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Paul Hanagan riding
Paul Hanagan

Workdays: Paul Hanagan, Jockey

Meet Paul Hanagan. He's 23 and a professional Jockey based in Malton. His job has taken him around the world. If you've ever wondered how a jockey gets started, read on.

In a nutshell, explain what you do

I'm a professional jockey, stable jockey to top northern racehorse trainer Richard Fahey. I have ridden in Dubai, Spain, France, Norway and all over the country and 2005 is my fifth year riding.

Describe your working day

In the flat racing season (July) I would take a quick look at my rides for the day in the Racing Post over breakfast. Then I would ride 5-6 lots (horses) on the gallops. In the busy month of July I could be doing two meetings that day, say York in the afternoon and Hamilton in the evening.

I would probably have four or five rides booked at York then get a taxi to the airfield and board a light aircraft which would fly us to Hamilton.

I would arrive at Hamilton (probably with about two minutes to spare) and jump on the scales to weigh out for the first of about six rides. The last race there will be about 9.30pm, then another taxi back to the plane. I'll get home at 12.00 midnight then it's straight to my bed. Ready for the next day!

What time do you start?

Usually I arrive in at Richard Fahey's at around 7am and first lot pulls out by 7.30am. A lot depends where I am racing that day, if I was at York then I could stay till about 11.30am but if I was riding down south at Goodwood I would just ride one lot out before setting off.

How do you get to work?

Most of the time I drive myself. I am very lucky in that I get sponsored with a car. So I get a new car every time I go past around 9000 to 10000 miles (which doesn't take long).

If I had a busy day the day before or if I am riding down south with a long journey ahead, I'll employ a driver for the day. Some days my agent Richard Hale would have a plane booked for me if it was a very long journey or if I was doing two meetings a day.

You want some winners when there's a plane booked because flying doesn't come cheap, roughly around £250 to £350 a day.

And some days I'll jump on a train.

What's the high point of the day?

Definitely winning races! A real high point would be to have more than one winner in a day. I have had around ten trebles (three winners in one day). Another great moment would be riding a big race winner. I won the John Smith's cup at York, which is a big handicap, the race was worth £90,000 to the winner and I would get about 8%.

Although I have to say it's nice to get home after a really busy day and see my fiancé Anna, and my Labrador dog Murphy, happy to see me.

What's the low point?

You understand the sacrifices you have to make for a job like this. But I think every jockey would agree the lowest point is sitting in the sauna trying to lose every pound you can to make the weight that the horse has to carry. I'm lucky, my weight has stabilized nicely but it hasn't always been plain sailing.

When I was first starting as an apprentice jockey I had to do a weight of seven stone three pounds (that's including all my riding clothes and saddle). Having not eaten for two days I had lost nearly half a stone in the sauna and as I sat there I thought "is this really worth it?" but it was, I won, not that I was any help to the horse because I was physically drained.

But the more rides started to come, the better horses I started to ride and the less demanding weights I had to do. Even the most successful of jockeys go through that torture of wasting to try and make the weights.

What's the biggest challenge you face?

The pressure you are under with race riding. Riding a favourite in a major race is unbelievable. Knowing I have most of the people in the country putting their money on me and all their attention is focused on me and any mistake will be in the papers the next day.

Also trying to stick to the instructions given by the boss (Richard Fahey) to the absolute tee, because I understand the work he does to get the horse ready for the race.

What do you have to wear?

When I ride I start off with a pair of boxer shorts then, and this may sound funny, a pair of tights! Every jockey wears tights; they hardly weigh an ounce, plus they keep you warm.

Over the tights go the breaches (the white trouser like things) which are wafer thin. Then I would put on my riding boots, they're black and made of leather (these cost between £200-300 and just stop below the knee). I would then put a light polar neck top on and on top of this goes my body protector which is compulsory when you ride, it has padding that covers most of the top half of your body.

The colours (the colourful jackets that the jockeys wear) will be hanging up ready for you to put on. I would then have a pair of elastic bands that go over each wrist to hold the colours tight. Then I will get my skull cap sorted out, like the body protector this is compulsory under the Jockey Club rules and both have saved me from serious injury. It's a bit like a bicycle helmet with a strap that fastens underneath your chin.

Every jockey has a pair of goggles for protection. I am nursing a black eye at the moment from when a stone flew up off the track I was riding at and smashed my goggles.

Every jockey carries a whip. This isn't just to make the horse go faster, if you were on a young inexperienced horse you can try to keep the horse straight by pulling it through to each hand.

Finally a lot of jockeys wear a chain with a small picture of Jesus Christ round their neck or hanging from the back of there skull cap. I think because it is such a dangerous game it's nice to have that on you. The first time I was out in Dubai I had a gold ring made with my initials put on and it has brought me a lot of luck so I can see me riding with it on for the rest of my career, it's just one of those superstitious things.

What's your career ambition?

I have completed one of my ambitions already in that I rode one hundred winners from the start of March when the flat season begins and finished up with 101 winners half way through December. That was my first maiden century which I achieved in 2004.

But ultimately to become champion jockey one day alongside previous champions such as Kieren Fallon, Frankie Dettori and Pat Eddery.

What made you choose this career?

In the late 60s my father, Geoff, went to Newmarket wanting to be the next Lester Piggot, but it wasn't to be. Later when he had a bit of spare time at the weekends he would ride out from Terry Caldwell's racing stables.

I had absolutely no interest in horses, football was every thing to me but coaches said I wouldn't make it because I was too small and light

I was 12 when I first when to Terry Caldwell's with my dad. I will never forget it. As I sat on the grass next to the track on a hot summers day where the horses were about to gallop up throwing a few stones over each shoulder feeling sorry for my self, I heard the ground start to tremble and loud thuds against the gallop. I looked up and saw two horses side by side going hell for leather with my father perched up on top of one these incredible beasts.

That's when the bug of horse racing hit me and that's when I knew I wanted to be a jockey.

What qualifications are required?

Just before I left school I went for an interview at the British racing school in Newmarket to get onto a 9 week course. The BRS is one of two racing schools in the country. Both run nine to ten week courses on a career in horse racing.

On my nine week course there were around seven lads and about twenty girls. A lot of very good female jockeys are now doing really well especially the likes of Hayley Turner and Lisa Jones.

The course gives you an NVQ1 in horse care management but the BRS just doesn't let you go off and let you find a job, it's their duty to get you interviews at different stables all over the country. They keep in touch and visit you at your new job and you are even able to complete your NVQ2 once you have been at your new job for a certain amount of time.

Not really qualifications, but the only other thing I would say: I was 16 years old when I left home so get ready for a very big wake up call! I think I got pampered too much by my parents so when it came to getting me up at 5.30am, washing my own clothes and ironing etc it was a bit of a shock. If you get through that you're half way there.

last updated: 22/08/06
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