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The Chatter

The touch is a foreign country, and they speak a different language there.  Anybody who wants to do more than stumble about throwing away monkies and ponies had better catch on to the chatter. 


In the weighing room and changing room

The weighing room is the inner temple of horseracing, where jockeys are weighed carrying the saddle and weight cloth for the next race.  Entry is closely monitored, and no outsiders permitted.  Even more private is the changing room section of the weighing room.  This is the jockeys’ sanctuary, where no one else is allowed in to get at them. In the weighing room they are watched, but in the changing room it is just them. Here they change for racing into one different set of owner’s colours – silks – after another.  They are helped prepare by their valet, a professional dresser who is often an ex-jockey himself. 

 In a 2021 enquiry, the atmosphere in the changing room was described as “rancid.”  The male professional jockeys took offence at this.  But the atmosphere in the changing room is definitely steamy – literally and metaphorically.  Jockeys who are “doing light” – carrying a light weight – wander round in nothing more than a pair of ladies’ hosiery as they step out of the sauna. 

The language can be steamy too.  But jockeys are the only people in racing, the only people, who really know what has gone on in a race. So learn their language, and listen to what they say.


Drawn out in the car park: In flat racing horses are allocated stalls to start in.  A stall on the far side of the course can be hard to win from.  And it is generally nearer the car park than the others, hence the phrase. Try using it to describe incidents in your own life when fate deprives you of any real chance of winning, and you’ll understand what it means.


Can’t ride one side of: A jockey is so over-faced by the ½  ton of muscle and madness he is riding that the horse runs away with him on the way to the start or even worse, in the middle of the race. Just like being drawn out in the car park, this also applies to daily life.  Remember that tit in the Porsche losing it as he tried to overtake you on the bend?  Well, he couldn’t ride one side of his Porsche.


Yak: A really key phrase, and only used by jockeys, generally among themselves.  Whether it cost 1.8 million guineas as a yearling, or 1,800 guineas in a selling plate, a truly rubbish racehorse is called a yak.

Our syndicate horse, Golan Way, was running at Stratford in its second novice hurdle.  We had won our debut at Huntingdon at a very good price, landing something of a touch, and we were hopeful we could do the same again.  The favourite was a worry though, with the great A P McCoy booked to ride it.  Our jockey, Jamie Goldstein, was in the changing room chatting with the other jockeys.  When the bell went he strolled confidently out of the weighing room into the parade ring, tapping his whip against his boot.  To a man and woman, the syndicate flocked round him, clucking anxiously. “It’s OK,” said Jamie, breezily, “A P says his is a yak.” We breathed a sigh of relief and dashed off to the bookies. A P was right about his horse, and happily, Golan Way wasn’t a yak – at least not that day anyway.  You will never hear a jockey tell a horse’s owners that it is a yak.


Hung like gate: Not all horses naturally run in a straight line.  Some yaks stagger around like drunks.  Not running in a straight line is hanging. So a horse that drifts all the way across the course from one side to another is said to have hung like a gate (this is different from drifting like a barge, see below.  It is also different from the day-to-day use of the word hung, but that could also be relevant in the changing room when a jockey is doing light, see above.).

Most horses who hang have a favourite side to lean towards – they hang right or left.  This is important when it comes to the touch. Supposing a horse has hung like a gate to the left on its previous race.  That race might have been on an anti-clockwise – that is, left-handed – track, where the extreme hang might not actually have been that much of a problem.  But what if the trainer runs the horse in its next race on a right-handed, clockwise, track?  Hanging left-handed then could cause the horse and its jockey, and all the other runners, a lot of problems.  Then we might all think that horse hanging like a gate is a yak – and the bookies could lengthen the odds accordingly next time it runs.

Golan Way developed a hang to the right as he got older.  When he ran in the Grand National (a left-handed track), he hung further and further to the right until he eventually ran off the course altogether, which was the best thing that could have happened.


Travelling:  When the horse is moving well during the race, galloping happily with plenty in hand – the equivalent of cruising along a motorway – it is said to be travelling.  If it is going rather too well a jockey will report it “travelled too free.”


Easing: When a horse is travelling a bit too free, or sometimes just when it is travelling, a jockey will check its speed,  which is known as easing it.  Sometimes a jockey will ease a horse in a less important part of the race in order to give it a breather for what is to come.  Sometimes a jockey will just ease a horse … and who knows why he has done that?  Could easing have become pulling?  And could pulling become stopping? Stopping a horse is when the jockey pulls the horse to the extent that it doesn’t win a race that it might well have done.  Of course this is not allowed (see Chapter 6 The Stewards), but at what point on the continuum has the line been crossed?

Clean Sweep was a difficult horse to train and had such a notoriously foul temper that he was known as Sid Vicious.  Really the only way to get some serious galloping fitness into him was to race him – but of course we still wanted him to have plenty left in the tank for the race we were really aiming at, so we told the jockey to pull him up after a circuit on the grounds that the horse was over-tired.  At which point the commentator remarked: “And Matt Brown having some difficulty pulling up there on Clean Sweep …”


Trapping: When you are travelling a bit free along the M4 in the Jag at 100 mph, trapping is the speed the police traffic patrol car goes to overtake and pull you over.


Lay up:  When racehorses are at home being trained on the gallops (narrow stretches of private racetrack) they generally run alongside each other in pairs like a crocodile of school children.  Often a trainer will set the horses off one behind the other in a single file (string).  Every second horse in the file is then asked to quicken its pace to take it up alongside the horse in front of it.  This is laying up.  Any half decent racehorse should be able to lay up. It will need to lay up at some point in the race itself if it is to have any chance of winning. A horse that can’t lay up is a loser. 

It’s the same in life.  A colleague, companion or someone you are dating might be setting a frenetic pace at work or socially, and you might tell your mate you can’t lay up with them.  By the way, this is in many ways different from “to lay” (see below), which means to offer a bet that a particular horse will lose the race. So if you layed a horse that couldn’t lay up, it’s happy days.  But generally, in racing and in life, if you can’t lay up, you’ll lose. 


Lay over:  If your horse can lay up and the horse in front of you is a yak, then in the end it will need to lay over in order for you to pass.  Jockeys are sometimes reluctant to move aside and be overtaken.  But it’s dangerous.  At 35 or 40 miles an hour, if the front hooves of the horse behind happen to clip the hind hooves of the slower horse in front, they will risk falling.   In a Formula One race, if Lewis Hamilton’s front tyre nudges Max Verstappen’s rear tyre (for whatever reason) there’s going to be a crash.  But jockeys don’t have safety halos.  They just have crash helmets and body protectors, so when somebody refuses to budge, you may hear a joking remark pass between jockeys, such as: “Lay the f*** over, you “f***ing c***.”


Cover up: Sometimes you might not want someone to lay over if your horse is in danger of travelling too well and you are having difficulty in easing it or basically just can’t ride one side of it.  So you tuck in your free travelling horse behind another one or two horses, taking care to be far enough back that you are not in danger of clipping heels. On the flat, many very good horses run too free, but because of their high cruising speed there is often no other horse running fast enough for you to cover up.  This is when a pacemaker is introduced, who can run faster than your horse for a few furlongs, then lay over to allow you to come flying through at the winning post.  Frankel, one of the most successful and quickest flat horses of modern times, needed a pacemaker.  Of course, this plan does require you to own more than one halfway decent racehorse, something most of us would only dream of, even if landing a touch.


Go down:  To ride the horse out of the parade ring and down to the start.  Much more difficult than it looks.  In my own very brief experience as an amateur jockey I had to go down to the start on my school mistress mare, Country Festival (Pushy), and it literally was downhill.  As I couldn’t ride one side of her, I took refuge behind the horse in front of me in a feeble attempt to cover up.  I just prayed that the jockey in front wouldn’t lay over.


Change hands:  One of the least understood of all a professional jockey’s talents is the ability to change hands.  Unlike other day-to-day riders, a jockey rides with his reins doubled in a “bridge.”  This means that instead of holding a rein in just one hand, he holds both reins in both hands.  The resulting bridge can rest on the horse’s neck or can be used to pull if the horse is taking too strong a hold on the bit.  It is really the only effective way of riding more than one side of the ½  ton of muscle and madness mentioned above.  But it does make shortening the reins a more complex operation.  You have to slide one hand along one rein nearer the bit, then re-join it to the other rein, then slide the other hand up to match it and hey presto, you have changed hands.  So don’t get the wrong idea when you hear the commentator say that a jockey has changed his hands when going down on a filly.


Through the wing:  Used in national hunt (jump) racing, the wing is the white plastic support and directional aid on either side of the fence.  Some great horses take off for an enormous leap so early that they are said to be “outside the wing”.   Some hang so badly that there is a danger they will put themselves and their jockey “through the wing.”  And in the bad old days you might have heard a jockey threaten to put his rival through the wing if he didn’t lay over. 


……. Chapter continues ….


Get on / get off: 



Couldn’t get the trip in a lorry

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