Jo McCain running the weighing room activity at Chester in May 2017

A view from the inside – Racing to School’s Jo McCain

Part-time Racing to School Education Officer, Jo McCain, was always likely to pursue a career in the racing industry. She is part of the McCain family, which is synonymous with racing in the North West and the Nation’s most famous race, the Grand National. Her father, Ginger, trained Red Rum to win the race three times in the 70s and her brother, who took over the yard when her father retired in 2006, won the 2011 race with Ballabriggs. Here she talks about her career and why it was her passion for teaching, as well as her love for racing, that led her to join the charity Racing to School.

Early aspirations to be a vet led to a degree in Biology and Geography down in Brighton. When plans changed, she went to work for jumps trainer Nicky Henderson: riding out in the mornings and working in the office on the afternoon. However, it was later, when she had children, that she found her true calling. “I had always loved children and when mine were at nursery I thought it was fantastic and volunteered to help out,” she recalls. “It was the teacher there who suggested I should look into a teaching degree.”

That is exactly what she did, and while studying she began to think that there could be a crossover between teaching and racing. “I thought that racing offered a lot of opportunities and it would be great for the schools to endorse the sport.” Fortunately, she came across an article in the Racing Post profiling the Racing to School programme, which had been launched a few years earlier, and realised it was an exact fit. She got in touch and after completing her degree, for which she received first class honours, she started delivering Racing to School events. That was in 2004 and she has been doing it ever since.

A Racing to School can start very early, as the team need to arrive at the racecourse before the pupils turn up at around 9.30am. First job is to prepare the workbooks and silks, so that there is one for each of the pupils when they arrive. Then, along with another of our education officers, they begin the learning day.

“I usually handle the weighing room and the paddock sections of the day. In the weighing room they learn about the history of the metric and imperial systems of measurement, as well as getting to weigh themselves and add or subtract that from their guessed weight, which is a good use of mental arithmetic.

“Then outside in the paddock they have to work out how many horses can fit into the parade ring safely. Doing this they learn about length, circumference and area, in a real-world setting. That exercise gives them practical experience of health and safety, organisation and decision making.”

When asked to think about her best memories of the programme, Jo thinks back to an event at Aintree. “It was a warm spring day and when we took the kids out onto the course they began to run around and roll all over the track. At first, I wasn’t sure what they were doing, then I realised that it was probably the first time these kids, who were from a school in central Liverpool, had seen such an expanse of lush grass. Seeing how much the young people, from different backgrounds and abilities, enjoy the days and learn without realising it – that is why I love it.”