As the jockeys take to their saddles to ride at Royal Ascot (or Ripon!) this week, most will be lucky enough to have ridden their fair share of winners in their careers. But as most jockeys and sportsmen/women alike will remember, nothing beats your first competitive win whatever sport they compete in.
It will certainly be a mixture of emotions for the apprentice jockeys due to ride at Ripon Races on Wednesday evening, as they are all in fact chasing their first ever winner in the ONLY race in British racing open only to jockeys who have yet to ride a winner.
The race is the all down to the work of North Yorkshire racing welfare legend Raye Wilkinson, who has been working in racing for over 50 years.
Wilkinson was previously a social worker in Catterick Garrison, but a chance meeting with Middleham trainer Ernie Weymes in 1966 led to his involvement in racing. He instantly fell in love with horse racing and has never looked back. By October of that year Wilkinson was a full-time worker for the Stable Lads Welfare Trust, and the office in Middleham was opened.
Raye has since moved on but still works in Middleham for Mark Johnston Racing as their dedicated welfare officer. He continues to support up and coming jockeys by creating the very unique race for Apprentice riders which takes place at Ripon on Wednesday evening, 21st June.
“If anything, I’ve left my mark by creating a welfare service, in 1978 I looked at racing from a stable lads’ point of view, and realised there was very little welfare cover for them,”
“I am so passionate about helping those working in racing from the ground up and this race is what that is all about, recognising those wonderful moments in a young jockeys career, however long that may be” said Wilkinson
The race which is the first race on Wednesday evenings card at Ripon, is this year titled to honour Rayes Dedication to the sport as ‘The Raye Wilkinson Apprentice Handicap’
Raye’s hard work has also been well recognised within the industry, having won the ‘Go Racing in Yorkshire ‘Lifetime achievement award’ back in 2010 and most recently being one three finalists for the Rory Macdonald Community award at the annual Godolphin Stable and Stud Awards in January 2015.
Wilkinson who has organised the race for seven years now, will never forget the day Oisin Murphy won the race back in 2013. Frustratingly Murphy who has since gone onto become one of the nation’s top flat jockeys, had a winner just three days before the race at Salisbury but conditions of the race meant that as the declaration dates had passed he still qualified to ride in the race.
Raye often refers to a fitting quote by Charles Trigg who rode an impressive 843 winners after his first ever winner in Newbury in 1905, and is best known for winning the Epsom Oaks aboard Rosedrop in 1910.
“Nobody but an apprentice who has done it will ever know what it means to ride his first winner. No words can explain it. You walk on air. You do not care what happens. You have done it. You have ridden a winner, and nothing can ever take that away from you” Charles Trigg, (1881 – 1945)
We look forward to seeing some more future stars start their careers with a first win in the saddle, what is sure is that it will be a day to remember for one happy jockey.
Ripon Races are a flat turf racecourse, one of nine racecourses in Yorkshire. They hold 17 race meetings in 2017, from April to September with a variety of evening, weekend and family fun race days.
The race meeting on Wednesday 21st June starts with the first of six races at 6.50pm with entry from 4.50pm. The course will have live music on the bandstand from Leeds based acoustic duo ‘Strobe’.
As usual at Ripon, accompanied children under 18 years of age are admitted FREE of charge into all enclosures. Tickets can be pre-booked for discounts or adult admission is available on the gates from £7 per person in the Course Enclosure, £15 in the Paddock and £23 for the Club Enclosure.