Chris Maude: What is a valet?

Sportsmen retire young, and most are not comfortable enough to retire. Often they have been obsessed by their chosen profession since they were toddlers, and know nothing else.

When Chris Maude discovered that his body was becoming reluctant to bounce off the turf as well as it once had, he chucked in the job. But stayed in the game by becoming a jockey’s valet.

I spoke to Chris about his work, and also asked how COVID-19 had affected his routine.

 

What is the role of a jockey valet?

“As valets, we are in charge of making sure all the jockey’s equipment goes to the right meetings, so we carry the jockey’s equipment with us.”

 

Does this mean that you are also in charge of silks too? Or is it purely jockey equipment?

“No, the silks go wherever the horse goes. The trainer’s representative at the races are in charge of the colours and we are in charge of all the jockey equipment: saddles, boots, bridges, back protectors and helmets.

“There are two or three different firms of valets so we will be at each meeting. I have six employees and we hopefully cover four meetings a day, then we all meet up in the evening, go through the list, swap over all the bags and then make sure all the right equipment goes to the right meeting the next day.”

 

Although things may have changed recently, are you able to just talk me through what a normal race day would be?

“On a normal day we would arrive at the races four hours before the first race. We would get all the equipment out of the vans, make sure all the saddles and equipment are clean and safe then hang it all on the walls for the jockeys so that when they arrive all their equipment is at the races and ready.

“Then, throughout the day we are in charge of making sure each jockey gets their three or four saddles, that they are wearing the correct colours, using the correct equipment for each horse and are weighed in correctly for each race.”

 

You certainly carry a lot of responsibility then. Has there ever been any blunders?

There has always been the odd blunder where the jockey’s gear goes to the wrong meeting, but we have always managed to sort them out. We haven’t seen a jockey riding naked at a racecourse just yet! But, of course, there can be mistakes.”

Obviously, coronavirus has had a monumental effect on everything in the world. Has it had an impact on valeting?

“Certainly. We have fallen into a routine now but it was very strange when we started. Before we arrive we have to answer a questionnaire about where we have been, our health and who we have been in contact with. We all have our temperatures taken on arrival at the racecourse and we have to adhere to the two metre social distancing so it’s very different.

“We always used to be based in the old fashioned weighing rooms and now everything has been relocated into large restaurants and bigger spaces, so that everybody can spread out. It is very different.”

 

Always being at the racecourse must mean you are able to be at the heart of some very special moments. Would you say that is the biggest perk of the job?

Of course, I mean you are there so you see some fantastic times. I think the two best times were when I’ve seen two horses being applauded going into the paddock before they raced, one was Frankel and one was Sprinter Sacre.”

 

Those must have been some terrific moments. But, like anything, when there are highs, there are lows. Are there any low moments in the weighing room, etc?

“Definitely. I think because you work with the jockeys all the time and you have known them from when they have come in for their first ride as a teenager and go all the way through their career with them, when they are going through a bad time or get injured and things are just going wrong, it can affect everybody and you really feel for them.

 “And there have been some tragic accidents over the years, which have been very sad. Just recently we have lost James Banks, Liam Treadwell and Pat Smullen, so it has been a terrible couple of years to be honest.”

 

And finally, with your job being based in the weighing rooms and changing rooms, have you noticed if some jockeys have any routines or superstitions?

“Oh you soon pick it up. Jockeys have lucky pants, lucky gloves, some have a regime they would go through, some just go very quiet before a big race, some are very noisy before a big race.

The importance of the work that Chris and his team do cannot be overstated. They operate behind the scenes, but we would soon notice if they weren’t there. The good and proper format of our sport would certainly shift in a scruffier direction if it wasn’t for the hard work of valets.

by Charlie Parker-Turner