Steeped in rich history, the Royal Artilery and Grand Millitary Gold Cups server as the pinnacles of horse racing for the Armed Forces’ amateur jockeys.
Staged at Sandown Park, the races are the exclusive realm of Service personnel and are set withing meetings that feature some of the sports top riders, trainers and owners.
The events attract a huge following – both at the track and from punters watching afar – and those involved in the action revel in a spotlight they would not usually enjoy.
Preparation for this year’s fixtures have swiftly gathered pace and Army jockeys descended on the country’s premier training facilities for some expert tuition that could potentially lead to a gallop for victory as the finish line looms.
Hosted by The British Racing School in Newmarket, the personnel were guided by senior jockey Coach Richard Perham, who offered technical advice at the sites indoor school before the action switched to the jumps. “This is the very best in terms of tuition,” Lt Col Erica Bridge (RA), the military’s lead on jockey development and training, told SoldierSport. “Richard Perham was a professional jockey and it is great to have someone of that standing to look at what we are doing and help us improve. Military racing has had its ups and downs but we are now at the stage where we have a strong group of riders who are doing well. That is all down to the time and effort they have put it,. There are a lot of professional riding coaches out there and our guys go to them as they want to get better. This mirrors that approach and the British Racing School have been a massive support.”
Jockey’s hoping to feature in the Forces’ flagship races must have a category A licence which allows them to compete as amateurs. At present there are around 15 such riders across all three services and the set-up is keen to attract newcomers to the fold.
“We have people who were involved in racing before joining the Army, while others have competed in point to point races and eventing” Bridge said. “But if someone comes to us with an interest we can fix them up with a jockey coach and get them riding from a yard. It is a little niche but we are looking for people who are committed to doing something different with their time and have the motivation to do it.”
Competitive rides do not come cheap but the organisation’s lengthy contact list ensures that the personnel have a prime selection of horses available come race day.
“That stems from a lot of hard work and effort,” Bridge, winner of the 2016 Grand Military Gold Cup, continued, “we have to find the right horse and owner who is willing to let their mount be ridden. To race at a premier track like Sandown is such a thrill, people talk about the adrenaline that comes with activities like parachuting but you also get that riding half a ton of horse at 30mph over big fences!”
Another jockey looking to make an impact in the upcoming races is Cpl Nathan Rahman (R Welsh). The 29 year old turned to the sport after injury ended his rugby career and he is now looking to gain his Category B Licence, which will see him tested against professionals. The soldier completed 30 rides last season and was crowned South East point to point Novice Champion. “Sandown is completely different” he said £emotions run high and it is such a buzz, the thrill when I cam in was like nothing else. I’ve ridden from a young age but my life went in a different direction, which meant I never had the time to continue, so when I found out I could do this through the military it was such a surprise. I now have the opportunity to represent the Army against some of the best young professional in the country!”
Capt Will Kellard (RL) was unseated on this Grand Military debut in 2016 but finished second a year later and is hoping his efforts at the BRS will maintain his upward curve £Richard Perham is a world Class coach” he explained “we are lucky to be here. Soldiers are completely capable of racing horses – it is a sport that anyone can do. We want to get more junior personnel involved and this definitely not just for officers. My first race at Sandown was over as quick as a flash but nothing compares to going round that course on a horse that jumps well”
The Grand Military will be held at Sandown Park on Friday, March 8th.