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05 June 2019

Grade One-winning trainer Fergal O’Brien is grateful for the success his team has enjoyed on the racecourse – winning over £500,000 in prize money in the 2018/19 season and with a strike rate of 26% so far this season – but he still finds the time to offer support to some special youngsters and causes

Important to get involved in community engagement

Trainers are undoubtedly very busy people but we must always remember how fortunate we are to be involved in our sport and how much we can positively affect people’s lives.

That might be as simple as someone wanting to visit the yard and pat their favourite horse. Or it might be that someone’s social anxiety or other mental health issues are helped by spending time around horses (we know this to be the case from our friend Debbie Matthew’s ‘Go Racing Green’ campaign). The bottom line here is that ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and we’re happy to hear about any idea which might benefit individuals or groups. When we move to our new yard later in the year, we’ll look to expand on this part of our work.

Fergal and Debbie Matthews of #GoRacingGreen on a recent yard visit

It’s part of our approach

Mr Chris Coley, my main business partner, is also a huge benefactor to racing charities, especially the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF). He runs an annual IJF quiz at Cheltenham races, with over 40 teams competing.

He has also been responsible for arranging a charity football match during the April meeting at Cheltenham where an AP McCoy XI has played against various opposition teams. This year the match raised over £50K – a staggering achievement.

Fergal playing during the IJF charity football match

Social media a powerful thing

The yard’s connections with ‘Lilac’s Little Legs’ and ‘Niamh’s Next Steps’ began via social media. We gave Niamh’s family a morning on the gallops as a raffle prize when we were back at Cilldara stables and we’ve been in touch ever since then. As a father of two girls, it was impossible not to be incredibly moved both by the death of Niamh from neuroblastoma but also her parents’ ongoing fight to tackle the illness. 

As Lilac lives close to us, we noticed her on Twitter in early 2018 and invited her along to the yard. This was prior to her SDR (selective dorsal rhizotomy) surgery and her progress since that has been overwhelming. We regularly retweet clips of Lilac walking because it’s a completely uplifting sight. She’s very busy now, including becoming a Primark Toy Story poster girl, but she’s due to visit us again very soon.

Lilac on a FOB Racing yard visit

Supporting the mental health of racing’s people

The recent Racing Welfare research on mental health and the racing workforce was interesting. It showed that the prevalence of mental health issues in all facets of racing employment is significantly higher than the national average. Racing poses some unique challenges at all levels – long hours, extensive travel, dietary restrictions and financial pressures and so it’s easy to believe the findings.

Thankfully, we believe that the racing industry has been proactive in tackling mental health issues and can be proud of its efforts, so far. It is, however, an ongoing process and all involved in our sport need to remember that it’s ok not to be ok. Help is out there for anyone struggling thanks to Racing Welfare and other organisations.

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Racing Welfare’s recent video in support of Mental Health Awareness Week

Racing needs to do and be seen to do its bit for society

It’s absolutely right that racing should be seen as a force for good, at every level. Whether that’s a trainer offering a day at the yard or at the races to an individual, or in support of the wider work done by Racing Together or The Jockey Club, for example. In an era of social media we have the ability to promote and celebrate that work far and wide, as a way of encouraging others to get involved. It’s vital we do so.

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