My first days racing was at a small track in the south of Ireland. It was raining, which is typical I guess. My dad brought me to the races when I was 5 years old and I’ll never forget it. I had no idea what I was looking at. It was a game of sizes. The horses were huge and their saddles were tiny. Then I saw the jockeys and they were pretty small too. But at that point I was new to the game that has become my life. The hook for me wasn’t the intricacies and idiosyncrasies that I enjoy today. Or the knowledge of the horses and the match ups. It was simply the thrill of the race, the speed and danger that was there for everyone to see.
That’s the thing about jump racing, regardless of how you found it on that first day, it gets you and makes the hair stand on the back of your neck. There is an honesty about the sport that is there for all to see. The first horse past the post wins. Simple. It is that simplistic view along with the incredible challenge that jump racing presents that makes it special. To ride an animal at 30mph plus at and over an obstacle at 4’6″ and this is normal for us, although in reality this is the furthest activity from normal.
Now the commentary sounds different and some of the paddocks are a different shape in the USA but jump racing is pretty spectacular in whatever land you are in. The white rails and black fences of the Cheltenham Festival or the colosseum like atmosphere created at Sandown Park are the panicle venues of our sport. But on the other hand I’ve never felt the buzz that is generated at an infield party in high summer here in the US. The cheers from a packed grandstand at Far Hills or the joy on the face of the winning connections at any race here is truly unmatched anywhere in the world.
Growing up in Ireland, you very quickly find that an appreciation and understanding of racing is just part of life there. When you walk into any bar or barber shop, you will find people talking about the weekend that just gone or the one that upcoming. But to see a tear of joy roll down the cheek of the winning trainer in a simple maiden hurdle race is a sight that is distinctly American. That love for a racehorse as a member of the family does not exist in very many places. America has something here, something that can’t be bottled or sold. It can, however be felt and seen in most barns and race meets up and down the east coast of the country. We may be a long way off a daily newspaper, or a TV channel just for us but it is a way of life for so many. A way of life that I for one, am hooked on.