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Racing's down with the youth

For a long time now and in a couple of articles over the past year or so, yours truly has touched on the importance of Horse Racing Ireland and Irish racecourses to target a younger audience to go racing and develop an interest in the sport.

For obvious reasons, getting horse racing into schools is not as easy as the likes of football, hurling and soccer, but HRI this week began one of its best initiatives as Navan Racecourse took part in the launch of the new Go Racing Kids Club School.

The scheme got under way on Tuesday as HRI tries to attract a new audience to a sport that, like any other, is crying out for patrons and people to come through the gates.

On Tuesday more than 200 students from St Pauls National School in Navan got up close and personal with trainer Pat Martin and jockey Barry Geraghty and got an insight to the ins and outs of horse racing and race days.

As part of the initiative all the students involved, along with their parents, are invited back to Saturday's exciting meeting at Navan, which is the first of its autumn jumps campaign.

HRI's PR manager, Tamso Doyle (pictured below), said: "Horse racing is a sport in which Ireland can justifiably claim to be a world leader, and the success stories of Irish trainers, jockeys and horses is a source of pride around the country.

"Horse racing also plays a huge part in the Irish economy, and the aim of the day is to educate the younger generation regarding horse racing and show them what happens behind the scenes at the races."



integration

Doyle added: "We also hope that this initiative will lead to greater integration between racecourses and their local communities, encouraging an affinity with racing and producing the racegoers of the future."

Michael Kinane, who is currently in the role of Horse Racing Ireland's Flat Ambassador for 2010, was just one of several high-profile figures in the sport who highlighted the need to target a younger audience, and the six dates that will bring the club to Navan, Dundalk, Limerick, Naas, Cork and Gowran Park will prove an interesting trial over the next eight weeks -- surely leading to more of the same in the future.

There are four parts of the tour, which is open to students from fourth to sixth class, lasts three hours, and takes place a couple of days before some big-race meetings, which the students will then attend.

Initially, the tour is restricted to schools in the locality of the six selected meetings, with HRI writing to each school and the opportunity coming to the first school to make a positive response.

The first of the four parts will feature a trainer who brings a racehorse and describes how to train a horse, how their yard gets ready for a race, how to tack up a horse, how much it eats and exercises, and all the basics of the day-to-day running.



Weighroom

The second station will have a jockey who will bring the kids into the weighroom where they get to see and feel all the jockeys gear, from a saddle to the silks and their equipment, such as their helmet and back protectors.

Kildare's RACE Academy and Centre Of Education will talk the youngsters through how to become a jockey and get a job in the industry for the third part of the tour. This will also include a racehorse simulator.

Finally, the racecourse manager will take the children through their preparation for a race day and walk them on a bit of the track.

For the past three seasons, Punchestown Racecourse has been prominent in encouraging the local youth to join them and be part of its five-day festival.

As well as offering free tickets to 20 schools in the vicinity, Punchestown also offered the chance to be a mascot to the best jockeys around, something they are keen to continue.

Getting kids to go racing is not only vital for the future, but it may also manage to entice some of their parents to the sport, and this will surely be the first of many schemes put in place by HRI.

It will certainly be interesting to hear the feedback on the upcoming school tours, but I personally, have little doubt there will be many more dates announced in the future and it bodes well for encouraging an important new audience to a sport renowned for producing the world's very best.


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