Gordon Elliott is a household name for any racing fan - and behind the scenes his stable staff are working hard to keep his horses busy, writes Will Jennings.
Like the rest of the Irish community the champion trainer is adjusting to life without racing, tweaking the methods employed at his Cullentra stables that are home to almost 200 horses.
And to shine a light on the changes taking place at the master of Meath’s base, we spoke to two of his most experienced members of staff about how they - and the horses - are adapting.
What has the atmosphere been like around the yard and how has your role with the horses changed?
Barn manager Seainin Mahon: “First of all, everybody here is trying to keep safe - we wash our hands all the time and stay on top of things, but the horses still need to be fed and exercised.
“You have to carry on and keep them fit and ticking over - there are no huge changes we’ve had to make but we’ve eased off the work they’ve been doing.
“We’re still all coming in everyday - we all get our temperatures checked to make sure that we’re all okay, and then we just work away as normal.”
2nd travelling head girl Mary Nugent: “Obviously we’re putting in the extra measures to make sure everyone stays safe, as that’s what is most important to Gordon and all of us.
“We’re just trying to do everything we can to keep the normality of everything going, but the difference is we don’t have the goals to aim for now with the racing being called off.
“We want to keep everyone safe both here and at home, and Gordon has been very pro-active.”
In terms of the horses, how have they coped with the changes to their schedule, their reduced workload and the absence of racing?
MN: “They’re probably coping the best and enjoying their time more than us! They’re getting some nice, easy days now, and we have the time to get them freshened up.
“We aren’t taking them away to go galloping anymore - we’d often take them to the beach or go hunting which they love.
“Gordon likes to go and vary his horses’ routine - it keeps them free, but you just have to bite your lip now and not do those sort of things.
“They’re still riding out at the same time on the yard now, they’re getting fed and their routine has been kept as close to normal as it can, bar the racing side.
“That’s the most important thing, as you don’t want to do anything to upset their routine, and that’s what we’re here for - to put ourselves out there for them.”
SM: “The horses are actually very fresh and well with themselves as they haven’t been doing as much work - they’re enjoying it I think!
“We’re still trying to keep the horses busy but they’re not doing as much as normal - they’re just doing a bit of cantering and they’ve been getting out in the afternoon.
“They’ve been enjoying it as the weather’s been nice recently, so it is nice to get them out so they can have a mess about in the fields.”
Do you think GE Racing are doing anything differently to other stables in Ireland at the moment?
SM: “I think what we’re doing at the moment is probably representative of most other yards.
“We have to just keep carrying on, looking after the horses and keeping them fit just in case there is racing.
“It’s just coming into the Flat season and those horses’ seasons are only just starting, so they have to keep going ahead in their yards.”
MN: “I think everyone’s in the same boat - we’re in our own little bubble in the racing world, but everyone wants to keep working and they want to keep going.
“Even if you’re not getting to the races, you don’t want to lose your day to day routine.
“Hopefully everyone is taking the same measures that we are, and keeping everyone safe and doing everything they can.”
Are there any unsung heroes at GE Racing who are going above and beyond to help in the current situation?
SM: “I’d say everyone in the yard has their own part to play, from the lads on the ground who come in early to everybody else.
“Everybody does their bit here - it’s less about individual contributions and more about teamwork, as everybody has their own jobs to do. No matter how small their job is, everyone is part of the team.”
MN: “It’s a massive team effort here at GE - it would be hard to pick out one or two unsung heroes because everyone pulls together.
“Everyone has their own routine and everyone’s been very good at complying and obliging with everything we need at this present time.”
And in terms of Gordon himself, how visible has he remained and how has he been adapting to training the horses without racing?
MN: “He misses nothing. He’s out for every lot, he’s out in the afternoons, and that’s not just with the current lockdown - that’s what he’s like every day and that’s a normality.
“He doesn’t miss anything and that’s what makes him so good - he is obviously so involved in everything in the day-to-day running of the place.
“He’s keeping all his staff happy and healthy, and everyone else around him. He’s grand to work for - he’s very easy going and he’ll be the same as us now, ready to go when they give us the go ahead for racing.”
SM: “Gordon is here everyday and is just trying to keep this show on the road.
“Everybody gets on well in the yard, and Gordon’s easy to work for - I’m not really sure what it is that makes him so special, but it’s probably the staff he has working for him!”
Looking forward, are you confident everyone at GE will remain upbeat and the horses will be ready to return when the time comes?
SM: “I don’t think the horses will have any real problems coming back - they’ve run all season and they’re pretty fit, so just doing a little bit less work and freshening them up is probably a good thing.
“I’m confident that whatever happens, the spirits here will remain upbeat and we’ll be able to bounce back as a team - we’re all really looking forward to racing returning.”
MN: “If anything, I think the horses will be fresher. They’ve been running all season and we’ve had an amazing season, but I’d say they’ll be fine.
“We have the facilities here to still vary their routine and to get them fit without taking them out, so in that way we’re very lucky.
“As soon as they say go to the racing, we’ll say go and we’ll be ready. We’re all pulling together and we’re all staying upbeat - and that’s all you can do now, isn’t it?”