The inaugural races in the new nationwide pony racing series got off to a flying start at Newton Abbot recently. And jockeys and race-goers were unanimous in their agreement that the initiative is essential for the future of British racing.
Richard Johnson, who presented the prizes with champion jockey AP McCoy, says: “It’s brilliant to give kids a chance to see what it’s like to ride in races. Hopefully, we’ll get more British jockeys involved in racing.”
Pat Masterson, managing director of Newton Abbott Races, says: “We want to encourage young riders: the number of jockeys is falling and it’s imperative that racecourses help. We were very happy to put the two races on as part of a seven-race series that culminates in the final at Wincanton in October.”
Pony Club members aged 11-15, from areas 14, 15 and 16 in the south-west, were eligible to take part in two races, both with weight restrictions. One was a four-furlong gallop for ponies 13.2hh and under; the other was six furlongs for ponies 14.2hh and under, all of which had to be genuine Pony Club ponies, approved by the respective district commissioners.
Entry was free for the eight-runner races and areas 14 and 16 both had to ballot. Jenny Radmore, 15, was on the reserve list but was called up on Thursday to take part on her 14.1hh Arab/Thoroughbred, Shaugh Lady.
“I normally do show jumping and dressage and we qualified for the Trailblazers finals, but I entered because I like going fast,” says Jenny.
Thomas Woolacott, 11, was on the smallest pony in the four-furlong race, Candy Copper, a 12.2hh Irish-bred mare. But it was Isobel Matthews, 13, on her all-rounder, Rupert, who led the way home having started as evens favourite.
Isobel benefited from three schooling sessions at Taunton Polo Club with amateur rider Dominic Alers-Hankey, who taught her how to start and sit.
“If he hadn’t done that, I think she would have fallen off,” says Isobel’s mother, Corinne.
Hadden Frost, son of Grand National winning jockey-turned-trainer Jimmy, was the stylish winner of the 14.2hh race, performing a flying dismount in front of an appreciative audience. He rode the seven-year-old Brixton Adonis, who was shown successfully in-hand as a yearling before competing in dressage and hunter trials, and was the odds-on favourite.
The riders were presented with their prizes in the winners’ enclosure before watching a video of the race. They were then given advice on how to improve their technique from British Racing School officials who had earlier walked the course with them and explained racing etiquette.
“It was very helpful,” says Hadden. “I’ve dreamt about this for weeks. Next time, I’ll try to keep a better racing contact so that I don’t drift as much down the home straight. It was very educational and to win is a dream.”
The races are the culmination of a 12-month review undertaken to look at the sustainability and viability of national hunt racing. The British Horseracing Board (BHB) jump-racing review identified a need to encourage more British youngsters to consider developing a career as a jump jockey and, in association with the Pony Club, developed the scheme.