Racing has seriously lagged behind other sports in the support and guidance it gives to people just starting out in the game. For the last couple of years the British Horseracing Authority has piloted a Jockey Coaching Programme, which to date has seen more than 100 young riders complete, and has another 90 or so enrolled. From February 2014 that programme will become a permanent part of the training for apprentice and conditional jockeys,
The programme is individually tailored to the needs of each participant, and offers “one to one coaching across all aspects of their career from technical riding support to motivation, confidence, fitness and communication skills” according to Paul Bittar, chief executive of the BHA.
23 current and former jockeys, including Mick Fitzgerald, Steve Smith-Eccles, Graham Lee and Peter Scudamore have all gained a professional coaching qualification. That puts a huge wealth of experience and knowledge into the programme.
The BHA is handing over management of the coaching programme to the British Racing School, who will work closely with the Northern Racing College. This should enable closer integration of individual support with the broader work carried out by those two organisations.
There’s a lot of debate about the betting levy, and how it should be used. There can’t be many more suitable applications of those funds than the £106,000 the levy is providing to administer the Jockey Coaching Programme. Those funds will sit alongside £109,000 that comes from the jockeys themselves, through statutory deductions from their riding fees for industry training.
Tom Garner is one conditional rider who has already completed the programme. He won the conditional jockeys’ Hand and Heels series last season, which culminated at Ayr in April. Garner was riding elsewhere that day, but picked up the trophy from Tony McCoy at Worcester later in the year. His boss, Oliver Sherwood, was in no doubt about the benefit his young rider had gained from the programme. Sherwood said, “I am delighted that I have been able to help Tom win this series. His Jockey Coach, Jimmy McCarthy, has been invaluable to teaching him about race riding. Tom has got a bright future ahead of him, and if he keeps his head down and works hard, I'm sure he will ride plenty of winners.”
Kevin Darley, another of the qualified Jockey Coaches said, “It is great news that the Jockey Coaching Programme is being supported in this way. Being given the opportunity to share out knowledge and experience within a coaching environment can only benefit our licensed riders in helping them to sustain a long and successful career as professional jockeys.”