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08 January 2021

The deadline is looming for the newly branded British Horseracing Development Programme and 2020 Graduate, Jake Comaschi reflects on his year of virtual learning and his career ambitions for himself and his classmates.

A year like no other

When I look back on 2020 it will, inevitably, invoke feelings of pity, regret, and sadness – not least for talking myself out of a Frodon victory in the King George. However, among those feelings, there will also be a sense of pride, opportunity, and accomplishment, for it was the year I became an alumnus of the BHA’s Graduate Development Programme.

Distance learning from the off

As the programme celebrated its 30th year it did so in unique fashion, with the birth of the ‘Virtual’ GDP. I can only imagine the effort this required by the Careers in Racing team at the BHA, particularly Michelle, Zoe, and Sean, to construct an all-virtual and all-encompassing graduate scheme in the time they did.

As a group of 16 graduates, we got to know one another virtually. We brought a mix of different strengths, experiences, and ambitions but we came together through a shared passion for racing. It was a pleasure to be a part of this group that I’ve little doubt will accomplish great things, just as previous graduates have done.

The programme usually starts at Newmarket with a two-week induction where guest speakers from the industry deliver lectures in person. Instead, during an incredibly warm August we settled in for an intense week of Zoom talks from industry experts. I set up camp for the week with the company of George, pictured below. George is the mannequin that sits in my father’s house and was my sole companion for Zoom week. He is now the GDP WhatsApp group icon after being glimpsed in my background shot throughout the week.

                                    Gorgeous George

Question time, inside information and a mentor

Every lecture offered a different perspective into various parts of the well-oiled juggernaut that is racing. Recognition must go to those who not only gave up their time but enabled us to probe with Q&A sessions, where we were not only allowed to explore difficult topics but positively encouraged to do so. The insights I gained from that single week soon outweighed a decade’s worth of knowledge gained as a fan.

The week finished with a hard-earned drink and game of ‘Zoom Bingo’. Most of us had on our scorecards the phrase ‘at least your livers have been saved by missing Newmarket’, which had been stated by most contributors, virtually all of whom were graduates of the programme themselves. A small consolation it has to be said, and as a group, one of our priorities will be to get together and put that right.

Following this intensive lecture week came the time when, under normal circumstances, placements would begin. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be done virtually, and we were instead giving presentations to industry experts on research topics, receiving career coaching sessions, and mentoring by leading industry figures. Ross Hamilton, Head of Public Affairs at the BHA, was, and still is, my mentor and I cannot thank him enough for the time and support he has offered me in trying to secure my break into the industry during these very difficult times.

Count us in

A career in racing is something I hadn’t planned on. My all-consuming passion was with another sport, cricket. I was expected to turn professional after representing Sussex CCC but when illness took that possibility away, it left a void that racing came to fill. Before long racing became my passion. Now after nearly 10 years it’s become more than that and with the help of the graduate programme, something I intend to make my career. I want to join the industry for the same reason I grew to love racing. One of racing’s most enduring qualities is its sense of community. Being a part of the GDP has enabled me to meet (albeit virtually) a range of interesting people and characters, including my fellow graduates. Racing has faced its difficulties in a year unlike any other, from the issues of Levy reform to welfare questions, but among the darkness it has continued to offer hope and stability to many.

Racing is more than just a sport; it enables 17,400 people to earn their living being involved in something they love. Here’s hoping that it will soon be 17,416.

Applications for this year’s programme close on 28th February 2021 – find out more:

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