Less than three months since the tragic death of stalls handler, Stephen Yarborough at Haydock, racing has once again been rocked by reports of racecourse horror, as a stable lad is said to have lost his life in an incident at Kempton Park last night. We have little to go on at this point but it is alleged that the as-yet unnamed man in his fifties was kicked in the head by a horse.
I won’t speculate on what happened without the release of an official report. We don’t know if it was a horse being handled by somebody else, if it was a horse that he himself was looking after or if indeed, it was a horse related incident at all, but one thing that I do wish to touch upon is how over looked the dangers to stable staff often are.
Of course, we all know how dangerous the job of a jockey is, they’re aboard half a tonne of animal, galloping at speed in close proximity to a lot of other half tonne animals that all have four legs with metal shoes on the bottom – not to mention the mishaps that can happen in the stalls or over jumps. I take nothing away from them – I live with one, I have upmost respect for them all, but they’re not the only ones putting their necks on the line for the sport that we all love.
Stable staff are the foundations of any yard and indeed horse racing. Foundations is an accurate description because they are at the bottom of the pile, below the owners, trainers, jockeys and I say this having spent much of my life as one. It’s an honest description of the racing hierarchy and it’s not so much of a complaint or an insult to current staff as much as it is fact, it’s just how it is. Yet without stable staff, you have no sport, no industry. These days you do see the lads of winning horses being interviewed on the television more often - there you see the real joy, the real attachment to the horse, you can feel the emotion through your tv screen. They risk themselves just as the much as our idolised jockeys but for little of the glory.
Horses don’t just turn up to the races fit and ready to go without a serious amount of work going into them at home – it’s amazing how many people really have no idea what goes on behind the scenes, they aren't aware that training is a 'thing'. The yardmen, the work riders, vets, farriers, and physios, they’re all hands on with these highly-strung athletes every day. Every single moment working with horses, something could go wrong. But we don’t think about that. You can’t when working with horses because if you thought about everything that could go wrong, you’d never go within twenty metres of one! And at the end of the day, we all love it, they’re addictive animals as is the sport and if we didn’t want to do it, we wouldn’t. I’m sure it was the same for the gentleman that passed away last night.
I would ask that for anybody reading this, (and I’m assuming you’re a racing fan), you take a minute to really think about stable staff and respect the efforts that they go to, to keep our great sport going. And if you’re one of the silly lads that clicks and whistles at a two-year-old colt that’s being led passed you around the parade ring, don’t. Unless you’d like to swap places with the eight-stone female that is handling the five hundred kilo thoroughbred that’s dancing around like a kite in the wind…
From all at Sun Hill, we extend our deepest sympathy and best wishes to the gentleman’s family and friends.