The possibility of injury or worse is something which jockeys simply cannot allow to creep into their psyche, but the dangers associated with such a hazardous profession are never far from the surface.
Those perils are sadly laid bare once again following the tragic passing of British amateur rider Lorna Brooke, with the 37-year-old suffering significant swelling on her brain before later being placed in an induced coma as a result of a heavy fall in a handicap chase at Taunton earlier this month.
Brooke competed in a sport which she adored for 20 years only to have her life taken from her 10 days after that fall from Orchestrated, and her untimely death illustrates once again the lengths which jockeys will go to do what they love and entertain us.
There’s a reason why racing is the only sport where an ambulance follows the action of every race and is primed to swiftly treat any injuries as those instances are a regular occurrence, more so over jumps but the Flat game is not immune to its fair share of grief. Racing is a much safer sport than when jockeys Kieran Kelly and Seán Cleary both died after accidents on the track within months of each other in 2003, but it will never come close to being totally safe and there’s a reason why it takes a certain breed to pursue a living in that sphere.
Television screens simply cannot do justice to the power which animals weighing in excess of 500kg can generate and when horses are careering at such speeds, things can and will go wrong, and Brooke was struck down like too many before her.
Fearless is a word which is often thrown around about jockeys and it’s not done so lightly as they put their lives on the line every time their feet are in the irons, even if they would rather not think about it that way.
Former jockey Mick Fitzgerald highlighted how Brooke’s death shows just “how close jockeys are to the limit” every time they saddle up and the risks that they take.
“As a jockey, you go out to ride and you hear all the things people say to you ‘Oh, it’s a risky sport,’ ‘You never know tomorrow’s ride might be your last’ and you just think ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s the sort of thing that happens to someone else, it doesn’t happen to you’,” Fitzgerald told ‘At The Races’.
“And then something like this happens and it brings it back to everybody, how close these guys and girls are to the limit all the time, they are millimetres away sometimes from something like this happening.”
Rachael Blackmore has taken jumps racing by storm with Cheltenham success quickly followed by Aintree Grand National glory in recent weeks and she admitted that injury or danger is not allowed to register with her.
“I don’t think about injury. If you start thinking about what could go wrong, it is not the job for you,” Blackmore said in 2019 when asked whether she considers the precarious nature of her work.
Cheltenham Festival-winning riders Shane Broderick and Robbie McNamara were both cut down in their prime with life-changing injuries resulting from crushing falls and have lived to tell the tale, but JT McNamara was left paralysed after a fall at the Cotswolds in 2013 before passing away three years later.
It is a tough and brutal game where your fate can change in an instant and that should be remembered next time you sit back in the comfort of a living room to enjoy a race unfolding or berate a jockey for an off-colour display.
“You can never underestimate the risks that these people taking part in this sport take every single day so every time you have a losing bet or a losing ride, maybe it’s not all that bad after all,” Fitzgerald added of what really matters in the grander scheme of things.
As horrible as it is to see a horse lose its life, the loss of a human is an excruciating reminder to everyone of the sacrifices which jockeys make for our enjoyment. That should never be forgotten, nor should Lorna Brooke.