Ruth pictured with Richard Lyttle and Ger Flynn
I grew up on a small farm in Dromore surrounded by horses. From a young age I had no real interest - there was always stories dad would come home from the hunt with about broken legs and cuts. So I thought I would stick with hockey. Mum was keen to maybe have a girly girl, she was keen on music or dancing. That was never really going to happen. Then as I got a little bit older, i got more involved. My dad was Field Master and Point-To-Point Secretary for the Iveaghs. I got involved in helping out at the point-to-points which i loved. I was selling racecards from when I was no age.
I loved school, but it was more about what I could do at lunchtime or after school. Any excuse for a day off I was away. My brother, James Black, trains a few and probably had more in then than he does now. I was very lucky as I was very involved with that. We would have been away off galloping, racing, hunting - you name it, wherever the lorry was going I was on it. I suppose then through that I was lucky to get to ride quite a bit of work. Then I got my licence and rode in a few bumpers - no success, but a fantastic experience.
I knew then that I wanted to work in the industry. I always wanted to work for a sales company or at a racecourse. I am lucky enough that I have been able to do both. I was keen to get well placed to go into the industry. The Flying Start (programme) was something that I always kind of thought I'd like to work my way towards. I never actually applied for the Flying Start, but I kind of did my own mini flying start! I could have gone and done an equine degree, there's plenty of good ones around, but I thought I'd be better off to do a marketing degree and then do the equine bit during my summers.
I headed off to America - I was able to get a J-1 Visa through college, so off I went. I tried to get a job lined up before I went and couldn't manage that, so I put a thing on Facebook saying this time next week I'll be in America, homeless and jobless and on my own, but I'm sure something will work out. I would have known (jockey) Ross Geraghty quite well as I would have ridden work with him. Ross was on the phone like a shot to say that he was in New York and, if I got to Kentucky and couldn't get something sorted out, come to him as he had a job for me. At least that put mum at ease.
Again, I'm so lucky the way it worked out. I arrived in Kentucky and a friend of a friend of a friend took me to a party one night and there were lots of people there and at the end of the night there was a job at Coolmore for me. I rang my brother and told him that out of the party I had a job at Coolmore if I wanted it and an interview at a place called Dixiana Farm doing yearling prep. I went to the interview with Dixiana and they offered me the job as well. I remember ringing my brother saying 'James, I've got a bit of a problem - I don't know whether to take the job at Dixiana or Coolmore'. He replied 'Don't be stupid, Coolmore, talk to you later!'
I spent the summer with Coolmore America and had a great time. When I was there, Imagine (Irish 1,000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks winner) was in and she definitely was the queen of Coolmore. She was treated like absolute royalty as you would expect. Then off to Watership Down Stud the next year to the Lloyd Webbers in Berkshire. I didn't know the value of what I was working with. Such top-end stock, lots of hand walking - a great experience to really prep something for the sales - then we headed off to the Book 1 Sale. We had 12 yearlings in Book 1 and our top lot made 1.6 million guineas. At the farm that was just another horse, but it was great to be a small cog in that fantastic operation.
Out of university, I came to Downpatrick and Richard (Lyttle, Downpatrick Racecourse Manager) was great. He is so enthusiastic and his attention to detail is second to none. The energy that this man has is completely unparalleled. I helped out on race days and helped out in the office. In the meantime, I was working sales days in Fairyhouse and I loved rostrum spotting, watching bids. It was a great buzz and great craic. Out of the sales days, a full-time job came about in Tattersalls Newmarket in the bloodstock office. Newmarket was very different to home and I'm really glad I did it, but I don't think I was ever going to settle down in Newmarket.
Ruth pictured with Nicola Fitzgerald and Judith Ryan
I came back to Downpatrick after maybe 18 months in Newmarket, got engaged, married and two kids. Richard and I are very friendly and I would always have kept in touch. In 2016, it was back to helping out and that led on to becoming assistant manager at Downpatrick. We are a very small team - it is basically Richard and myself and a lady that is in a couple of days a week to do the books. We were lucky enough as a small track to have Honeysuckle here in the summer, it was kind of Peter Molony and Kenny Alexander to bring her to a small track like Downpatrick and we really appreciated it. The crowd loved her and I had a delighted sponsor when I was able to send him a picture of Honeysuckle standing in front of his advertising board in our parade ring!
We are on the run-up to the Ulster National (on Sunday 2nd April) and are very busy from March through to the final race meeting of the year in October, it is all systems go and we have casual help in. It is a wide and varied job - sales, marketing, owners, sponsors and race-day staff. You could even find me driving a tractor. Fintan Ward, our groundsman, does an absolutely phenomenal job. Now it doesn't happen very often, but he could ask me to give him an hour!
We were absolutely thrilled to win the Racecourse Award at the Irish Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards in October. It was so good of Godolphin to sponsor it. The racecourse had a table there and we had a great night out. On the back of it, we got a lovely award and Godolphin kindly gave us some money, so we are upgrading our grooms canteen. The painters and decorators are just finishing in there at the minute. We have extended the canteen to have a lounge and there's a window overlooking the enclosure. We are looking forward to getting that up and going on Ulster National day and hopefully it will be well received. During the winter we enjoy the chance to upgrade facilities and tidy things up. We've had the builders in and we are extending our winning connections box. We are upgrading our baby changing and feeding facilities. Hopefully when the gates open, people will see the differences.
Randox sponsor the Ulster National and the Grand National in Aintree and they are very good to us. Courtesy of Randox, anybody who books a ticket online for the Ulster National, before the 25th March, will be entered into a draw for a pair of general admission tickets to the Aintree Grand National. All the Ulster National hospitality is sold out since early February which is great, but there is an early-bird offer and punters packages are still available as well. I think people have the perception that racing is expensive, but it doesn't have to be with the punters package.
We came through a horrible time with Covid-19 and all that racing behind closed doors. Everybody within the industry did such a wonderful job to keep the wheels turning. From our point of view, it was quite easy to put a race day on behind closed doors, but it was soul destroying. Rachael Blackmore came back after all her success and she rode a winner here and, in normal times, our crowd would have been roaring. The Ulster National last year when we had crowds back was absolutely great to see.
I think the industry is fantastic - the likes of Liam Burke's winner (at 66 in a bumper at Limerick last weekend), Michael O'Sullivan's double at Cheltenham and Hewick's story whatever way it works out today in the Gold Cup. I feel so lucky to be in the industry.