Racing to School
As the Official Derby Historian, I was recently asked by the Marketing Department of Epsom Racecourse, to give the pupils of six local schools a series of half-hour talks on the history of the Derby, as part of the racecourse experience.
“This should be fun,” I thought. And when I was told the age of the 240 pupils attending over two days – 10-11 year-olds – I knew it would be have to be different from any other talk I had given.
The educational programme was run by the charity, British Horseracing Education and Standards Trust, known as Bhest. Their programme, which went to all 60 racecourses in Britain, was free and available to pupils and students of all ages throughout the UK. The daily schedule, which ran from 9.30 am to 2.40 pm, was hectic, but well run under the leadership of Ollie McPhail, an ex National Hunt jockey who had previously survived nine operations after a fall at the Chair fence at Aintree.
Although the children were taken to various parts of the stands and racecourse I was billeted in the Queen’s Stand cinema, where one class after another rushed in and rushed out after being given a brief history – racing at Epsom in the time of the Roundheads and Cavaliers, the foundation of the Derby, the suffragette, Emily Davison, Mill Reef, the disappearance of Shergar, modern day racing and the Queen’s involvement at Epsom.
The “any questions” at the conclusion of each session was both interesting and hilarious. One earnest little boy inquired, “When a horse breaks its leg and they shoot it, do they also shoot the jockey if he breaks his leg?”
Ollie McPhail was living proof that they don’t!”
Since I was standing in front of an Investec sponsors board, another boy inquired, are Zebra’s allowed to run in the Derby?”
All the children and their teacher’s seemed to have had a good time, washed down in the interval with various squashes and biscuits.
Needless to say, the more informed teacher’s and pupils discreetly asked who they should watch for in this year’s Derby. My reply of, “ Camelot,” was seen written into one or two exercise books!
The schools taking part were:
The Vale Primary School
Shawley Community Primary School
Tadworth Primary School
Warren Mead Junior School
Walton On The Hill Primary School
Riverview C Of E Primary School