Love of horses, trainer’s support for Ukraine and a surprise video from the Prime Minister: ‘everyday heroes’ honoured

  • Trainer Gay Kelleway credited the “amazing” volunteers and the racing world who have supported aid and rescue missions from the Ukraine-Poland border.

    Gay received the community award at the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, sponsored by Godolphin, at York racecourse on 20 February, in recognition of the help she has given to people and animals affected by the war in Ukraine.

    “Forget about me being a trainer, this is what I wanted to do because I love horses – I just love horses – and I want to do something worthwhile,” said Gay, on receiving the award, which was presented in recognition of the late former chief executive of the British Racing School, Rory MacDonald.

    She added that the amazing support from “all sorts of people” within the racing community is “heartwarming”.

    “It all started with Charlie Mann, when he got the racing community together to deliver goods, and I rang him and I said that I’d like to help,” she said.

    Gay co-ordinated the JustGiving account and convoys of horseboxes delivering critical medical aid and supplies to an equine hub on the border.

    She honoured the many others involved, including Charlie Thornycroft and Neil Carson. They saved hundreds of horses, reuniting them with owners, as well as dogs, cats – and families.

    “It was so tough, so hard, what we saw,” she said. “People were wonderful. The racing community was amazing. Racing people… we are so competitive, we all compete against each other. But when it came to this, everyone got together and donated. That’s the wonderful thing about racing.

    “Racing got together and delivered – whether it be rugs, feed, dentistry, from farriers to vets, owners, all types of people. It was amazing how many people supported.”

    Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards: honours for ‘everyday heroes’

    The award winners at the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards.

    The winners at the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards. Credit: Dan Abraham.

    Awards were presented across six categories. The first prize of the evening was the David Nicholson newcomer award, which went to 19-year-old Ryan Kavanagh.

    The teenager had his sights set on becoming an electrician and had no prior experience before joining Amy Murphy, but became hooked on horses after stepping in when the yard was short-staffed in 2021. He recently lost his eldest brother and is said to have become “the rock for his family”.

    “I had no interest in it at all until I walked into the yard and fell in love with the horses,” said Ryan, who is pursuing his new dream of gaining his apprentice licence.

    “I wouldn’t be here without the team back at home, so I can’t thank them enough.”

    Amy Vickers, who joined Harry and Roger Charlton’s Beckhampton base 30 years ago, took home the rider/groom award.

    “Horses are my obsession, really,” she said. “I have to say thank you to my daughter and my husband for being so patient with me while I’m working all the time!”

    Bethan Byrne, of Godolphin’s Dalham Hall Stud, collected the stud staff prize and Claire Ricks, from Marco Botti’s team, was presented with the dedication award. The overall employee of the year honour went to Sarah Guest, winner of the leadership award.

    Prime Minister Rishi Sunak surprised nominees with a good luck video message ahead of the awards.

    “I am delighted that the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards are taking place in Yorkshire for the first time,” said Mr Sunak.

    “From my visits to Middleham, and Catterick racecourse, both in my constituency, I have seen the sheer hard work, grit and dedication of all in British racing for the horses in their care.

    “Tonight’s finalists exemplify all that is best about British racing and breeding – an industry which does so much for communities across our country, generates over £4 billion for our economy, and showcases Britain on the global stage.

    “I want to see British racing and breeding stay at the front of this global race in the years ahead.”

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