Lizzie Kelly turns up the volume at racing's silence on a poignant day at Cheltenham

By Geoffrey Riddle@Louchepunter
Sat 27 Jan 2018

By Geoffrey Riddle at Cheltenham

A minute is a long time.

As jockeys sporting black armbands, trainers and a large proportion of the 20,868 racegoers stood still here at Cheltenham on Saturday in remembrance of Richard Woollacott it was not long enough.

Death hung over this day surely like no other in racing.

Earlier this week Woollcott was taken away by a cold embrace far too young - he was just 40. Ray Scholey, owner of Wakanda who won the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster also left the stage. Last year at this meeting Grand National winner Many Clouds scooped too deep from the well of life when refusing to go down to the outrageously athletic Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase. On Friday Taquin De Seuil, who had won the JLT Novices Chase here at the Festival no less, also perished at Huntingdon before Peter Casey, the Irish trainer, drifted away overnight aged 82.

A grey mist enveloped Prestbury Park throughout the day and it was a wake that had been crying out for Beer Goggles to build on his burgeoning reputation in the Cleeve Hurdle. It was simply not to be as the Long Distance Hurdle winner faded in to fifth under Richard Johnson.

It can only be imagined what has been going through the mind of Kayley, Woollacott’s widow, but she put on the bravest of faces as Beer Googles entered the hushed unsaddling enclosure.

“The support has been overwhelming,” she said through tears. “People are so kind, the racecourse, Richard’s owners, the staff, everybody. They have been amazing.”

Kayley Woollacott - Chltenham - Racingfotos Beer Goggles ran in the name of Kayley Woollacott (in hat) at Cheltenham (Racingfotos)

If Beer Goggles was not the chosen one then Lizzie Kelly aboard Agrapart was the next best thing.

As Agrapart crossed the line Kelly punched the air both at the joy of winning and then in the memory of her neighbour in Devon.

When Kelly was 16 she had ridden in a point-to-point with Woollacott, a champion rider in that sphere. That day Kelly led the field past the finishing post for the first time, only to hear a voice drift to her ear.

“You’re going to fast, there is along way to go," Woollacott shouted at her.

As an illustration of her unyielding approach to race riding she decided not to listen and carried on to win the race.

“It has always really made me laugh that it was his tactic to give that a go – fantastic,” she said at the memory.

“Richard was a great man, he was good fun and I learnt a lot from him. He was always somebody you could chat to. People have forgotten how good he was on top of a horse. He was a very nice man. They had a nice set up, where I rode out a few times and I even rode out a winner for him.”

On Friday Kayley Woollacott set up a fundraising page for three charities including Mind, which helps people experiencing mental health problems.

On that page, which has raised nearly £15,000 so far, she highlighted that suicide is the biggest killer of men between 18-45 and called for people in racing to do more.

Kelly turned up the volume.

“Lots of people suffer with mental illness and there are people out there that say it is something you just get over – but you don’t get over it,” she said.

“At the end of the day we are lucky to be in a sport that is kind, but it can be very cruel. Lots of people are very good at hiding their mental illness.

“We are all the type of people that will say, ‘it will be grand’.

"Do you know how many times I have heard – ‘it’ll be grand’?

“It’s not grand. It is a nightmare. On the one hand that is the wonderful thing about racing that you can say ‘it will be grand’ but sometimes you need more than that. Sometimes you need somebody to sit you down and say ‘tell me’.

"You can get lost in the middle of it all, you feel like you should be feeling better because you have ridden or trained a winner. People need to be more aware, and to have that time. Even in the weighing room you are moving from one race to the other. You don’t have time to take stock. We need to make more effort. Sometimes a pat on the shoulder has more effect than you would realise.”

Racing clearly needs a few more minutes.

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