By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The brand-new Racing League team competition has created quite a buzz in the racing world and Thursday 5th August saw the second meeting take place at Doncaster Racecourse. I was lucky enough to be there as part of Careers In Racing’s first ‘Explore Racing Day’ since before the pandemic.
Careers In Racing is there to help anyone who is looking for a career in horse racing. The point of their ‘Explore Racing Days’ is to show the massive number of different jobs and avenues you can take if you want to be part of this industry. There is so much information on their website about job vacancies, training providers, courses and opportunities within racing.
We started our day at the National Horseracing College and we were told about a graduate, who was 54 years old when he left the college and is now the right-hand-man for a top northern National Hunt trainer. One of the gentlemen on the ‘Explore Racing Day’ was fifty and searching for a career in racing after being a fan of the sport for many years. The courses at the NHC are available to anyone, no matter your age or financial background.
After we arrived at the NHC, Careers In Racing’s Adam and Michelle gave a talk about the horse racing industry in general. I learnt that racing employs over 85,000 people, making it the largest sporting employer, and that there are around 4500 racehorse breeders in Britain.
Next, we went on a tour around the NHC campus, which is incredible. We met their gorgeous ex-racehorses, who are the equine teachers for the students. One particular horse we were all keen to meet was Damien. This horse is a chestnut (notoriously a troublemaker’s colour) born on 06/06/2006 – all the sixes in his birthday with a temperament to match! He was born at the NHC and he refused to go into a horsebox so many times that he never became a racehorse and, instead, he remained at the NHC. He is a very challenging horse but it is so important that the students are exposed to different types of horses before they go to work at a racing yard where they are finely-tuned athletes.
The NHC offers a range of courses. They have the Foundation course for aspiring stable staff, which lasts eighteen weeks (twelve training at the NHC and six weeks of work experience). There are riding and non-riding options and you don’t need to have any experience around horses or have passed any exams to attend.
An average day for a student goes like this-
- 6:30am – An earlier start for the students who are further through their courses and they feed the horses.
- 7am – The other students start and they muck out the horses.
- 8am – 1st Lot (First group of horses are ridden), usually in the indoor arena.
- 9:30am – Breakfast
- 10am – 2nd Lot go out either on the gallops or into the indoor arena and, once the horses have been ridden, they are given their lunch feeds.
- 1pm – Students have their lunch. I have been told that the canteen does the most amazing food!
- 2pm – If students haven’t passed their Maths and English GCSEs, in the afternoon, they study for their qualifications or have lectures. Then, they do evening stables, which involves feeding and grooming the horses.
- 5:30pm – They have their evening meal, one of three cooked meals in the day.
- 6:30pm onwards – The students are taught important life skills like how to cook and handle money. Racing Welfare and stable staff associations often come in and give talks to the trainees. The students get downtime in an evening too, with Netflix and a pool table amongst other things.
In addition, there are courses for aspiring jockeys to obtain their conditional, apprentice and amateur licences and, for those not quite old enough, there are pony racing courses and programmes for 14 to 16 year olds, who are still at school.
Before a delicious lunch and heading to Doncaster races, we watched a simulator demonstration by training manager Matthew Clark and one of the students, Caitlin. The college uses racehorse simulators so students can develop the technique for riding thoroughbreds in a safe space before they venture onto the gallops. It is an important part of their training.
I had never been to Doncaster before but it is a spectacular track with its towering Leger and Lazarus stands and the hotel beyond the winning post. The preparade ring is nestled away in quite a peaceful area and the horses then walk through to the parade ring, which is close to the track itself. When we arrived, we sheltered from the rain in one of the stands and Michelle spoke to us about the different parts of the racecourse and the jobs available there.
Normally, in non-pandemic times, Explore Racing groups would get to go and have a look in the stables; visit the Weighing Room and chat to many different professionals on the racecourse. Racing’s ‘greatest showman’ Frankie Dettori spoke to our group for a short while and the clerk of the scales also explained his role, which was fascinating.
The care of racehorses after their careers is something that has been in the news lately after the insightful Panorama documentary. A group of ex-racehorses paraded for the crowd with Bobby Beevers on the microphone, talking about each horse and the wonderful work of the Retraining Of Racehorses charity.
Our base for the evening was a private box in the Leger stand, which offered a great (and warm) view of the track to watch the racing out of the rain. I faced the elements and spent most of my time on the parade ring rail watching the horses as they’re the real stars of the show.
The racing started out exactly how I wanted it with my selection in the five-furlong sprint, Tenaya Canyon, winning in good style. She was a real eye-catcher in the parade ring being a gorgeous dark bay with a big white face and muzzle. She had to weave her way through the field under Saffie Osbourne, before prevailing by three quarters of a length. Tenaya Canyon looks to have a massive future. She’s very fast and wouldn’t be out of place seeking some black type.
The runners broke into two groups as the second race began but they eventually settled down into one pack and I Am A Dreamer took them along in his big white cheekpieces. Tanfantic and Night Of Romance were both prominent with the latter, a filly representing the Irish team, taking the win. She didn’t quicken instantaneously but she kept on battling with Marks Bear, Akkeringa and Tanfantic. She has now won her last three races with this being her first for Joseph O’Brien and, before that, two with Karl Burke. Listed races at six furlongs seems to be beckoning this progressive filly.
Josephine Gordon gave Foxtrot Sizzler an excellently well-judged ride to land the third race. She led on David Menusier’s runner, keeping half a length ahead of all rivals. At one point, Foxtrot Sizzler was possibly even headed by the Irish team’s Dilawara but he powered through the line to win by a whole length, the biggest margin winner of the day. Dilawara weakened out of it dramatically – she doesn’t seem to have taken to British and Irish racing just yet.
The fourth race was messy, in particular for Nicola Currie and Air To Air. After the two-furlong pole, he found himself squished between Sugauli and Tahitian Prince. Kieran O’Neill received a two-day ban for the left-handed manoeuvre on Sugauli. Then, the eventual winner Bake moved significantly to the left, taking Air To Air out of contention. Martin Dwyer was handed a four-day ban and he was very lucky it doesn’t overlap with Pyledriver’s run in the Juddmonte International. Unfortunately, for a hold-up horse like Air To Air, they often encounter a lot of traffic. Bake won the race in tough style and he managed to back up his Yarmouth win.
In the early stages of race five, Duckett’s Grove lead the field away from the one mile two start with a few lengths in hand but soon settled beside Fierospeed. Corbulo tracked them in their slip-stream. When asked to challenge, he hung left but that was only his ninth lifetime start and fourth win since April. He has climbed up from an opening mark of 58 to 76 this day. A good training performance from Brian Meehan!
The winner of race six, Moon Daisy, didn’t start particularly well. She was nudged away from the starting stalls and was in the second half of the field for most of the way. They went very steady over the one mile four furlong trip and Kieran O’Neill angled the filly out as they entered the long home straight. She travelled well into the contest and just drifted in order to get some company. This led to a proper ding-dong battle between her and Vindolanda, who looked like the winner from where we were watching. However, it was a win for trainer Donnacha O’Brien, whose brother Joseph won earlier in the card.
We stood right by the winning post, close to where the horses enter the parade ring after the race. It wasn’t busy there at all. People mainly stayed in the stands and the paddock area wasn’t congested either. This perplexes me – why wouldn’t racegoers want to watch horses in the parade ring? The intermittent rain could’ve contributed to this but it was the same at Beverley two weeks ago in glorious sunshine.
There would’ve been much more of an atmosphere if the sun had been shining and people had been leaving the cover of the stands. To be brutally honest, maybe because of my focus on the races, it was not much different to a normal raceday just with different silks and racegoers wearing colourful hats.
Horse racing is a magnificent day out but it is important that racing tries to attract people who will follow the sport and love these incredible animals. Horse racing wants fans, not just racegoers. There are some incredible sportsmen and women in racing, highlighted by this event. Young people can be inspired by them. The look of joy when Martin Dwyer spoke to some children about their facepaint after winning the penultimate race was lovely. This is what we need to focus on and market – that feeling of watching elite sport and incredible athletes both human and equine. Horse racing is completely unique in that there is no void between fans and the participants: you can meet the jockeys, trainers and TV Presenters and you can visit the horses at yard open days. These Careers In Racing days highlight the love of the racehorse, which is more important than any DJ sets after racing.
I loved the racing itself – it was superbly competitive. This kind of racing is what every racing fan wants to see. Horses were split by necks and heads; the largest winning margin was a length. It was great to have the Irish team because it meant there were horses from Joseph and Donnacha O’Brien. Their jockey Dylan Browne McGonagle has been making a massive impression in Ireland and he managed to win on Night Of Romance. He wouldn’t have been seen at an English mid-week evening meeting otherwise.
Prize money has been a controversial topic in relation to the Racing League. If you have read some of my interviews recently, prize money is something I always ask about and there seems to be a definite problem. The prize pots for the Racing League meetings are excellent. They get £25,770 for winning each race. The races are all class threes and the other class three races on Thursday were at Redcar where the first-place prize money was £6480 and, at Sandown, it was £6442. There is a significant difference between these amounts and this imbalance, completely understandably, angers other trainers and owners who feel excluded from the lucrative prize funds.
The Racing League has to be a good thing for horse racing. It will pick up momentum and, who knows, maybe it will reach the heights of the Shergar Cup Meeting in the future. Hopefully, there will be a larger crowd at Lingfield, Windsor and Newcastle over the next few weeks. If you’re heading to any of the Racing League meetings make sure to seek out the bright orange Careers In Racing gazebo. There will be an Equisisor (which is so much fun) and the team have a wealth of knowledge of the jobs available so make sure to have a chat with them about how to get your perfect career in horse racing!
If you liked the sound of what I got up to on Thursday, there is another ‘Explore Racing Day’ in Newmarket on 27th August 2021 for anyone looking for a career in horse racing. It involves visiting the British Racing School and then going racing in Newmarket. Spaces are restricted due to regulations so, if you’re interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Careers In Racing gave me full control of their Instagram page for the day! I hope anyone who saw my posts on there enjoyed it and they are as part of a ‘highlight on their page. There will be a few videos from me over the next few days as exam results are announced.
I can’t thank Sean, Michelle and Adam from Careers In Racing enough for letting me be a part of the day. I loved every minute. The team at the National Horseracing College are wonderful and it looks like it would be an amazing experience to do a course there. Doncaster put on a great show and I thoroughly enjoyed the racing – I really recommend visiting the course if you get the opportunity.
P.s The Whitby Fish and Chips shop over the road does excellent chips!
Careers In Racing – Careers in Racing
Careers In Racing Instagram – CareersInRacing | Racing Jobs (@careersinracing) • Instagram photos and videos (make sure to check out the ‘highlight’ called ‘Racing League’ for my takeover)
National Horseracing College – National Horseracing College | Horse Racing Courses | Equine Careers | The NHC
National Racehorse Week – https://nationalracehorseweek.uk/
Racing League – https://www.racingleague.uk
Should Young People Get Into Horse Racing? – Should Young People Get Into Horse Racing? – REIN IT IN (wordpress.com)