“Yeah, my train departs from Paddington, but I’ll pick up the baby oil on the way” is not a sentence I ever expected to be muttering into my phone on a Monday morning.
But, when you’re on the way to a photo-shoot with a jockey that’s taking his top off to appear on page three and as Heat’s ‘Torso of the Week’, it’s better to come prepared.
So, I thought I’d take you Behind The Scenes of how and why Paddy Power ended up getting Richie McLernon to whip his kit off, all in the name of Cheltenham Festival.
It started with me ringing Richie up to see if he’d be up for it. “Ah yeah, that’s great. I’d be up for that sure. How much of my time do you need to do the shoot?”, was his incredibly relaxed response to the question on the phone.
Maybe they’ll finally have me on Love Island after this.
That’s how me and Dan Jones, our photographer, ended up driving half an hour out of Cheltenham to Jackdaws Castle, home of Grand National and Gold Cup winning trainer, JonJo O’Neill.
It’s described on its website as ‘arguably the finest training facility in British jump racing’, and while my knowledge of these things is slim, I’d say it’s even better than that.
With a spa, solarium and swimming pool, I described it to Richie as ‘basically like a f**king five-star hotel for horses’ and he whole-heartedly agreed, saying he thinks it’s the best in the country easily.
So, at this training yard where horses live in conditions at least twenty times nicer than my gaff, we got Richie kitted out in PP pants, complete with low-hanging breeches, boots, helmet and whip – naturally.
It was his day off – a rarity for a jockey, especially a few weeks out from the biggest Festival of the year – and I wondered what a day off for him looks like.
“Today, I’ve got this shoot with you, but then me and a few of the other jockeys that live around here are heading go-karting later.
“On our days off we usually try to get together and do something a bit different to racing. On Sunday, we went to the Ivy for something to eat together.”
In turns out jockeys do eat, and Richie came second in the karting FWIW.
We kicked off with some photographs outside the stables. Jackdaws has been Richie’s home for 10 years now, after moving here from Ireland in 2010.
“I worked up from one of the stable lads and was lucky enough to be given the chance to ride. It’s been 10 years and I haven’t left here, they look after me.”
What about his famous horse on the yard, then? That is Lock’s Corner, for the simple reason that he’d won while riding him the last two times out.
And, with the snapper satisfied he’d got enough pictures, we were onto the gallops. It was freezing, and I was starting to worry that when I’d shaken Jonjo’s hand earlier and told him we’d take good care of Richie, I might’ve been lying a little.
His response of: “Well, you best had, he’s very valuable to us here” was starting to feel like a warning.
The horses had been ridden out for the day, though Richie had spent that morning in the gym instead.
“It’s my day off, but even so, I don’t ride out every day, I probably only ride out twice a week.
“I go the gym every day though, I broke my back a few years ago, so I work out and do yoga to keep fit and for physio.”
Yes, mate, we can see that you’re no stranger to the gym by those abs you’ve got.
After pretending he wasn’t contracting hypothermia, we asked Richie which horse off the yard is his tip for Cheltenham. He was confident in his response.
“Annie Mc is the one to watch out for, for me. And it’s worth keeping an eye on Minella Rocco, of course.”
The former is a favourite of Love Island’s Chris Hughes, who was at the yard while we were but was no match for future Islander Richie, with the latter a runner up to Sizing John in the 2017 Gold Cup.
Our final shot was the fetching one of Richie in the mud above, and we ended the shoot as relaxed as we had started it when I first called him up and asked him to take his top off for us: “Fancy a brew before you go?”
With three grass gallops, two all-weather gallops of five-furlongs and one-mile, outstanding schooling grounds featuring series of hurdles, brush hurdles and regular chasing fences, an equine swimming pool, an indoor school and an equine solarium, your horses will experience the very best care from our passionate and talented team.
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