Weighing it up

27 September 2022 Written by VRC

Spring racing at Flemington has begun, and the countdown is on to Cup Week. The smooth running of an event of this scale takes many hands, heads, hours and a lot of dedication and passion. We meet some of the people behind the scenes.

Hayley Addison began her long association with Flemington as a five-year-old attending the races with her Dad, Les, who was a respected member of Mornington’s racing community. After a job in the VRC offices and helping the stewards, Hayley has been Clerk of Scales at Flemington for the past 20 years. 

“I grew up in racing as my Dad, Les, used to clock the horses doing their track work at Mornington. He used to do race reports for some of the newspapers on the Mornington horses, too. He loved jumps racing and whenever I could, I’d go to the track and the races with him.

I was five when Dad took me to Flemington for the first time. I talked him into taking me with him, and I remember wearing a smart grey overcoat. I was overwhelmed by how big Flemington was – the stands, the pre-parade ring, the long walk up to the Hill Stand … It was another world to me then.

Flemington is a special place. Even then I remember sensing the excitement, the crowds and the anticipation. It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in words.

Dad met a few friends that day and they looked at the horses and worked out which ones to back. One of them backed a winner and he bought me some chocolate and gave me a $5 note as a treat. Mum said I got home from the races that day, flopped into a chair and before she could ask, ‘How was it, Hayley?’ I was fast asleep.”

Now, many years later, I am privileged to work at Flemington. It’s my job to ensure that all the jockeys weigh out at the correct weight with all their correct gear. They weigh out with their saddle, lead bag if needed, gel pads, girth covers, boots, vest and their colours – everything except their whip and helmet. They can be up to half a kilo over the handicapped weight when they go out. After the race, we weigh them all back in, except the winner who weighs out in the mounting yard. A piece of gear sometimes mistakenly gets left behind when the horse is being saddled, but a lot of checks are done in the mounting yard to make sure everything is in place.

I’m stationed just outside the jockey’s room and so on certain days, like Melbourne Cup Day, you can sense the nerves before the race. It’s a different feeling from any other time in the year. At a normal race meeting there is some banter, but before the big races you keep your distance. The first jockeys weigh out about an hour before their race – some always prefer to do it earlier, like Damien Oliver. We like them weighed out at least 40 minutes before their first race.

At the 2020 Melbourne Cup, during the pandemic, we had to split the jockeys’ room in two. I worked with Jye McNeil’s team and it was different when he won with no crowd. I’d seen him as a kid riding and that day he walked back into the jockeys’ room as a Melbourne Cup winner – a huge achievement.”