With all the justifiable euphoria about Winx and others such as Haydon Angel Jewel it might be timely to quietly reflect on the behind-the-scenes aspects of glamour horse sports?
Featured Image: Jockeys Jodie Riley and Alison Threadwell were injured at Scone races in 2010
Without wishing to be a maudlin pariah I can recount many incidents which have seriously affected me over the past 50 years. The low point of my stewardship of the Scone Race Club came early in my Presidency beginning in 1978. Apprentice Jockey Craig Ayton came to grief at White Park in a summer meeting in 1979. Craig was apprenticed to Alan Bailey at Wyong. A coronial inquest delivered a verdict of death by accidental work-place ‘situational’ misadventure without apportioning blame to any third party. However it’s a very bitter pill. One never forgets. I’ve always speculated if Alan Bailey’s subsequent relocation to the Gold Coast might have been a ‘geographical’ appeasement?
Many friends from the ‘good old days’ perished in arguably the most dangerous of horse sports: Campdrafting. Skull fractures seem to be an occupational hazard. Many notable Upper Hunter families are still marked by residual grief. My late close friend Harley Walden brought all this together in his own unique style. He mentions Greg Cribb and Keith Banks in his minutely researched article which appeared in the Scone Advocate on 7th February 2013. I have written elsewhere about Greg’s father Eric ‘Shorty’ Cribb as well as his brother-in-law Peter Snowdon. It was a conversation with Keith Banks recently that prompted me to write this and also liberally quote Harley. Keith told me that despite many vicissitudes he rode in most major races and on most principle race tracks throughout Eastern Australia; including two Melbourne Cups. He was a very gifted natural lightweight.
February 7 2013 – 10:12AM
Racing – behind the scenes of the glamour sport
Life as a jockey appears an illustrious career on the surface, but scratch a little deeper and it becomes apparent that living in the saddle can be an explosive mix of mental and physical torment.
The body rigors that these young, at times not so young, people are prepared to go through to reach the pinnacle of their chosen sport would make the most hardened punter, who at times are the jockeys worst critics, bite back the words they offer.
Extreme dieting; hours of wasting; at times to the unbelievable; driving to the races with an overcoat on and the car heaters going.
And then there is the pressure of public scrutiny and the thought that one wrong move can be fatal are stark realities facing the men and women who wear the silks.
The ones that become great can handle the mental side of things. Those who fall by the wayside generally can’t—and unfortunately there are many.
In October 2010 champion Queensland jockey Stathi Katsidis was found dead on his lounge room floor, he should have been riding high at the Cox Plate meeting that weekend, instead the pressure told. He had been sweating a lot to get his weight down but it just was not coming off. Hitting the gym. Sweating. Completing the Damascus course for those battling drugs.
A young jockey with so much to live for. This is the darker and sadder side of racing. The realistic fact of how well our jockeys are respected, even lesser known ones, was born out in early 2007 with the death of young Mudgee horseman Damien Murphy after a fall at Wellington on Australia Day.
The sudden death of the popular 23-year-old stunned the Central West community – racegoers or not – and they packed St Mary’s Catholic Church in Mudgee to say their last goodbyes. Trainers and horse breeders sat side by side with hotel publicans and taxi drivers and were left to dwell what a cruel sport racing can be.
On a Monday morning in early August 2004 the close knit town of Scone in the Upper Hunter were in shock as the news filtered through of the death of Greg Cribb in a freak road accident.
Greg Cribb, 43, beat the odds when he survived a shocking race fall at Tamworth in 1985. His heart stopped a few times but he came through. He had a fractured skull and other injuries and was out of racing for seven years.
A fall like this would have had most jockeys hanging up the saddle, but not the Scone horseman who returned to what he loved doing – riding winners.
When Greg Cribb chose to follow the path of race riding he knew the element of risk he would encounter. But it was the unexpected and the unknown that claimed his life.
Former champion jockey Keith Banks, who lives on the outskirts of Scone, started his riding career in an era when cigarettes and alcohol were accepted as a vice, while living in the back pocket of an SP (starting price) bookmaker or riding the odd dead-un was frowned upon by racing officials.
One thing that will live in Bank’s memory will be his first ride in a race and it could have been his last; it was a sensation, at Warwick Farm in March, 1959.
Hilton Cope’s stirrup broke in a packed field; Noel McGrowdie’s mount came down over Cope and Golden Grove, piloted by the then 16-year-old apprentice Banks, crashed on top of both.
Banks was admitted to Liverpool Hospital with a broken thigh and pelvis, a broken arm and dislocated shoulder.
He was in hospital for six months and out of the saddle for a year.
Keith Banks says racing been good to him, a lifetime that has spanned an era of hard knocks, controversy and battlers.
These are just some of the pitfalls our riders face every time they are leg-up on an animal that weighs in the excess of 500 kilograms and travels at 65 kilometres an hour with featherweight jockeys aboard a split second decision that could go wrong could mean a broken body or worse.
On July 13, 2010, a shocking four horse fall at Scone put Alison Threadwell and Jodie Riley in hospital with bone fractures and lacerations. Riley suffered a fractured right collarbone and left eye socket. Threadwell fractured vertebra in her neck, broke three ribs, sustained a tear to her liver and damage to the kidney region.
The other two victims of the Scone calamity, Jeff Penza and Clair Pettigrew, walked away unaided. Two races later Pettigrew was back in the saddle. While the other two young ladies have since returned to riding.
After centuries of a male dominated sport we find an influx of young female jockeys. They are well presented, well-spoken and in the main attractive – so what possesses these young ladies to pursue a career in racing?
A weight claim is attractive to owners and trainers but once out ridden it becomes a hard slog to gain rides, sometimes only a handful a week.
And this is where the young and naive, and I do not only elude to the girls, the boys can be just as tempted and there are those out there ready to push the boat beyond the boundaries of the rules of races.
Harley Walden is the author of Sixty Years of Scone Cups.