Canterbury jockey Jason Laking’s Covid-19 lockdown experience was a lot different to many of his contemporaries around the country. While many of New Zealand’s jockeys were confined to their own bubble for the past five weeks, unable to do much more than go on a daily run or walk to escape the confines of their house, it was nearly business as usual for Laking.
The 37-year-old rider is a common sight at race meetings in the South Island, but he also holds down a full-time job at feed company Midlands Seeds, a role which was deemed an essential service by the Government during Covid-19 Alert Level 4.
Laking admits he has missed riding on raceday, but said his daily routine had otherwise remained unchanged. “I have been pretty lucky because I have got a full-time job as well,” he said. “I press hemp and flax seed for oil at Midlands Seeds, which is owned by Chris Green who has the Barneswood Farm racing banner. “There are not a lot of us who work here, so it’s pretty easy to keep our distance. I have my end and they have got their end, so it has worked out pretty well. “We have been going all the way through and it has gone pretty quickly to be honest.”
Trackwork was able to commence on Tuesday, with restrictions on training easing as New Zealand entered Alert Level 3, and Laking said he was keen to get back to the track this weekend. “I am going to head up to Riccarton on Saturday and slowly get into it because I haven’t ridden a horse in five weeks and the weight has gone through the roof,” Laking said.
While weight has been a continual battle for Laking in his riding career, he said his job at Midlands was a godsend in being able to keep it in-check over the lockdown period and he has a few months to get down to riding weight before racing recommences in July. “I haven’t gotten real heavy because I have had a job, but I haven’t missed a meal at all,” he said. “We have got two months until we start racing, so I have got a little bit of time to get it off.”
With two careers on the go Laking said it can make for some long days, but they can be rewarding. “I travel to Riccarton from Ashburton on a Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for gallop morning,” he said. “On those days I am up at 3:30am and travel to Riccarton. I leave there at about 8:30am and then come and do a full day of work. “They are long days, but I have a mortgage and a family to support, so I can’t complain.”
Laking said Chris and Sarah Green have been an integral part of him being able to continue his riding career. “Without them I wouldn’t be able do it. They let me off so I can ride at some races during the week, they are brilliant. “It’s a good balance between riding and my full-time job. When I am at work I am not worried about the riding and when I am at the races I am not worried about the full-time job.”
With 15 wins in the bag this term Laking was on track to comfortably beat last season’s tally of 19, but he said his main goal now is to get on top of his weight heading into the new season. “I had a few problems with weight and had a few suspensions this season,” Laking said. “But it was really starting to get going (before the lockdown). “Next season I am going to try and get on top of my diet and give it a real chance.”