By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The Scottish Racing Academy (SRA) is a brand-new education and training route for new and existing stable staff in Scotland. It is a collaboration between Scottish Racing, Scottish and British horseracing partners and educational institutions.
Eleanor Boden, the manager of the SRA has been involved since the beginning of planning for the new academy, “The idea of the Scottish Racing Academy was born as a result of a dinner for Sir Ian Good’s retirement, as the Chair of the Racing Foundation. After dinner, the focus changed to how the aims of the Racing Foundation could be implemented to meet the unique needs of Scotland and the North. Fast forward a few weeks to the Scottish National and a meeting with Delly Innes, Manager of Scottish Racing, the early ideas of the Scottish Racing Academy was formulated. Now, two years later, here we are as a registered charity, a full board of phenomenal trustees and two collaborative training partners.”
The Scottish Racing organisation was established in 2000 to promote and support the horseracing industry throughout Scotland and its five racecourses: Ayr, Kelso, Musselburgh, Hamilton Park and Perth. The organisation promotes all sectors of the industry and, over the past two years, the organisation has evolved from a marketing vehicle to a wider platform for representing all parts of the racing industry, north of the border. Scottish Racing were successful in their application for funding from the Racing Foundation to develop and deliver a sustainable model of education and training in Scotland. This is the Scottish Racing Academy, a charitable organisation that is separate from Scottish Racing Ltd, which aims to be of benefit to all those who operate within the racing industry in Scotland.
Horse racing is the second most popular spectator sport in Scotland and the five racecourses in Scotland enjoyed nearly 280,000 visitors in 2018 with an average of 2,600 people attending each race meeting. Also, 4% of British horses in training are Scottish and the country is ‘horse rich’ with an estimated 100,000 equines living there.
2017 was a phenomenal year for Scottish horseracing. Kinross-based Lucinda Russell trained One For Arthur to win in the Grand National and Iain Jardine trained Nakeeta to win the Ebor from his Dumfries base. This success has meant that Scottish Racing is flourishing as Eleanor explained, “I would say that Racing in Scotland is definitely growing in strength. To evidence this, racing in Scotland brought in around £9.1m in prize money throughout the 2018 fixtures. Golf’s Open Championship in 2018 paid out around £8.0m in prize money to the whole tournament in 2018, £1.1m less than the prize money for Scottish racing. Football is the most attended sport in Scotland, however, the prize money paid out in Scottish racing was almost three times the amount paid to the Scottish Premiership champions (£3.2m), and Scottish racing’s prize money was nearly double that of golf’s Scottish Open (£5.3m).”
The trustees that Eleanor mentioned are Grand National winning trainer Lucinda Russell OBE; Chair of Racing Together, Morag Gray MBE; Director of Racecourse Media Group, Jonathan Garratt; Simply Racing founder Dena Merson and Scottish council seat holder in the Racehorse Owners Association, Ken McGarrity. All have played a crucial part in getting the Scottish Racing Academy to where it is today.
The long-term aim of the Scottish Racing Academy is to create sustainable, world-class training, which will improve recruitment, skills and retention of racing staff in Scotland. Like racing in the UK, Scottish racing faces the challenge of recruiting and retaining appropriately skilled staff. Scotland lacks a ‘racing centre’ (like Newmarket or Lambourn in England) and there is a huge geographical spread of yards across the country. The training sent out by the SRA will also be beneficial to staff across the UK as they will have the opportunity to access training and education in Scotland. In terms of the wider industry, the SRA will be playing its part in attracting, developing and retaining racing staff.
To tailor to this, the SRA has been designed to be delivered in multiple sites in collaboration with established training centres Borders College and the Scottish Rural University and Colleges (SRUC). Borders College operates from three main sites (Galashiels, Hawick and St. Boswells) and is the regional college for the Scottish Borders. The SRUC is partnered with the SRA to deliver the Level 5 National Progression Award in Racehorse Care from its Oatridge campus, which stands on a 283-hectare estate in West Lothian. This site is also home to the Scottish National Equestrian Centre, a state-of-the-art venue for equestrian sports and activities. Training can also be offered in the workplace or even in schools.
The Scottish Racing Academy couldn’t have started at a more testing time but the team are still aiming to begin courses in August, “We have been working as best we can to keep the Scottish Racing Academy on track for an August start (maybe more online than envisaged) and applications have already been promising. Building on existing good practice and assets, the SRA has created a series of innovative new qualifications which have been written in consultation with trainers. These qualifications have been designed to provide choice to learners whilst nurturing talent whilst people are still at school, right through to workplace training options.”
There are multiple course options for learners, depending on their needs, as Eleanor explained, “We have a full time, National Certificate in (Race) Horse Care offered in conjunction with SRUC and we have a virtual open day coming up on the 5th June for this course. This course is particularly unique because it is the only full-time residential option that meets the rules of racing, in the UK. In addition, we have opportunities at Borders College for current stable staff to upskill in the work place as well as full time options for individuals who would like to mix their learning between classroom and work placements.” The Borders College choices are all designed to be based at home or in the workplace. The aim of all of the courses on offer is to provide individuals with the skills, knowledge and confidence to gain employment in the horseracing industry or further their careers in the sport.
For the residential course, the SRA has a wide range of horses on offer, “We have sports horses, cobs and of course the reason we all love racing, thoroughbreds. We have a few ex-racers ready for the start of the school course term however, we have not started sourcing them for the full-time course until we know more about the way the courses will run. We do have space on our website to introduce our wonderful horses, so keep an eye out for that being completed over the summer.”
Eleanor is delighted with how the SRA has been going so far, “I have been involved with this project since the initial dinner and conversation at Ayr on the Scottish Grand National day in 2018. However, I could not have even dreamed that we would have been able to make the significant progress we have in such a short period of time. This momentum is very much due to support of Scottish Racing, the input of the Scottish trainers, belief and encouragement from the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the direction from the board of fantastic Trustees.”
Horseracing in Scotland is set to return on the 15th June with Ayr holding the first meeting, meaning that life will return to some sort of normality soon! I hope that the team at the Scottish Racing Academy will be able to get the wheels into motion with this exciting, new initiative to help existing racing staff and the next generation excel in the horseracing industry.
I’d like to thank Eleanor Boden for taking time out to talk to me about the Scottish Racing Academy and I wish the team lots of success as it is a wonderful new organisation!
For more information, please visit the website here- scottishracingacademy.scot
Make sure to follow the Scottish Racing Academy on Social Media:
-Instagram = @scotishracingacademy
-Twitter = @s_r_academy