UNIONVILLE, Pa.--Parker Hendriks, a Unionville resident and National Steeplechase Association's Leading Jockey, traveled to Ireland for a month this fall to ride for one of Ireland's top trainers, Gordon Elliott.
"Everything is done so differently over there," said Hendriks. "I was watching and trying to learn."
Despite already being on the top of the standings at just 18 years old, Hendriks said he wanted to learn as much as he could to improve his ability in his chosen field.
"I was riding just like I was a regular employee," said Hendriks. "I was pretty busy. Gordon has about 250 horses in training. Instead of six or eight in a set like we have here, they have 30 to 40 in a set. The horses train on an incline hill. They probably train way more than ours do. They train more for stamina.
""We'd ride out six or eight a day. Some days we'd go away to work horses in a different place. After work in the morning, we'd go to lunch, then I'd go back. I was helping to feed. I stayed with Simon McManagle, Gordon's head lad. Gordon had a separate yard where the young horses were broken. There were probably 20 to 30 more horses in that pre-training yard.
"THE HORSES don't get bandaged. If I had to guess why they don't get bandaged, I guess it is because 250 to bandage is too much. They just have to tough it out. There are no hot walkers. The horses walk on mechanical walkers to cool out. Nobody has hot water in the barns over there. All the horses get a cold bath."
Although Hendriks was named to ride four times, he only actually got one ride, but he made that a particularly good one, finishing fourth, just missing third, on a 40 to one shot in a field of 20 to 30 starters..
"I rode Coko Beach," said Hendriks of his ride at Navan on Nov. 27 in a Grade B steeplechase. "It was very enjoyable. He jumped away a little slow at the start, but he warmed into it. We almost got brought down at the second fence, when a horse fell in front of us. I was following Jack Kennedy. I thought it wasn't a bad idea to follow the leading jockey. Coko Beach was winging fences all the way. He got tired at the end, but it was a great experience. Gordon was delighted with it, but he had eight horses in the race, so we didn't get much individual attention."
Ireland has two kinds of jump races as opposed to our one kind, over out National fences.
In Ireland, there are hurdle races, run over hurdles that lean slightly away from ground to top and are 3'6 to 4' in height, and there are steeplechase races over huge natural brush fences,, some with a ditch or water.
There was hurdle and steeplechase racing in this country through the 60s and 70s, when it then became deemed too expensive to maintain the steeplechase fences and the National fences were introduced.
"I went during a particularly cold spell. I had another ride that got frozen off. Then I had a ride on Coventry that got frozen off and was rescheduled, then frozen off again a week later."
Hendriks was at Elliott's for about a month, from Nov. 20 to Dec. 22.
"I'm not going back again this year," said Hendriks, who is Keri Brion's stable jockey. "I'm back galloping for Keri at Fair Hill. We have just a handful in training now, but in January the jumpers come back and we'll be busy. I'd like to go back to Ireland next winter. I always want to learn."
IN OTHER news from Ireland, Bruton Street's Franco De Port finished fourth on Dec. 28 in a G1 steeplechase, just missing third, in a race won impressively by Elliott's Conflated.
GRAHAM MOTION, back in this country, saddled Candy Light, owned by Fortune Racing LLC (al Maktoum), to win the $100,000, 1 1/16 mile Tropical Park Oaks Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park on Dec. 26.
Candy Light rated sixth or seventh in the 10 horse field, shifted out seven wide into the stretch and got up late to win by 1 length,
BERNIE HOUGHTON won with Dianne Stern's homebred Foxy Junior in a $5,772, 6 furlong Maiden Special Weight for 2-year-old fillies at Penn National on Dec. 21.
Foxy Junior tracked the early pace, went three wide on the turn and edged clear to win by 3/4 length.