What's inside a jockey's bag?

6 January 2023 Written by VRC

It is a common sight on race day – jockeys of small stature lugging big suitcases into the jockeys’ room, ready for a day’s work. But exactly what is inside? We take a peek inside the case of jockey Alana Kelly.

Most sports people need a number of things to compete successfully on a day of competition, but a jockey’s requirements would probably be one of the more gear-heavy sports.

Just ask Alana Kelly. At 23, Kelly has been one of the most successful apprentices in recent years.

When it was suggested that you would simply throw a few things into a case ahead of a day at the races, Kelly was understandably horrified by the suggestion, and spent the next hour explaining what a comprehensive and time consuming job it is when preparing for work.

“Trust me, it’s no easy task but a most important one. I have a backpack that carries my saddles. I take three or four saddles to the races. A 3-kilo one that I use most of the time, a 1½ kilo saddle and a ½ kilo saddle for lighter rides. Saddles today are so well put together no matter what weight you are riding at. The saddles don’t go into my race-day case because that’s got a lot of other things in it.

“After the backpack is full, I then pack two sets of everything into the case. Girths, surcingles, breast plates and often neck straps.

“This gear is replaced every day after I ride. I wash them, dry them and then they go back into the case every night. Horses naturally sweat, so if you don’t give them the attention every day, wear-and-tear will build up,” Kelly said.

The filling of the case is indeed an important one, as a day at the races can turn up unusual occurrences.

“I take a lot of packing to go in the saddle to make it secure and comfortable for the horse. I then pack my lead that I will distribute across the saddles as I need it. I’m very light at 51 kilos, and I might have a ride at 62 kilos, so lead is necessary, but it’s important to distribute it evenly across the saddle so that one part is not heavier than the other.

“It can be a long stretch from 51 kilos up to the top weight, but that’s the way it is.”

The list continues …

“I take two whips – my favourite whip and a spare whip in case my whip breaks or I lose it in a race … you just know you’ve got it there. I also pack a pair of spurs and then I’ll take a helmet, and vest protectors.

“I’ll always take two sets of boots, a light set and a heavy set, and the vest protectors will be the same – a light and heavy version.

“These are imperative health and safety issues, and they are just part of an important puzzle.”

Kelly will pack one pair of breeches, which she will wear for the whole day. They’ll be washed overnight and replaced by another pair.

“I think some of the boys have valets, which is someone who looks after their gear, wipes down their saddles, and has it all ready and shining for a day at the races, but many girls, I think, prefer to do their own washing and packing.

@victoriaracingclub Jockey Daniel Stackhouse takes us through what he packs when he goes to the races and what some of the gear weighs. #horseracing #loveracing #jockeysoftiktok #jockeys #horseracingtips #jockeyslife @dwrstackhouse ♬ Summer day - TimTaj

“The friendship in the jockeys’ rooms is just fantastic. If you are short of something or you’ve forgotten something, one of the girls will always have a spare for you. I know that the same bond is very much alive with the men, and the exchanging of gear goes on in their room,” she said.

Although the girls’ room varies from meeting to meeting, Kelly says that it is always a great place to be, with great friendships and respect between the female riders.

“There is a bit of an unwritten law amongst the girls in all of the jockeys’ rooms all around Victoria,” she said.

“Whoever is the last girl out of the room, regardless of where the meeting is, always has the job of looking around and picking up anything left behind. They take it with them and we just catch up at the next race meeting!”

The number of female riders, and the number of rides they take at each meeting, continues to grow, with the total of horses ridden by female jockeys increasing by more than 15 per cent in 2021. This has prompted fuller rooms and a need for upgrades, as announced by the Victorian Government in June last year. Female jockey rooms at 13 racecourses around the state will be upgraded, with $1.3 million spent on the project. Funding will come from the Victorian Racing Industry Fund, while Racing Victoria, Country Racing Victoria and the participating clubs will also contribute.

“We have come so far in the past 30 years. The rooms are sometimes full – that just shows you how many girls are now coming through the system and that’s fantastic.

“The likes of Christine Puls, Linda Meech and Jade Darose are all senior jockeys with so much experience. That’s what I enjoy – if you’ve got a race off you can talk about racing things that are important and hints that they can give you. We are a very solid group and that’s what makes it even better,” she said.

But work for the jockeys doesn’t stop after their last race. Gear must be packed back into the case, taken home and then cleaned and maintained.

The first thing Kelly does when she gets home is work on her saddles, then washes her clothes and gear before any rides the next day or the next weekend.

“It’s important to have all of those requirements brought up to date, so when you leave for the races the next morning everything is washed clean and ironed ready for an eight race program wherever you are riding.”