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on the clock_ Words/ Siobhán Moylan Photography/ Craig Golding

6.04 am: A third horse is hosed down; every day offers something different. “If your horse is racing, it’s really busy. You have to make them look pretty; you can’t send your horse to the races looking like a paddock horse – they have to look like champions.” 6.16am: As he leads a horse away from the taps, a chocolate bar emerges from Benn’s pocket. “This and maybe an energy drink will keep me sane until I have a real breakfast at home later.” Benn wants to get the horses fed, watered and warmed up before tending to himself. “That’ll do me fine; the horses come first.”

on the clock

8.37am: Beach time. Once a week, the horses are loaded onto a large float and taken to the beach at Botany Bay. As jet airliners land and take off in the background, the horses walk breast deep through the water. It’s a welcome trip out for the horses, as well as for Benn. “They love it – it’s like going to a theme park or a candy store for them.”

A day in the life of Timothy Benn

10.05am: The strappers have a couple of hours to themselves before returning for the afternoon shift. “I have breakfast when I get home; sometimes I have a sleep, but usually I go for a run. I start at Clovelly and run to Coogee Beach.” No run today, though; instead his energies are poured into cleaning his room at home.

Strapper at Royal Randwick Racecourse

2pm: Back at the stables, the morning duties are repeated. “Being a strapper is hard work, but it’s like anything – what you put in is what you get out. If you work hard the boss looks after you,” says Benn. Not that he works for the financial gain: “We don’t get paid much [most strappers earn between $560 and $740 per week]; you’d be a fool to do it for the money.”

2.30am:

Most Sydneysiders are deep in sleep when 21-year-old strapper Timothy Benn’s alarm sounds. “Usually, I hit the snooze button a few times; it’s lucky I live with my foreman, Amanda. She gets me up and we drive in together.” It’s a quick eight-minute trip from his home to Randwick Racecourse, where he has worked for three years, six days a week, as a strapper – his first job. “My grandfather was a jockey, my greatgrandfather was a trainer – the job is in my blood.” 3.34am: The moon hangs high and the stars shine down on the strappers filing through the gate at John O’Shea Racing Stables. Benn turns on his boot heel towards the stables; there’s work to be done. As a strapper, he’s responsible for washing, feeding, grooming and caring for his horses. First order of the day is to take the horses’ temperatures, check feed bins and muck out the boxes (stables). “The box is like the horse’s house, so the bedding has to be kept clean. I feel I’ve done my job if the box is done properly,” says Benn, forking through the straw. 4.03am: The halters are on now; Benn leads a lean thoroughbred mare gently onto the walker, a large round conveyor belt for horses. “Horses are like any other athlete; they need to be warmed up, so they get half an hour on the walker each morning,” he says. “This one will be galloping this morning, so her joints need to be ready.”

4.33am: There are 63 horses at O’Shea’s stables, four of them in Benn’s care: Rosewall, Showpony Express, Rich and Famous, and Ashokan. “They all have nicknames,” says Benn, as does he. “They call me Timmy Tears. I had one horse, Racing to Win; I had him for two years. When he won the Theo Marks Stakes, I ended up crying for ages,” he says. “I was just so happy that a horse of his calibre won, and that I was his strapper.”

“My grandfather was a jockey, my greatgrandfather was a trainer – the job is in my blood.”

5.21pm: It’s knock-off time and Benn is ready for it. “Sometimes I feel like a zombie, but you get used to it.” Tonight, he’s finishing on time but he often stays back later. “I like to make sure I get things right. I don’t have a girlfriend, so I can get home whenever I want. It’s hard to have a relationship because of the hours I work.” 8.30pm: Usually he’d be asleep by nine, but tonight Benn and the other strappers head up to the pub for dinner and a game of pool. “We’re pretty social. You can’t do this job if you don’t love the game, the races and the horses. I’m lucky – I love it all.”

5am: It’s time to saddle the horses that get a run today. Benn would have loved to have been a jockey but at 73 kilograms and 175 centimetres, there was little chance. “I was upset about it for about a day, then I got over it.” Luckily, there’s no weigh-in to be a top trainer, his dream. “Put it this way – if I win half as many Melbourne Cups as Bart Cummings, I’ll be over-achieving my life’s goal.” Benn leads a different mare to the shower block and picks up the hose. “Shower time,” he says. 5.37am: Water sprays over the horse and Benn gets his share. Unaffected by the chill in the air, he darts about, quipping with his fellow strappers. Although his job is about the relationship with the horses, Benn gets plenty of company. “We never stop talking and joking around here; some of these guys are like family to me.” The sun shows signs of rising. “While others are in bed, we’re lucky enough in this job to see the sunrise every day. I’ve seen some beauties.” Who would you like to see in On the Clock? Email us at thesydneymagazine@smh.com.au

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On the clock