Jockey School is in to Save Dying Country Racing

Mar 30, 2023

As country racing has kicked off in western Queensland in recent weeks, momentum is building for a “jockey school” – or mentoring program – to recruit more jockeys and track staff to offset crippling shortages.

Amid claims that the North-West had only five or six locally-based jockeys for the 2023 season, which prompted scratched horses and financial losses to trainers, Katter’s Australian Party leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter was fuelling local demand for an industry mentoring program.

The program would train and mentor members of the community to create employment pathways and fill critical employment gaps across the industry, principally jockeys, track work riders and stable hands.

It would utilise local knowledge and connections though Indigenous mentors like Mount Isa’s Terry Hill to help recruit eligible contenders, including young people from cattle properties and the large local population of Indigenous Australians.

Mount Isa jockey and training program advocate Dan Ballard had been heavily involved in the proposal and said some of the most naturally-gifted horse people he’d ever met were Indigenous.

He said the program was very nuanced but the main driver of its success was connecting with the right community organisation to get the idea off the ground.

“The key to success is finding a community organisation that understands that the desired outcome would be for people to move into employment – it’s not just occupying kids so they stay out of trouble – and finding a suitable group to help facilitate that, but that’s not as straightforward as you’d think,” Mr Ballard said.

Following previous meetings with Queensland ministerial departments, Mr Ballard said that Racing Queensland’s willingness to support the idea had grown over the past six months, but that much more work needed to be done from the local end.

While racing was a burgeoning industry elsewhere in the world, throughout Europe and the Middle East, Mr Ballard said Australia’s racing industry was just one of the many sectors crying out for workers.

“There’s a dying need to bring new blood to the racing industry, but there’s no clear-cut means for people in the North-West to enter the industry … work needs to be done from our end and what’s critical to that is that we get a local community partner to (recruit) well-suited people,” he said.

Mr Katter said while the State Government delivered welcome cash injections through its Country Racing Program late last year to clubs that had been running off the smell of an oily rag with aging infrastructure, it was long-term commitments like mentoring programs that were needed to keep country racing alive.

“The KAP has previously strongly supported the Government’s gaming tax that will provide capacity for funding like this into the future, from enhanced revenue generated by the growth of online gaming, but equally important are the vital grassroots efforts to attract jockeys and track staff and keep community opportunities and support flourishing,” he said.