Chris McCarron had the birth of an idea nearly 20 years ago. The Hall of Fame jockey had a vision for a first-ever jockey's school in the United States. Now, as director of the North American Racing Academy, McCarron has set Sept. 11 as the date his dream will officially be implemented, as the school will open its doors for the first time at the Kentucky Horse Park.
"Despite the fact the U.S. has, without question, the finest racing in the world, we have never had a place to formally train kids how to ride horses," said McCarron at a horse farming subcommittee meeting at the Capitol Annex in Frankfort, Ky. July 12. "Virtually every other country that offers Thoroughbred racing has a school that requires riders to attend before they receive their jockey's license."
Partnering with the Kentucky Community Technical College System, McCarron will be the chief race instructor at the school, while several of his 21 board members, who are leaders of various aspects of the horse industry, will teach classes focusing on subjects related to their area of expertise. Included on the board is Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, and his brother, John Nicholson, executive director of the Horse Park.
"We had the resources and curriculum expertise, while Chris has the (Thoroughbred industry) knowledge and experience," said Dr. Michael McCall, KCTCS president. "Hopefully, we will create a model for Kentucky, the U.S., and the world."
McCarron reported the NARA has so far had 85 inquiries through its Web site from individuals across the U.S., and one from Canada, to receive application packets for the academy. The school has already received 11 applications and hopes to have maximum enrollment of 16 students in its first year.
"Interestingly, we've received inquires from young people who are sophomores, juniors, and seniors in high school, who are thinking well in advance of what career path they may want to take," said McCarron. "We're pretty thrilled about that."
Initially, students will be participating in the Equine Management Program already in place at the Horse Park. The approximate $21,000, two-year school will include 18 months of classroom learning, followed by a six-month internship with trainers who will give students a crash-course in the racetrack routine. McCarron named Tom Proctor, Richard Dutrow, and Todd Pletcher as three trainers that had already expressed an interest in mentoring a NARA student.
McCarron said students who enter the NARA and decide they would rather pursue different aspect of the industry can refocus their efforts into courses KCTCS will offer for grooms, exercise riders, and other career paths. The school's basic curriculum includes classes on personal finances, communication skills, nutrition and fitness, rules of racing, equine science, racehorse care, riding racehorses, equine physiology, and racehorse lameness and therapy.
In addition to having access to 16 stalls in the main barn and use of the training track and indoor arena, McCarron said he will negotiate a lease with the Horse Park to develop additional facilities on 40 acres of currently unused land.
"I need to raise the funds to build a full-fledged campus, complete with a five-furlong track, indoor track, 60-stall barn, administration building, and dormitories," McCarron said, adding the projected cost for the project to be about $20 million.
The Kentucky state budget signed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher included $300,000 to KCTCS in 2006-07 for the operation of NARA. Private funds raised for NARA will be received by the KCTCS Foundation.
McCarron's goal is for the 40 acres to be fully developed in time to display the new facilities to visitors in town for the World Equestrian Games that will take place at the Horse Park in 2010.
In addition to the NARA, McCarrion has other long-term objectives of increasing the minimum standards required for an individual to receive jockey's license, and helping obtain worker's compensation for jockeys in future legislation.