Caulfield clearly not just along for the ride

Greg Wood on a man who led jockeys into becoming a fresh force for change
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The Independent Online
They handed out plenty of awards at the Jockeys' Association dinner on Sunday night, and later in the year there will be recognition for owners, trainers, stable staff and even racing journalists. There is only one group in racing, it seems, where no one ever hands out prizes - those brave men and women from special interest groups who labour in the unforgiving world of racing politics.

But then, perhaps such an award would prove somewhat futile, with one name in particular either on the trophy or the shortlist, year after year. In the turf wars fought to win the hearts and minds of the industry, no- one puts a case - or, some might say, thumps a tub - quite like Michael Caulfield, secretary of the Jockeys' Association and the driving force behind Sunday's ceremonies.

Caulfield is into his eighth year at the JA, which, as he admits, "would have been long odds-against when I took the job as I was so inexperienced''. The son of a leading judge, he adopted much of the adversarial attitude of the courtrom in his early dealings with the Jockey Club, perhaps as a cloak for his greenness. For a while, the mere mention of his name could reduce a Club steward to the sort of affronted apoplexy which his grandfather might have suffered when the grouse beaters asked for a pay rise.

With time and experience, the Red Mike image has slowly diminished, but Caulfield remains keenly aware of who is paying his wages. "I had some great rows with the Jockey Club in the late 80s and early 90s," he says, "but now I know that they value the Association's judgement. What I am is rigorous in my defence of the people who employ me. They deserve strong representation and that's what they get."

The Association and its secretary deserve much of the credit for recent changes to the disciplinary system, which should put an end to the anomaly which allowed riders to receive long suspensions for very minor infringements.

Other successes, though, receive far less publicity.

"When I took over in 1988, Peter Scudamore told me that racecourse medical services should be the No 1 priority," Caulfield says. "After excessive lobbying, every course now has two fully-trained paramedics with fully equipped ambulances, and I think it's fair to say they have been life- saving.

"You can look back at Declan Murphy's terrible accident, and the paramedics were there. I remember the tragic events involving Ayrton Senna on the same weekend, and the whole of motor-racing had to have a massive inquiry into safety and what was going wrong. We've had tragic accidents, but we know everything has been done to protect the sportsmen."

At 34, Caulfield is, for now, within roughly the same age group as his members. Slowly, though, a new generation is replacing riders such as Richard Dunwoody, now a close friend with whom Caulfield has grown up in his job, and it looks no coincidence that his latest project is to address the opportunities, or lack of them, open to retiring riders.

"JETS," the Jockeys Employment Training Scheme, is modelled on the impressive scheme run by the Professional Footballers' Association. "Jockeys are going back to school to do GCSEs, A-levels and degrees, to either keep them in the industry in good jobs when they give up riding, or get them jobs in other walks of life. It will hopefully become the most important thing we've done."

Amid all this effort, Caulfield still finds time - indeed, makes time - to play football and rugby, while the decision not to stage the Glastonbury Festival this year will leave a large hole in his diary. "Racing can become all-engrossing," he says, "and the people can be very insular. You need to keep in touch with other walks of life, and I think I've got it in perspective now."

Caulfield also grabbed the chance, two years ago, to ride in public for the first time, in a celebrity event. "I was nearly pulled in by the stewards because I was so far behind, I just didn't realise how fast they go in a race. It would have been amusing if I'd been referred to Portman Square on my first ever ride at the age of 32."

Inevitably, there have been mistakes sprinkled in among the triumphs. The most notable, perhaps, was when Caulfield announced that the jockeys' title would henceforth be decided on prize-money won, only to revert to the old formula of winners ridden when it became clear that hardly anyone, the riders included, wanted the change.

Yet a refreshing willingness to admit his error and endure the embarrassment meant that the incident was soon forgotten, except by Caulfield. "I know I've made one or two errors along the way, but I'm very aware that one stupid move could undo seven years' work. The job still has a fear factor. I'm nervous each day when I come to work, and when I go racing, I park my car and every time my heart's thumping. That's a good sign."

Whatever his inner turmoil, however, you suspect that for as long as Michael Caulfield is batting for the jockeys, it is everyone else who should be worried.

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