The first ever designated autism-friendly raceday has been hailed a success as Autism in Racing gear up for the continuation of their pilot scheme.
The project was started by racing broadcaster and raceday presenter Bobby Beevers, who was diagnosed with autism earlier this year after his daughter Sophia began displaying behaviours associated with the condition.
The dual diagnosis inspired Beevers to collaborate with the British Horseracing Authority and launch Autism in Racing, a group assembled to heighten awareness of the condition and ensure that racing is as supportive and inclusive as possible to those who are autistic.
The project is financially supported by the Racing Foundation and launched with its first fixture at Doncaster on August 5, a meeting that formed part of the inaugural William Hill Racing League.
Those attending could access designated spaces both indoors and outdoors at the meeting, with a sensory room also present due to the calming effect they have been shown to have on those who may find certain situations overwhelming or anxiety-inducing.
“It went really, really well, it was fantastic,” said Beevers.
“It was the first time a racecourse has ever had an autism-friendly day, my family were there and other families as well and the response was absolutely brilliant.
“We had a debrief the following day and we were so happy with the feedback we received, the families were just having a really good night and enjoying the racing.
“We set out what we intended to do, to give families the option to come racing in a safe and supportive environment, which is what happened.
“What we did at Doncaster was we had the family enclosure to ourselves, where we had a mobile sensory room, which was very interactive.
“There were loads of different activities and we had the Silver Patriarch bar as well, where families and parents could get tea and coffee.”
Beevers now has five further autism-friendly meetings to look forward to, where similar provisions will be made to make the experience as welcoming as possible.
“Phase one, which is this year, we’ve got six dates – two days at Doncaster, two days at Musselburgh and two days at Haydock as well,” he said.
“Going forward into phase two, we’re planning that now and there are a lot of things in the pipeline.”
Beevers was also the force behind a Lambourn stable visit arranged for the members of the Arborfield Autism Sunday Club.
“I have a really good relationship with Carly Jones, who is an autism advocate and she runs the Arborfield Autism Sunday Club,” he explained.
“I told her about the project and she said to me in that conversation that the girls that attend the club, they really like animals.
“I said that I would arrange some stable visits for them, which is what we did with Jamie Snowden, and they went to Dominic Ffrench Davis’ as well, they thought it was absolutely brilliant being able to walk around the stable yards.
“With the success of this so far, we need to do more, we are just building up relationships with different groups and organisations.
“It will be brilliant take it further in the future.”