Bryony Frost with a Racing to School group in the stewards’ room at Wincanton

Racing to School – an insiders guide

The number of Racing to School events we are running continues to grow year-on-year, with 350 events scheduled for 2018. We wanted to give all our supporters an insider’s guide to   a typical Racing to School “Maths in Action” education day.

The young pupils, along with their teachers and carers, normally arrive on course at around 9.30am, just as the racecourse teams are busy preparing for the day. After an initial welcome and safety talk by one of our education officers, they’re off and running with a behind the scenes look at the weighing room. They may not know it straight away, but our participants are allowed to go into every nook and cranny, which the general public just don’t get to see.

The young people are learning the moment they set foot on the course. The question and answer session in the weighing room around units of weight measurement and the difference between the metric and imperial systems is always a good test of mental arithmetic.

Carrie Ford, Regional Education Officer said, “this is a vital part of the day as the weighing room is the nerve centre of any racecourse. In addition to maths, the pupils are also getting a first insight into the world of racing”.

There are usually two groups on each education day and while one is exploring the jockeys’ changing room, another is walking through the parade ring – a view usually reserved for jockeys, owners and trainers. They are soon put to work, learning about how to accurately measure the circumference of the parade ring with a trusty trundle wheel. Learning how the horse fits in is the next step: calculating average length and stride of a horse allow the students to work out how many can fit on the parade ring at any one time, and how much room between them needs to be left.

“This part of the day really highlights the health and safety precautions taken by racecourses, not just to protect their staff but the general public as well” continued Carrie.

There’s fresh air and exercise guaranteed on every Racing to School day and the young people are all given the chance of going onto the racecourse to learn even more facts about the sport. At a national hunt or jumps meeting, pupils get a close-up of a fence or hurdle, and learn about how they are made and the real scale of the challenge to horse and rider.

At Flat racecourses, the groups learn all about furlongs and how they add together to make up race distances – ask any pupil at the end of the day how many furlongs in a mile and we rarely get less than a perfect score. Add in the explanation of a photo finish, and a chance to race their pals down the home straight (a loose handicapping system of fastest at the back is employed by the teachers) and the pre-race activity flies by.

 “These days venturing out onto the hallowed turf is reserved for a privileged few and the children find it particularly exciting. Not only are they learning maths, science and nature, they are also really enjoying themselves” said Carrie.

Following a well-earned lunch, the pupils hit the workbook, which is given to them at the start of the day. Activities are outlined in the book, which provides a recap on what they have learnt so far. The workbooks are taken away and used by many teachers back in school to continue the learning.

For most of our beneficiaries, watching the horses race is the highlight of the day. The groups get to go back down to the parade ring to watch the horses circle and jockeys mount before the first race. To see a racehorse that close is a real first for so many of the young people.

We are always grateful to those racecourses who very kindly allow the young people to get further involved, whether in presenting prizes or even judging which horse is best-turned out by its groom. Some days there are trips to the commentary box and even an interview or two with the tv course reporter – great experiences to cement a real interest in this new sport.

Reflecting on this Carrie said “For many pupils watching the racing was very much the highlight of the day! When they have the wonderful opportunity to make the presentation to winning connections, and have photos taken in the Winners’ Enclosure it really is the icing on the cake!”

This is the point where racegoers are all aware that Racing to School is at the races – the shouting from the stands does that job. Roaring home their picks, and that includes the teachers, the pupils are transfixed by the speed and colour of the action. Now, after a long day’s learning, they realise how all the preparation has come together.

As ever our aim is to provide an educational experience that enhances the national curriculum and gives an introduction to the sport of horseracing. We believe our programme achieves this and are looking forward to running a record 350 events that will reach over 14,000 young people this year. 

Listen out for roars next time you’re racing.