Behind the glamour, excitement and celebrations of racedays, aside from the trainers and jockeys there is a legion of stable and stud staff which make it all happen.
A relatively small number of those get their moment in the sun when they lead in a winner and even fewer are lucky enough to look after a Classic winner, but they are the largely unsung heroes who keep the whole industry rolling so racegoers can enjoy the end result, top class thoroughbreds battling it out for the sport’s highest honours.
One of their number, Petra Sebestikova, certainly knows the highs and lows of the sport.
In February the 39-year-old work rider was one of the big winners at the world’s richest competition for stud and stable staff, sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin racing and breeding operation.
Since his early days in the sport, the now ruler of Dubai has been known for his appreciation of, and generosity towards, stable staff. And for the past 14 years that has taken the form of the Godolphin awards which see thousands of pounds given annually in prizes to members of the backroom army who are the backbone of the sport.
Petra was nominated in the rider/groom category and when her name was called as the winner she collected her award in a wheelchair demonstrating just how dangerous riding racehorses for a living can be.
In January the filly Petra was riding for her then boss, Luca Cumani, reared over backwards trapping Petra underneath. “She was trying to get up but panicked and rolled over on me,” said Petra.
The stricken rider had to be airlifted to hospital where she was found to have fractured her pelvis in two places and broken her ankle.
Despite her extensive and painful injuries, as a finalist Petra was determined to attend the Godolphin awards ceremony held in the glittering surroundings of London’s Jumeirah Carlton Hotel.
“I couldn’t believe it when my name was called as the winner,” she said. “I was so happy and very emotional. What I enjoy most about my job is the horses. I was really proud, not just for myself but in winning I felt like I was representing all those who ride racehorses.”
Now with the start of racing at Newmarket just around the corner Petra is still facing a long road back into the sport she loves.
As potential Classic contenders put their credentials on the line in the Craven Stakes at the Rowley Mile on Thursdays she will be heading to hospital for yet another X-ray.
“It’s not been easy and it is taking a lot longer than I expected,” said Petra. “I can just manage to put a bit of my weight on my right leg but I have to be careful. I really want to get back to riding I just can’t stay in the house any more.”
Petra, who hails from the Czech Republic, has been receiving support from Newmarket-based Racing Welfare, who she said had been “marvellous” and she is looking forward to being able to start doing physiotherapy and exercise on the way back to riding out again.
She has now left Bedford House Stables where she had worked since 2009 and where her award citation said she had helped “to mentor and encourage young riders and looked after the horses in her care to an incredibly high standard, even visiting them if they were injured.”
And when she is fully recovered Petra is determined she wants to ride again and will be looking for work at another yard.
“I am trying to be as positive as I can,” she said. “Racing is something I love. I love the horses, I love the people. It has been my life.”