Joseph O'Brien is tall for a jockey
©Healy Racing Photos
BLOG POST 4 - Fred Archer is a Legend
January 2014. I'm really getting the hang of the rising trot and Lorraine, who is teaching me now, puts up a cross pole in the arena. "If you can balance over this you'll be well on your way". I'm still working on technique and it's a constant struggle to keep my heels
down. I tend to want to balance on the tips of my toes, with my heel raised. I suppose it's hard to undo years of dance training! My lower leg needs a lot of work. I understand what needs to be done it's just a matter of doing it. But it will come. It's just like dancing, bit by
bit everything falls into place. This is why we agreed to make Jockey.
For these moments when I'm using my dancing sensibilities and physical intelligence to learn a whole new physical skill set. I savour these moments. Learning to ride is invigorating and a challenge and I'm ready for it. It feels so good to be back. This is definitely in my blood! I haven't ridden for a few months, as I was in rehearsals for a show and couldn't run the risk of getting injured. Injury is not something you want to be dealing with if you are to perform at your best. No different for a jockey, except at least the jockey has the horse when you're dancing you are on your own.
Lesson two and I'm jumping. Does this mean I'll be a National Hunt Jockey? Maybe not, it's a bit of a let down after all that excitement; Toffee just trots over it. Not the soaring, Cheltenham defying experience I was planning for. I managed to balance myself well over the fence when I repeated it. He even broke into a few strides of canter. Now we are on the money! I get a glimpse of what it feels like to canter and I love it.
By this stage, I've found six of my grandfather Phillip's articles through the amazing Charlie O' Reilly. Charlie suggested that I got in touch with Francis Hyland, who was a contributor on The Sweeney guide to the Irish turf from 1501 -2001. If Tony Sweeney and his wife Annie had still been alive I am told that they most definitely would have
remembered Phillip. Annie was a dancer before marrying Tony and becoming involved in racing (she also was a contributor to The Sweeney guide to the Irish turf) and many people I have met on this journey have expressed sadness that I didn't manage to meet her. It would have been fascinating to talk to her. Sophie and I go to meet with Francis
at his home in Bray. Francis has many fascinating things to enlighten us on, but doesn't remember Phillip. We trawl through his archive of The Irish Horse - The Bloodstock Breeders and Horse Owner's Association of Ireland. Phillip's name does not appear and Francis suggests that perhaps he wasn't in fact a bloodstock agent. But I feel certain he was. According to my mother, genealogy was an obsession of Phillip's, both human and horse. So I'm sure that selling horses and researching their bloodlines was a part of his existence.
We go to the RDS library, as Phillip was a member. My mother tells me that he spent hours researching his articles there. She also remembers accompanying her father to the Horse Show, which was a highlight in Phillip's calendar. I look around and try to imagine him sitting at one of the tables poring over a book. Gerard Whelan and his fellow librarian's couldn't be more helpful. We find his membership details in the massive logbooks and I also see that Eamon de Valera was a member too! The search has proved fruitful as we find one of his articles. I'm slowly putting his writing legacy together.
On another visit to RACE in January 2014 Tony Denvir gladly showed us around and talked us through the daily workings of this successful academy. I'm intrigued to learn how the young jockeys are educated in terms of nutrition and fitness. By all accounts there is a very healthy approach to this. Much more so than in my training whereby we
were told to eat an apple a day and if you were seen drinking water you were in deep trouble. They wanted to see sinew. Drinking water got in the way of "drying -out" or as the Russian's say, ''sukhit". I got that screamed at me a few times! Looking at the application form, young jockeys have to be 9 stone to apply to RACE. If I am ever going
to ride a racehorse in a race then I will have to weigh myself for the first time in over 20 years. The constant struggle to keep my weight down as a ballet dancer made me turn my back on the obsessive fixating of weight when I began to work in the genre of contemporary dance. In racing - terms I guess the equivalent is the difference in weight
between that of a flat jockey and a jump jockey.
Looking in the trophy room of RACE at photographs of every year since 1973, the classes look, on average, to be getting taller. I wonder if anyone else has any theories on this? I suppose that if historical poverty led to a lighter race of Irish people in the early '70s, then we might have been a lighter nation, or the lack of so many deep fried
and fast foods 40 years ago. Yet some jockeys are just taller. Joseph O' Brien, for example is tall. Fred Archer, who was Phillip's all time favourite jockey, was very tall for his time, 5'10. He died as a result of wasting in 1886 aged 29, just days after getting down to 7 stone 12 to ride at Epsom. He had been in Dublin the week before, as Philip wrote.
So I have jumped and got a taster of what it's like to canter and I have learnt that Philip's favourite jockey was not even alive while he was. In Phillip's words: "Fred Archer is a Legend, one that grows with time." We are surrounded by legends and we are graced by their presence.
This week's blog is dedicated to Irish Times sports
journalist Carl O'Malley who died tragically last week.
NEXT WEEK - Nearly falling off, Phillip's favoured Riding Styles and
the astonishing archive of racing that is Guy Williams.