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03 April 2023

Over 100 young people attend the first ever Festival Monday during the Cheltenham Festival

While the debate and discussion around a five-day Cheltenham Festival continues, this year for the first time, the action did start on the Monday of Cheltenham week for over 100 young people.

The brainchild of Jockey Club Racecourses, the inaugural ‘Festival Monday’ saw the gates of Prestbury Park open for Racing to School to lead a special behind-the-scenes access for 75 Primary schoolchildren from five nearby schools 20 college students who got to experience the weighing room, pre-parade and parade rings and Hall of Fame. The groups were also allowed to get up close to the Cheltenham Gold Cup Trophy and had front row seats for the famous parade of Willie Mullins runners for the week.

“We thought it was a brave move by Cheltenham and especially André Klein who pulled the day together so well,” said Racing to School CEO John Blake.

“With all the preparations needed for The Festival and so many last-minute things to attend to, it would have been understandable if the racecourse thought twice about opening its doors in such a generous way to its community, and on such a large scale as they managed. They proved the concept works and showed that rather than ring-fence the biggest meetings, how much more rewarding it is to do the opposite and seize the opportunity to involve the younger generation, who see the sport take over their town for the rest of the week. The response from all the jockeys and the stars of ITV Racing just added to the wonderful atmosphere of the day and the genuine goodwill. We’re looking forward to doing it again next year.”

The day began with an introduction from ITV Racing’s Ollie Bell and recently retired Tom Scudamore, which was swiftly followed by an impromptu congo trail round the Hall of Fame led by the Cheltenham Mascot, A Plus Tard.

Cheltenham mascot A Plus Tard

The racecourse and the charity ensured that there was a huge range of activities on offer, such as an opportunity to ride like a jockey on the equicisers and to delve into the virtual world via reality headsets. Professional jockey and Racing to School ambassador Jonjo O’Neill Jnr. was on hand to offer riding tips before his rides the next day.

Equicisers and VR with Jonjo O’Neill Jnr.

Barry Geraghty and Tom Scudamore explained the intricacies and rituals of the weighing room and showed the children the different bits of kit and how it has evolved from the skull cap to the modern-day helmet. They had the children in raptures as they went into gruesome and gory detail about past broken bones and injuries.

Tom Scudamore explaining common jockey injuries

One highlight of the day was the visit of jockey Rachael Blackmore who answered a range of excellent questions, such as ‘do you ever get nervous?’ and ‘what was it like to win the gold cup?

Back outside in the fresh air it was time to meet Lady Grey, a magnificent shire from Hook Norton Brewery Shire and Jack, the Riding for the Disabled pony – both were big hits with the groups. Contrast those lovely equines with the athletic string of Mullins’ runners that paraded in front of the children at the end of the day, with trainer’s son, Patrick kindly talking through each one and his hopes for their runs that week.

Lady Grey, the Hook Norton shire
Jack from the RDA

Mrs Stewart, who teaches at Swindon Village Primary School said: “We were really excited about coming and it’s surpassed all our expectations.”

The magic and power of the day was echoed by the children’s parents after receiving their jockeys at the end of the day:

“She has had such an outstanding day, and a day she will never forget.”

“He now wants to be a groom when he grows up. I hope all children get to experience this.”

“The best school trip ever, a day he will never forget.”

“He has been so excited all evening talking about it! He keeps telling us all he has learnt and how it was just amazing!”

Group shot with Rachael Blackmore!
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