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Thermal warming turned up high as chill winds leave their mark in Newmarket; David Milnes gauges life at the coalface as the temperatures plunge but the routine goes on.

Byline: David Milnes

[bar] HE rugs are four deep to ward off the sharpest of East Anglian winters at Park Lodge Stables in Newmarket. And they're not only on the horses.

Anything from the TK Maxx thermal range is the must-have winter accessory among the staff at James Eustace's town centre base, where the temperature has dipped to a perishing -14C on recent nights.

It's hard to imagine, looking at the remnants of five inches of snow at the 35-box establishment, some of which has been compacted into a worse hazard on neighbouring roads, that the start of the Flat season is just around the corner.

Unlike many of the bigger Newmarket yards, Park Lodge does not have the luxury of a covered ride to retreat into at such times, so staff such as Justin Wigg have no choice other than to do battle with the elements on Newmarket heath.

Wigg is one of over 1,000 unsung exercise riders risking life and limb on the training grounds on a daily basis at this time of year.

Jockey Club Estates, guardians of the heath, have been working around the clock to ensure it's been business as usual on the Suffolk tundra in recent weeks, when their duties have included levelling some rather persistent snowmen.

Wigg, 35, who has been with Eustace for three years, is usually in the yard a little after 6am.

He says: "Riding out in winter and summer is as different as chalk and cheese. I rode out four lots this morning with thermal everything on: gloves, leggings, vest, you name it.

But it was still cold and it's even worse when the wind blows.

"When I go home I will probably have only just thawed out when it's time to come back again for evening stables."

Colleague Stevie Saunders, who has had three rides over jumps as a conditional, says: "I rode out with four layers on, plus a scarf and gloves this morning. As well as the cold, what's most depressing at this time of year is that it's dark when you come to work and just as dark again when you go home."

Wigg adds: "When you first get to work, other than putting on the heater in the tack room, the first thing to do is find a tap that isn't frozen. Then you hope to have something to put in the water buckets when you have knocked the ice out from the night before."

Earlier last week, the weather was so bad that the string could not get out at all and Wigg kept warm on other duties.

He explains: "From where we are we have to walk through four different streets to get to the heath, but not all of them see a gritter.

"The road outside the yard was like a skating rink so we were forced to give it a miss and lunge them in the yard.

"In the end the boss went out and did the gritting himself, although one guy thought he was from the council and asked him to grit his road too!" Before joining Eustace, Wigg spent 13 years with Geoff Wragg, where he found the winters a bit easier.

He recalls: "At Geoff's we had this massive indoor ride that was so big you could even canter in it. When the bad weather came we just stayed in that all winter."

Before that, Wigg found winters were never anything less than harsh when he started out with Sir Mark Prescott.

"I had three winters at Heath House," he says. "The main thing I remember was standing in the cold while the horses were given a pick of grass through the snow."

However great the human sacrifices at Park Lodge this winter, they don't come much harder than those endured by Samba Night, who is the only horse to brave the cold nights without a top door on his stable.

"We can't shut Samba Night in as his box is at the end of the line," explains Wigg. "To make up for it we make sure he gets an extra blanket, day or night."


One hardy equine resident of James Eustace's Park Lodge Stables looks out on to the wintry scene
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 13, 2012
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