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Wednesday, 23 January, 2019

The men and women who keep the racecourses running smoothly

Out on the track: the racecourse is the place of work for a wide range of jobs
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Hundreds of full-time and casual staff work on racecourses every day in Britain, without whom the action on the track could not take place. To celebrate Racing Staff Week, we spoke to some of the essential backroom staff racegoers might not normally notice

Michael Kenrick: policing the jockeys in the weighing room at Windsor on Sunday

Michael Kenrick
Age 61
Racecourse: Windsor, Lingfield and more
Job: Raceday steward and others

When I was in the navy down on the south coast in Cornwall we used to go racing to some of the big meetings, but I wasn’t into racing or betting. When I retired as a store detective and living in Lingfield I just walked into the racecourse one day and asked if they had any casual work.

I started in the car park on one hot and busy day in 2010 and now I work there, Windsor, Plumpton, Fontwell and Goodwood in a variety of roles. I take the public tours at Lingfield, which are very popular and go down well as long as you don't try to sell them anything!

I fill in as cover for the AFO [advance flag officer] at Lingfield, and work in the paddock and the weighing room, making sure jockeys are out on time for their races.

The only jobs on course I have never done involve anything to do with taking money. I often get asked for tips but don’t know any more than the public, although I have learned it's important to go and look at the horses in the paddock so that's what I tell anybody who asks.

As it is, in my job I'm not allowed to bet, not that I'm interested. I just enjoy the jobs I do. I feel all jobs are vocational and there are no half measures.

Alan Szymanski: works at six racecourses

Name: Alan Szymanski
Age: 62
Racecourse: Six in the north and west from Uttoxeter to Cartmel
Job: Advance flag officer (AFO), paddock safety officer and more

I live at Tarporley near Bangor and used to go racing there. One day they were short staffed and I was asked to be the judge's runner, but I only did that once. I was working then as a deputy head teacher but after I retired at 55 I manned the paddock entrance and since then have managed to get positions at five other courses.

At Bangor now I take the horses to the dope testing unit, at Uttoxeter I'm in the weighing room giving out number cloths, although I'm also the reserve AFO.

I'm the AFO at Haydock and Cartmel, at Chester I'm on declarations and at Aintree I'm the paddock safety officer, which entails making sure the runners and jockeys arrive and exit the paddock on time.

I work 85-90 days a year. It's a hobby, but a paying hobby and most courses look after me very well, although it does mean I work most Saturdays so can't see my football team, Bury, play very often.

There are a good group of us going round and I thoroughly enjoy it. In fact, I like anything to do with horses.

I had a share in the chaser Colliers Court, who won seven races, and when the others decided they didn't want him any more I took him over and my greatest day in racing was when he won at Uttoxeter in September 2009 at 66-1.

I had £10 each-way on him and with my winnings I bought a field shelter for him. He's now retired and lives in the paddock at the back of my house.

Name Mike Tunnicliffe
Age 75
Racecourse: Uttoxeter

Job: Declarations clerk

It's my job on racedays to make sure all horses are declared to run 45 minutes before the advertised time of each race and record all non-runners before forwarding them to the media and the BHA.

I also have to record that all doctors and vets on duty at the meeting have arrived, as racing can't take place if any of them are missing. All the notices around the weighing room are also my responsibility, along with making sure that all the security cameras are in full working order.

I've been doing the job for the past 14 years, ever since somebody else working at the course recommended me for the position and I was accepted by the powers that be. It’s the best thing that happened to me and I feel very lucky and privileged, in some ways, that I'm working within a great sport. 

Being involved in racing is a pleasure as there are so many individuals in the game and the vast majority of them are thoroughly decent people who are a pleasure to deal with. However, I have been told that the jumping fraternity are infinitely easier to deal with than some of their Flat counterparts!  

Eric Medwell (left) with racecourse farrier John Dobson

Name: Eric Medwell
Age: 66
Racecourse: Pontefract
Job: Stables manager

I start work at about 2pm the day before racing and deal with the stabling and accommodation for the horses and the lads and lasses staying with them overnight.

I'm also responsible for security until the BHA's equine welfare officers come on duty, which is four hours before the first race. 

On raceday my main task is to allocate the appropriate stabling for all runners, as well as travellers, those having stalls tests, companions, gallopers and so on. We have 113 usable stables and we do get close to capacity quite a bit.

I see my job really as being to provide everything stable staff and their horses need when they come here. If they're safe and have everything they need, then I've done my job. It's especially nice to be doing it at somewhere like Pontefract. Courses like this are the backbone of racing in this country.

I've been doing this ever since I retired in 2009, but I also had a stint in the 80s, when things were a little bit different. My father-in-law Ron Senior was head groundsman here for 50 years and so I did it to help him out.

When I retired from being a shopping centre and markets manager there was a job going here and Norman Gundill [Pontefract managing director] got in touch to offer me this job.

I love doing it as it's been a total change for me – I wish I'd enjoyed the job I did for 41 years as much. My favourite part of the job is dealing with the stable lads and lasses, the people who have so much to do with the horses but are often behind the scenes.

Name: Eileen Butler
Racecourse: Brighton and others
Position: Stable staff canteen manager

We look after all the stable staff, groundstaff and medical team; in fact we feed everyone.

I'm at the track at 7.30am to be up and running by 8am. We do breakfasts and lunches and everything is covered. Salads are our biggest seller – they like to eat healthy and we try to cater for that.

The stable staff are a great bunch to cook for and they all like eating with us, which is a good sign – there are never any complaints. We also got a new kitchen here at Brighton this year, which is fantastic.

I’ve been doing this for 30-odd years now and really enjoy it. It was Phil Bell at Chepstow who got me into it and it went from there; before that I was doing the catering at Lewes Hockey Club. I also do the same role at Plumpton and Fontwell, so it keeps me busy.

My husband Paddy trains racehorses about ten minutes away from Plumpton so I know what the stable staff need. You can’t leave early because I know people in the last race need some food for the journey home and things like that, while the quantity of food we prepare all depends on the amount of runners.

I was a nurse before I got married but it all changed then and I’ve been assistant to Paddy for 40 years.  

We’ve got the racing on all day so can keep up with the action but I’m a tennis fanatic and we’ll be watching Wimbledon this week.

I often get asked for tips but don’t know any more than the public, although I have learned it's important to go and look at the horses in the paddock
E.W. Terms
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