Phillip and The Simulator

Mon 23rd Feb 2015, 14:25

Emma being put through her paces
©Healy Racing Photos
Leading dancer Emma O'Kane and WillFredd Theatre are preparing for show entitled Jockey, which will come to theatres nationwide in May 2015. Emma's been learning to ride for the project, as well as researching her grandfather Phillip de Burgh O' Brien, a bloodstock agent and racing journalist who died before she was born.

BLOG POST 3 - Phillip and The Simulator

I finish my first riding lesson glowing with pride that I managed a rising trot. Now I'm off to RACE where Helen O' Sullivan has kindly agreed to show us around. We are introduced to Tony Denvir who is the general manager. Helen is a truly passionate champion of racing education as is Tony, and RACE is an amazing facility. It's very evident that the success of RACE is due to the commitment of people like Helen and Tony who are dedicated to nurturing young talent. The first thing I notice about the simulator room is that it has a wall full of mirrors. I could be in a dance studio. I have spent many years perfecting my technique in front of mirrors, and it makes sense that trainee jockeys would do the same. Helen, as quick as a flash has me up on the simulator. With hands on guidance I'm put into the correct racing position. I understand the posture that is required but it feels awkward. I have to contort my legs inwards, very different to "turning- out" (a ballet term whereby the leg turns out from the hip socket with the knee and heel positioned away from the centre of the body). With work I can achieve this, I think to myself. That's before the simulator was turned on. The switch goes on at the slow speed, it's bearable, and then it's notched up to full. It's not easy, respect to all jockeys! There is a huge amount of leg and core strength required. I feel my quadriceps, gluteal muscles, hip flexors and extensors, hamstrings and calf muscles getting an intense workout. Note to self: must remember to get Radox on the way home and some Epsom salts for good measure. Helen then gets me to stand up, feet in stirrups with the simulator still going. She says this is how the jockeys perfect their balance. I'm safe; Tony has kindly stood by and offered me his hand. It really is an acute sense of balance that is required. Undeterred, I feel like I can do this! Then I see a poster of Ruby Walsh with all of the injuries he has sustained in his jump jockey career. Time for the blinkers to go on!

It feels right being on the Curragh at Copper Beech Stables and at RACE, I'm getting a taste of Phillip's world. Born in Dublin, Phillip worked as a clerk before changing career to pursue his love of racing. He had a successful career as an independent bloodstock agent and racing journalist. Speaking to my mother she would say that he lived for racing. I discover in my research that Phillip, derived from the Greek Philippos means "horse-loving" or "fond of horses". I am in no doubt that it simply was in his blood. Our research thus far has led us from 1946 to 1972 when he was most prolific in his career. Finding out more about Phillip's racing legacy is the second part of my JOCKEY challenge with WillFredd Theatre.

My quest began with a trawl of the Irish Times online archives, where we found one letter to the editor that Phillip wrote in 1946 complaining about misrepresentation of Irish Stallions as British. Phillip attacks another journalist Randolph Churchill (son of Winston Churchill) saying "clearly the work of a non-specialist with, at best, a superficial knowledge of the subject. It is prejudiced, because it does not even pay the smallest tribute to the healthy state of the Irish bloodstock industry." Reading my grandfather's words was like hearing his voice and it was emotional. I get a sense that he was a very knowledgeable and articulate man and if he is willing to put it up to Churchill's son, he really knew his stuff. There is no doubt that he was deeply passionate about horses which is obvious from the letter.

So we had one article, now to find more. Sophie, our director, mentioned Phillip and the project in passing at a West Wicklow hunting event in early 2014 to Charles O' Reilly. Charlie's ears pricked up. "Phillip de Burgh O' Brien, yes, I have some of his articles". The first person to recognise the name! Sophie and I went for dinner with Charlie near Ballymore Eustace in Kildare. Charlie has an archive containing 1960s and 70s copies of The Irish Horseman. We found six articles. It felt like winning the Irish Derby of genealogy! In Phillip's words, "There is more, but space, no doubt, would preclude." Letter to The Irish Times Editor, 1946.

Next week: More of Phillip's articles, his views on jockeys wasting and my first jump!

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