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Compiled by PHILIP REID
Nothing jumped up about these jump boys
If anyone ever wondered why jump racing is a part of our very fibre, then the brilliant Jump Boys documentary on TG4 on Wednesday night answered just about every question. The personalities involved – Davy Russell, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty – may all hail from rural backgrounds, and have been thrown on to the back of a horse whilst still in nappies, but their appeal transcends urban-rural divides. They, and their ilk, are a special breed; they should be treasured.
I had the pleasure a few weeks back of sitting beside Richard Dunwoody at dinner and, his own career apart, it was fascinating to hear of his post-racing life which has involved expeditions to the North and South Poles and of his new interest in photography.
As you’d probably suspect, his photographic interest is not of the picture postcard variety and, rather, has taken him to the outbacks of Pakistan and Afghanistan in pursuit of extreme photography and his desire is one day to be imbedded in a war zone.
In watching Jump Boys, it is apparent that jockeys – who we were informed are given a standard rate of €169 a ride (plus eight per cent of the prize money) – are, virtually day-in and day-out, going into a battle zone of their own once they’ve left the relative comfort of the weigh room and the safety of the sauna where late pounds are shed in a different kind of race to make the required weight.
When Michael O’Leary, whose Gigginstown Stud colours were sported by Davy Russell for much of the documentary as the Cork man rode his way to the champion jockey title, was asked about what made a good national hunt jockey, he was typically succinct:
“To be as thick as a plank is a very good starting point,” he observed, which had more to do with the perils of the job than any slight on their academic abilities.
Russell, who conceded he was always in “wicked trouble” in his school days for the simple reason he wanted to be out riding horses rather that stuck behind a desk, came across as a thoroughly likeable and honest individual.
“It’s not really a job, it’s an obsession,” he said of being a jump jockey.
The dangers of the job are taken as a given. Ruby’s own mother talked of the moment she arrived into the hospital ward after her son had his spleen removed following a fall.
For his own part, Walsh talked of the “darkest hour” being upon hearing of the death of Kieran Kelly, who died as the result of a fall at Kilbeggan racecourse in 2003.