Eagle Falls (AUS), picture Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
Having a job travelling to exotic locations such as Dubai and Hong Kong would be an ideal life style for most young women but throw in the proviso that the main object of their attention over many weeks overseas, not to mention the hundreds of hours of long distance flying, will be a 500kgs thoroughbred racehorse and the prospect does not seem so exciting.
But don’t suggest that to Lizzie Jelfs the travelling groom and regular track rider for David Hayes, one of the world’s most acclaimed trainers. The 26 year-old attractive blonde, who grew up in England before moving to Australia about eight years ago, would not swap her job for anything.
“I just love being around horses and I really appreciate the opportunity David has giving me’’ Jelfs said at the Meydan international stables where she is looking after Eagle Falls who is running in Saturday’s Dubai Golden Shaheen, sponsored by Gulf News.
It is her second trip to Dubai and she has also being to Hong Kong four times as well as Singapore, New Zealand and England, where she at least had a chance to catch up with family. Although she does not come from a racing family, Jelfs grew up around horses of the recreational variety.
“I was involved in a pony club when I was a kid and riding has always been part of my life while my friends were going off and becoming doctors and lawyers and the like’’ she said.
The family home is in Oxford and when she was 15, Jelfs went off to work as a stablehand for Lambourn trainer Charlie Egerton.
At that stage, her ambition was to become a jockey but “I don’t think he (Egerton) thought I was good enough’’ she said.
It was Egerton who suggested she should go to Australia where there seemed to be more opportunities for female jockeys and he arranged an interview for her with Hayes. However, she soon found out that she had to be an Australian citizen to become an apprentice jockey and instead became a groom with the Hayes’ stable.
Her ability with horses as well as the love for the animals soon became apparent and its was not long before she began taking on more important tasks. Hayes had no hesitation in sending her overseas alone with some of the stable’s best horses and on those trips she usually also acts as track rider so her responsibilities are high. When she is back in Australia, Jelfs is now based at Hayes’ Sydney stable at Randwick where she is more or less in charge.
Jelfs is well aware of the vagaries of racing and the problems of handling highly-strung thoroughbreds but it is still hard to deal with the unforeseen disasters that sometimes crop up. Such as the sudden death as the result of what should have been a relatively simple gelding procedure of the highly-rated Irish horse Changingoftheguard who was to be Hayes’ main contender for this year’s 150th Melbourne Cup.
Jelfs had spent weeks in quarantine in England with the horse before he went to Australia last October and then looked after him in quarantine again. It was a bitter blow to Jelfs and the stable, not to mention the new owners who had paid around AU$1 million for Changingoftheguard, when the horse had to be put down humanely. Now she has moved onto a new charge in Eagle Falls and success on Saturday would be a worthy reward for her efforts over the past eight years.