Heavy responsibility of racing's weight watcher
EVERY day Simon Commerford gets the chance to get out of bed he counts as a blessing.
After a dance with death 15 years ago, the Northern Rivers Racing Association clerk of scales refused to ever be held back from his passion.
"I got really crook with encephalitis and they thought maybe I wouldn't get out of it, but I did,” he said. "I had an infection from a shunt, that got into my brain stem.
"I used to wonder what was going to happen, I feared the future ... but from that time I decided not to. I feel lucky to get through that, every day I am alive is a bonus.”
It is the reason Commerford has chosen to use his time to focus on his two main loves: racing and golf.
When it comes to racing, according to the man himself, there is no better time than July.
While it can become a stressful time for the clerk of scales at the Clarence River Jockey Club, he also knows it is a happy time as the atmosphere in the Clarence Valley heightens with every winner.
When it comes to July Carnival, there is not many who have a more serious job than Commerford and he relishes in the opportunity to do it right.
He weighs every jockey after each race, making sure they come in at correct weight, allowing the winning punters to collect their cheques.
It is a role that might go unnoticed to the non-seasoned racegoer, but that's just how he likes it.
"To be honest me and crowds do not mix,” he said. "That's why I am happy to be tied down in the scales room for most of the carnival.
"You only have to look out the door over the betting ring to see what the carnival does for the town. You can feel that atmosphere from the jockey's room.
"My favourite thing about carnival has to be the different riders you get to work with. Jockeys from all over Australia travel for the carnival.
"They're not so much better riders because we have such great riders here, but it gives you such a variety to the job.”
But he has not always sat on the official's side of the racing industry.
Commerford was raised in the stables, working odd jobs for his father Terry, who took up his trainer's license when Commerford was only a child.
It is his knowledge of the inner workings of the trainer's side of the barrier that he believes makes him better clerk of scales.
"A lot of the job is communicating and working with jockeys and trainers,” he said. "I know what these guys are going through, and I have that respect for them.”
While he knows the inner workings of being a trainer, it is one reason he will never open his own stables.
"A long time ago I probably considered it, but I know how hard that job is,” he said. "It is not easy going, and it becomes your life.”
Another reason Commerford will likely never go into training is his daily struggles with spina bifida.
A rare birth defect, it has affected Commerford's movement from a young age and was the reason he spent seven weeks in a hospital bed 15 years ago.
But it is also something the 44-year-old has learnt to live with over the years.
"It probably has kept me back from a few things over the years, but I don't really think about the things I am missing out on,” he said.
"It is just about knowing my limitations. If I can't do something than I just know I can't. That's a part of life.”
One thing it has not held him back from is his job behind the scales, something he just happened upon at a small race track in Casino more than a decade ago.
At the track for just a day out, when respected NRRA steward Bill Fanning needed someone to take over the scales Commerford's hand was the first in the air.
"I had no idea how to do the job, I had no experience, but Bill was very good to me,” he said. "I had no idea that day I would still be in the role more than decade later.
"Over the years I worked closely with Bill and Craig Pringle, and I probably did lean on them a lot at the beginning. It was pretty hard to get going and get used to that pace early on.”
But now it is a pace which he appreciates.
"Some days, especially you during the carnival, you can just come out the other side without realising it happened, it's like a whirlwind,” he said.
"My first carnival was really daunting, but now I try to look at each day just like it was any other. I try to take the pressure off those big races. The Grafton Cup is just like a maiden on any other day. I have a job to do, and I want to do it right.”
Commerford has seen plenty of faces come through the doors of the Clarence River Jockey Club's jockey rooms but there is not one he rates above the rest.
He cherishes watching young jockeys like Matt McGuren and Ben Looker who rose through the ranks at Grafton, to go on and become two of the most in-form hoops in New South Wales in the past three years.
"I love seeing those guys working hard to make something of themselves,” he said. "So often you hear of jockey's spitting the dummy and burning out. I hate to see that unrealised potential.”
But regardless of which jockeys come and go through those doors, one thing is for certain, it will be Commerford to greet them at the scales.