and lasses will not only be spending their Christmas away from family and friends, but also staying in the stable staff accommodation at a racecourse!

Zoe pointed out that the impact of Christmas actually starts before the big day as well, as the declaration timescale changes.

While declarations for National Hunt races are normally before 10:00 on the day before the race, for Boxing Day this has been brought forward to 10:00 on 23rd December, a full 48 hours earlier than usual. This has two main impacts…

On the one hand, racing secretaries (or the trainers themselves at the smaller yards) need to be on the ball to ensure the declarations are made on time. But a bigger potential issue concerns non-runners…

The 24-hour declaration (as opposed to 48-hour for flat racing) is left as late as possible to allow for going conditions to be taken into account. By bringing the deadline forward there is much more scope for the going to change between declaration and race day. This can impact multiple parties…

Owners may well have a horse that was balloted out of a race because it was oversubscribed but then see the field on the day significantly under the safety factor size allowed.

Likewise, bookmakers will be continually having to rework books as non-runners become known. This in turn affects punters who take early prices, as non-runners can significantly affect the way a race will be run and can also reduce the number of places in each-way options as well.

But it isn’t just the yards themselves that have their Christmas affected by Boxing Day racing…

As Zoe and I were talking we identified a long list of people who give up their Christmas and/or Boxing Day to ensure you and I can enjoy a festive flutter, either at the track or at home on the sofa. Among the parties we identified were:

  • Trainers
  • Stable Staff
  • Jockeys
  • Farriers
  • Vets
  • Horse Transport Providers
  • Race Course Security Staff
  • Clerks of the Course
  • Race Course Ground Staff
  • Race Course Officials
  • Race Course Announcers
  • First Aid Staff
  • Horse Ambulance Staff
  • Starters
  • Stewards
  • Bookmakers
  • Catering Staff
  • Race Card and Newspaper Printers
  • TV Cameramen
  • TV Commentators


The list goes on and I’m sure we haven’t covered everybody. But the bottom line is that our festive fix of quality racing is dependent on thousands of people giving up some or all of their Christmas celebration. To them I say, “Thank you”.

As Zoe said as I left, “Racing isn’t an industry, it’s a way of life”.

Happy Christmas!


Category: Betting Opinion

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