Oh how I crave my normal Christmas experience

In 1999 Westlife were No. 1 at Christmas, Bobbyjo won the National, Meath were All-Ireland football champions, and I spent Christmas with my right leg in a cast, writes Ruby Walsh.

Oh how I crave my normal Christmas experience

Roll on 11 years and Gordon Brown was Prime Minister of Britain, we were two years into a deep recession, Obama was heading into his second year of presidency, Cork were All-Ireland football champions and again my right leg was broken, and I ate all the turkey.

So, Christmas in 2017 is not really a new experience for me.

I have been here, had the normal Christmas of eating too much, drinking too much and doing too little.

Oh how I crave my normal Christmas where the real presents come from St Stephen’s Day on: Kauto Star in Kempton; Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown; Silver Birch in Chepstow, or even a winner in Limerick would do — I’d even take Down Royal at this stage.

But that’s not to be.

Instead I will stand and smile my fake smile as Christmas begins in earnest for racing people when it’s over for everyone else.

I know there are of thousands of people in Ireland, let alone the world, who are going to find Christmas a hell of lot harder than I ever will, but my point is that it’s so much fun to be jockey in this period or any sports person who is competing around now, and that’s what I will miss.

By the morning of the 26th, what do you do?

The shopping, parties and preparation are over.

Santa Claus and the huge excitement which that brings has been and gone.

You have eaten enough on the 25th to do you till New Year’s Day, and yet a turkey curry is staring you in the face tomorrow, after four rounds of turkey sandwiches today.

You have watched the same movies for the fifth time and probably played charades or tried your hand at karaoke or some other weird game a family member thinks will be ‘great craic’.

Jockeys rise on the 26th buzzing.

There are that many race meetings on, most will think they have some chance of riding a winner.

Opportunities present themselves on St Stephen’s Day that won’t come again till next year.

A big name or two will be gone to Kempton.

Always a big name will be injured — unfortunately, this year that’s me. Jockeys will spread thin to cover all the horses and the racecourses will be packed because people don’t have much else do, and racing becomes the entertainment.

There’s a buzz that big crowds create, the noise and atmosphere they generate as people regain the Christmas joy after the St Stephen’s morning gloom.

People you only meet once a year are often met here, or so I am told.

The weigh-room is pretty much the same but one or two unfamiliar faces will appear to cover the demand.

Leopardstown has always been the tradition in our house, like Limerick is for so many, or Down Royal likewise on St Stephen’s Day.

It may be that your tradition is the interprovincial matches or a day’s hunting, or the local fun-run organised by some local club.

Maybe your tradition is to sit in front of the fire but, for so many, the tradition — or maybe it’s just frustration — is to get out of the house.

Racing benefits here. It’s open for business and crowds flood in. It’s a bank holiday unlike the others during the year. It comes straight after a public holiday and is followed, most likely, by just a day’s holiday.

There could be at least two days of work at the end of the week before you break for New Year’s celebrations again.

They are different, though. Not as intense or claustrophobic, nowhere near as many solid calories but possibly more liquid ones.

The normality of your weekly routine is coming back into focus, but that’s not necessarily how I would usually be feeling.

You see, Christmas doesn’t end Christmas night or St Stephen’s night for a jockey.

It takes a little break on the 30th but it goes to the 2nd — and that’s the beauty.

We get four more days.

Days of Bristol De Mai, Disko, Might Bite, Whisper, and Fox Norton, Sizing John, Yorkhill, and Djakadam, Min or Politilogue, Buveur D’Air or Faugheen, Death Duty, Monalee, or Footpad, Apple’s Jade and Nichols Canyon, not to mention all the maidens, bumpers, beginners’ chases, and handicaps.

Take a breath on the 30th.

There is, however, a really good card at Taunton, with a listed mares’ novice hurdle if you fancy a day in the West Country, and wind-up the year at Punchestown before you kick it off in Tramore or Fairyhouse.

Something exciting to do every day, if you wish.

You might well be thinking that you prefer your own relaxing Christmas — but that’s the one I want. The Christmas of a jockey.

I even feel racing should have a meeting on the 23rd and the run into Christmas, this year in particular, with no National Hunt racing from the 17th to the 26th a loss.

Imagine Thurles on the 23rd. I can: Full of people feeling excited about Christmas rather than full of Christmas as they are on the 26th.

It is a glorious time of year to be a jockey.

You don’t get to write your own list for Santa, but you watch it unfold on the run up, as horses gallop and plans are made.

The eve of the 22nd is when it starts as you wait for the declarations to be done on the 23rd for the 26th.

Who is going where? Who got on what? What’s the Elliott good thing in Down Royal? Or the Mullins bumper banker? What shrewdie in the south has one laid out, and where will he declare?

Then you wait, and live in normality till Christmas night.

You might have only had one helping at dinner and possibly skipped desert. A run or a sweat might be next on the menu but, for jockeys, it’s Christmas Eve again.

St Stephen’s Day is one more sleep away.

I wish I could feel that way.

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