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Tony Stead racing at Taunton 21 January 2019

RAF Warrant Officer Tony Stead visited Taunton at the end of last month with tickets donated by the racecourse via the charity Tickets For Troops – one of the 3,300-plus events that have supported serving military personnel since 2009.

A simple, welcome gesture

It seems such a simple idea but often they are smartest: provide free tickets to members of the Armed Forces for a variety of sporting, musical and cultural events to serving personnel and those medically discharged, and provide some happy experiences to those that have given to the country.

And so it is with Tickets For Troops, which has during the last decade distributed over a million tickets people within the Armed Forces.

Tony says: “It’s great to get something back that’s so special. I joined the RAF in January 1986, some 33 years ago now. As an RAF Medic I travelled to many places as a flight nurse, picking up those who became injured. I heard about Tickets For Troops through a friend a number of years ago as he had won a ballot to attend the Brit Awards. From then onwards, I started applying for tickets offered by the charity for various events.”

In good company

Gary Lineker, Samantha Cameron, James Blunt and Freddie Flintoff are among the Patrons and with more than 56,000 current active members benefitting from days out, many of whom take the opportunity to enjoy a day at the races.

In recent years all 60 British racecourses have signed up to provide free tickets via Tickets For Troops, and in excess of 50,000 raceday admission tickets have been donated thus far. In donating tickets, racecourses are supporting worthy beneficiaries, but also often introducing new potential fans to racing, who may not have otherwise considered it.

 Crossing Taunton off Tony’s list

“I had the opportunity to attend Taunton on 30th December with my girlfriend and Tickets For Troops kindly provided us with free entry – we ended up going along with eight of her family and friends whose tickets we paid for additionally on the day.

“All of us had a fantastic time, and most of us had never been to Taunton before – my days out had taken me to Cheltenham; Ascot; Sandown; Bath; Ripon; Kempton and Lingfield previously.

“I love the contrast of racing and that is key to a great day out. There is definitely a difference to the madness of Cheltenham and the quietness of an evening meeting at Kempton. However, I have never failed to enjoy myself, as the company and the thrill that you may actually win sometimes is what it is all about. One of my friends turned 18 the day before we went to Taunton and the first bet of his life turned out to be a winner!”

Time out for a day’s racing with family

Richard Herring, another Tickets for Troops recipient has been full-time in the RAF for just over 17 years, and is a national hunt fan.

“In the past I’ve used Tickets For Troops to go to various places and events with my family, but that slowed significantly as my work commitments changed.  More recently, as my work-life balance has improved and I have realised the extent of the racing tickets on offer through the scheme, I have taken the opportunity to attend meetings whenever I can.  I cannot speak highly enough of this initiative and would encourage anyone who doesn’t already, to use it to its fullest extent!”

Most recently, Richard has used Tickets For Troops to go to Warwick Racecourse, for Classic Chase Day.  He has also visited Haydock, Cheltenham and Ludlow in the same way. 

“I am yet to have a bad experience, at any racecourse,” said Richard.  “Even when the wind felt like it was going to take the roof off Cheltenham in December, it was worth being there! I would recommend racing to anyone who hadn’t been before, or who felt indifferent towards it; there is nothing quite like it, in my experience.”

More than just a day at the races

Racecourses not only donate to Tickets For Troops but Aintree, for example, has a military veterans programme in conjunction with Veterans HQ to assist veterans in the community with specific mental and physical difficulties. The aim is to help bring back the camaraderie and team work they enjoyed in the armed forces. A number of organisations within the industry are signatories of the Armed Forces Covenant, a pledge to treat those who have served in the armed forces fairly and support the armed forces community, including Arena Racing Company, who own and manage 16 British racecourses across the country.

Richard added: “Whilst I knew that a lot of racecourses had strong ties with local communities, I didn’t realise that there are Veteran programmes in place, though this may well be because it isn’t something I tend to look for (not yet, at least).”

“Any scheme to assist Veterans, be it transitioning into a second career, through animal-assisted therapy or simply as something to find a new interest in, must surely be appreciated and valuable!  It is certainly something I am looking towards as I consider my post-service options and career plans.  Advertising widely, particularly through military or Veterans charities and during race meets to highlight all of the opportunities available to Veterans and Service personnel is a good idea. This would raise awareness of these schemes, hopefully attracting interest in the sport from people who may not have considered it before.”

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