At Doomben, when the jockeys move from their conversation point with connections near the jockey’s room to go out and mount their horses in the parade ring, they pass through a gate, which leads onto the chute which runners use to find their way out on to the track. They then turn left and enter the parade ring.
Ten yards across from that gate is a second gate. Both of those gates are manned throughout the day to control the movement of the pedestrian traffic through that area.
On Saturday, a young lad was on duty on the second gate opening it and closing it as required as trainers and owners went about their business.
I passed through his gate twice every race and the young man was politeness itself. Every time I passed through the gate I said, ‘thank you.’ Every time I got the same reply … “you’re welcome.”
Although the jockeys didn’t actually need to use his gate at any time, they still walked past his position when they did that left turn to enter the parade ring when they went out for each race.
The young man was quiet, conscientious … and, for those not passing through his gate, it easy to just pass him by without a second glance.
But then, something happened in the lead-up to the fifth race.
As the jockeys came out, rider Jim Byrne stopped, retreated, and walked up to the young man with a big smile on his face and his hand outstretched.
“Hi. What’s your name,” asked Byrne.
The young man replied, and Byrne completed the introduction … “I’m Jimmy,” he said.
Byrne asked how long the young man had been working and was told, “it’s my first day.”
Byrne exchanged a few more pleasantries with the youngster and then, as he walked away, he said, “you should come and try it on this side of the fence. There’s more money in it.”
Of course, that was said a bit tongue in cheek as Byrne acknowledged later in the day, but it was nevertheless a delightful exchange seeing a jockey take time out, going out of his way, to speak to a youngster who was only having his first day in the job.
“People said to me there was this was this lad on the gate … and I just thought I’d give him some encouragement,” said Byrne.
“I was told he is sixteen. You could see that he is keen to work because he is sixteen and out and working and I suggested to him that he might consider another option if he really wants to work.
“He is sixteen and he is tiny … so I said, why don’t you come to the other side of the fence.
“I thought I’d try a bit of jockey recruitment. It was a bit tongue in cheek but, at the end of the day, being a jockey is a great career and I wanted to point that out to him.
“It was just a brief conversation, so whether he will ever think about it, I don’t know.
“Either way, he is a lovely fellow, and it was good to meet him.”