Interview with Edward Gillespie as he retires from 10 years of Chairman of the Pony Racing Authority
What are the biggest changes you have seen during your chairmanship?
“Primarily, the PRA is the regulatory body that looks after what you might call ‘the small print’ that allows the widest possible participation in the sport of Pony Racing. Thanks to the immense work of those who came before me, we have needed to make remarkably few changes. Instead, we have been able to drive the sport forward, developing activities at all three levels of competition and broadening the appeal through Academies and Taster Days. Keeping the sport going through periods of equine flu and the pandemic has been a terrific achievement and a credit to both the Executive and to the flexibility and commitment of riders and supporters.
What are the main challenges you see facing pony racing?
Keeping Racecourses ‘onside’ for the Dragon (TV & Film) Series will continue to be a challenge. Racecourses are incredibly generous with their facilities and supply of Officials and Medics. We need to reward that by delivering attractive races in terms of quality and quantity of runners. That’s why our new handicapping initiative was introduced; a reminder that racing over many centuries has relied on that means of ‘levelling up’.
Tremendous progress is being made with establishing Academies, particularly since the PRA was asked by the Racing Foundation to lead the ‘Pathway into Horse Racing through Pony Racing Project’ with other organisations focussed on attracting and retaining young people into Racing. I am really excited for the future with where many of these are located, in what have been ‘cold spots’ for the sport. In every case, we depend on the enthusiasm of a few individuals who see the benefits of what we are offering. Our aim is to help Racing truly reflect the nation – how it looks, talks and feels. That requires recruitment from a wide range of communities for jockeys, coaches and administrators.
What was your favourite moment during your Chairmanship?
There have been so many for me over the past ten years, on and off the track. Seeing Tom Marquand, who happens to come from the village where I live, and Hollie Doyle achieve national recognition has been wonderful. PRA Graduates now dominate Jump Racing and I celebrate every big win they achieve. Following Benoit de la Sayette’s journey right from the beginning to seeing him carve through the field in the Victoria Cup at Ascot was very special. He has shown that life is seldom straightforward and succeeding in sport brings with it immense challenges that can be overcome by having the right support group.
I am delighted Simon Claisse will be taking over from me as Chair. Simon and I formed a fun partnership as Chief Exec and Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham for a decade and I know he will bring expertise, energy and fresh ideas. We have a fantastic Board and Excecutive. I wish them all possible success.
For me, my other role which can continue for a few years, is as Lord-Lieutenant of Gloucestershire, The Queen’s representative in the county. That takes me racing occasionally and brings me into contact with many people who share my passion for horses.