Since its establishment in 1973 RACE has introduced close to 1,000 young men and women into the world of racing through the jockey scheme, with many graduates going on to secure other positions within the industry later in life.
Daryl Jacob, Johnny Murtagh, David Casey and John Egan are just some of those graduates who pursued a successful career on the track, while female graduates include Cathy Gannon and Helen Keohane.
Though now retired from race riding, during an interview for Unblinkered Vision, a book which celebrated 40 years of RACE in 2013, Ms Keohane admitted that towards the end of her relatively short career she struggled to make ends' meet.
"Towards the finish it was hard to get rides, they were only coming here and there in a trickle and it was difficult to continue. It's tough for women, we aren't as strong as men and that does matter."
Indeed the demands of the job were clearly outlined in a recent visit to RACE by top professional Davy Russell. He openly admitted that in the early days he saw himself as 'invincible' but it still took him three years to secure his first ever win. "And that was only by accident as the original jockey failed to show up!" he added.
Without doubt the trainee jockey course at RACE has become one of the most successful over the years, so much so it now regularly attracts overseas applicants each year.
"It is one of the longest courses of its kind, at 42 weeks, and trainees definitely benefit from a longer programme," Mr Rowe outlined. "During that time we not only teach trainees the basics in terms of horsemanship, but also practical and life skills and personal development for when they get out into the world.
"At the end of the day they are still young teenagers and will need to take the good and the bad. We endeavour to prepare them the best we can for a life in racing," continued Mr Rowe.
"Our trainees graduate as potential jockeys, but naturally not everyone makes it.
"There's no doubt that life is tough for an apprentice and I feel there are not enough opportunities for them out there. Even if they go through their claim successfully they can then find themselves without rides."
It is mainly for this reason that so many young jockeys leave these shores to gain work in Britain and further afield, with dozens of others who are unable to make a living on the track returning to life as work riders and stable hands.
"In my opinion there is not enough of a support and development system in place for young jockeys in Ireland and I really would like to see that changed. Thankfully Horse Racing Ireland is now supporting the development of a 'Jockey Pathway' system similar to other professional sports which would be great for both our graduates and other youngsters out there.
"They all need guidance at some time or another and could do with being supported better so that we can retain them within the industry," Mr Rowe concluded.
Hands-on approach to physical and mental fitness
Up to 800 people pass through the doors of the Racing Academy and Centre of Education each year on completion of a wide range of training programmes for trainers, jockeys, and other industry personnel seeking further education.
The core activity of RACE, however, is to nurture and educate trainee jockeys through its annual 10-month course.
Restricted to a maximum of 32 trainees each year, the course covers a large range of subjects in addition to horse management and riding skills, and is particularly focused on preparing young jockeys for the world of racing.
“Fitness is also a large component of the course and for this we have a resident fitness instructor,” commented RACE director Keith Rowe.
The course is divided into three phases, with the first 12 weeks spent on foundation training at RACE. The centre is fully-equipped with thoroughbreds, mostly retired racehorses loaned to RACE, sand gallops, an indoor arena, and classroom and gym facilities.
Here they study practical riding and stable management, in addition to several classroom subjects such as communications, IT and business.
During the second phase trainees are placed with local racehorse trainers on the Curragh and spend mornings riding out before returning to RACE for afternoon classroom studies.
The third and final phase sees trainees working full-time with their assigned trainers, a large percentage of whom retain the trainees as staff on completion of the programme.
The programme is delivered through the Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board and successful participants are awarded the QQI Level 4 Major Award in Racehorse Care and Riding on the National Framework of Qualifications.
“The basic requirements are that trainees are between 16 and 18 years, are under nine stone and generally have completed their Junior Certificate.
“During the week-long trials each June we assess up to 70 applicants for their riding aptitude and physical suitability, as well as their work attitude and character, and selections are based on all of this.”
A series of open days for the trainee jockey course will take place in the coming months — March 22 and 29, April 5 and 19 and May 3, 17 and 31.
RACE also conducts a number of international exchange programmes and this past week a number of students from Slovakia arrived in Ireland to take part in an EU-funded Erasmus Plus programme.
These programmes are designed to promote co-operation and mobility between member countries and the group will receive instruction in riding and stable management while improving their English language skills and learning more about Ireland and the Irish racing industry.
In the coming weeks Australian jump jockeys Dara O’Meachair and Adam Roustoby will take up their places with Willie Mullins as part of the Racing Victoria International Jumps Jockey Scholarship run in conjunction with RACE.
Victoria and South Australia are the only states to still allow jump racing in the country.
Over the coming months RACE will run a series of training days for up-and-coming jump jockeys. These will focus on technique and safety on the track and will be conducted by champion point-to-point rider Derek O’Connor.
For information on all courses see www.racingacademy.ie
Aiming high: trainee profiles
Erica Byrne (17)
Ratoath, Co Meath
Learned to ride at Broadmeadow Equestrian Centre in Ashbourne, Co Meath. Hopes to become a National Hunt jockey like AP McCoy but is finding the early mornings tough going
Work placement: Dermot Weld
Nessa O’Byrne (16)
Terryglass, Co Tipperary
Learned to ride at Birr Equestrian Centre and did some hunting and Pony Club. Also rode out at Jim Finn’s yard. Hopes to become a National Hunt jockey and as good as Nina Carberry
Work placement : Conor O’Dwyer
Theodore Nugent (17)
Theo has spent some time riding out jump horses for his Irish-born father John. His Australian-born mother Kerry is a flat jockey and Theo also hopes to go down the same route
Work placement: Michael Halford
Jordan Cummins (17)
Did the FETAC course at Cherry Orchard and applied for RACE on the advice of course co-ordinator Emma Keogh. Aspires to be a top flat jockey like Silvestre De Sousa.
Work placement : Michael Grassick