York college plans new yard to help remedy racing skills gap

A six-figure sum is being invested to create a new purpose-built racing yard at a North Yorkshire agricultural college to help address a major staff shortage that is plaguing the horse racing industry.

Liz Philip, left, Askham Bryan College's executive principal, is pictured with Deirdre Johnston of Mark Johnston Racing, Middleham, and a member of the technical advisory committee, as they launch the College's new Racing Stream academy. Pictured riding Leyla's Hero is Danielle Mooney. Pic: Mike Cowling.

The £700,000 ‘Racing Stream’ initiative will see the development of all-weather gallops, an outdoor school, 16-box stable block and ancillary facilities at Askham Bryan College’s York campus with support from industry governing body, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), and grant-making body, the Racing Foundation.

Lauded as a significant development for UK racing by the College’s executive principal Liz Philip, she said: “The opportunities for young people are enormous - the Askham Bryan College Racing Stream will provide the skills and training needed to get that first foot on the racing ladder.”

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And she believes the College is “perfectly placed” to help respond to the skills shortage in the industry reported by the BHA.

“Not only is Yorkshire renowned for first-class racing, but our York campus is ideally situated between Malton and Middleham, the two main centres of racehorse training in the North,” Mrs Philip said.

“In addition, we already have strong links with industry, our equine courses are thriving, and we are the only UK college to have a point-to-point course on campus.”

The new facilities at the College will form one of only three such dedicated centres in England. Others are the Northern Racing College in Doncaster and the British Racing School in Newmarket, Suffolk.

There is a huge challenge within the racing industry to recruit and retain staff, largely because of a historic combination of low pay, unsociable working patterns and limited career progression, the head of the National Association of Stable Staff said.

But George McGrath, the Association’s chief executive, believes there is now momentum within the industry to address the problems.

Mr McGrath said: “My own personal estimate is that the industry is about 800 staff short. It’s a big gap to fill and it is putting a lot of pressure on existing staff.

“There are only three days in the entire year when there is no racing and this is one of the reasons why we struggle on recruitment - because of the working patterns involved.”

The nature of the sport demands that staff rise early in the morning and that they are generally given 1.5 days off every two weeks, he said.

But Mr McGrath highlighted how workers had seen average wages increase by almost eight per cent over the last three years and that industry bodies are exploring how to improve working conditions - such as giving greater access to childcare provision and encouraging yard owners to grant staff an evening off.

According to the BHA, there is confidence within the industry that the Askham Bryan development can go some way towards resolving racing’s skills gap.

Carole Goldsmith, the industry body’s director of people and development, said: “This will give the industry a valuable additional training facility which each year will create hands-on racing expertise for 80 well-trained stud and stable staff as well as for a variety of other qualified personnel, such as, grounds staff, racing secretaries and veterinary nurses.

“We see this training provision as complementing the work of the existing racing schools and are keen to encourage collaborative activities between these important training providers.”

Construction of the all-weather gallops - the first phase of the development - is due to begin at Askham Bryan during the summer and is expected to be completed by September.

STUDENTS’ NEW EQUINE OPTIONS

Investment in the Racing Stream initiative includes a pledge from the Racing Foundation towards the costs of the all-weather gallops and racing yard.

Askham Bryan College’s equine students stand to benefit from a range of racing-related courses designed to help train future stable staff, work riders and racing secretaries, and guide students towards future careers in sports turf management, pony racing and point-to-point jockey training.

A new PhD course will also be introduced.

A technical advisory committee has been set up at the College to steer the scheme’s development.