Having spent over six years as a conditional jockey in the UK and France Ben Hicks is no stranger to the racecourse. However, when Covid-19 hit he took the opportunity to move away from race riding while still working in the sport he loves.
Having consulted with the Jockeys Education & Training Scheme (JETS) and the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA) Ben decided not to renew his jockeys licence and successfully applied for the highly regarded British Horseracing Development Programme in 2021. The development programme introduced Ben to all aspects of racing, and his following placement with Star Sports gave him an important insight into the bookmaking side of the industry.
After he’d completed the development programme an advert for a trainee Clerk of the Course role with Arena Racing Company (ARC) appeared on the Careers in Racing job board. He successful applied for the role and is now the trainee clerk of the course at Bath Racecourse.
On his new role Ben said “I wanted to stay within the racing family so I could use my knowledge and experience that I’d built up riding as a conditional jockey. An important part of being a Clerk is communicating with trainers and jockeys, and that’s something I’ve done for a long time and comes naturally to me, so when I saw this opportunity come up I thought it would be an ideal fit for me.”
Since his appointment Ben has spent time learning turf management skills from within the ARC family, shadowing Clerks and groundstaff at Fontwell Park and most recently at the inaugural Winter Million Festival at Lingfield Park. As well as learning from his ARC colleagues he’s attended training courses run by the Grounds Management Association at Newmarket and York, completing the level 2 qualification in turf management and level 3 racecourse management skills courses.
The most recent course at York Racecourse covered topics such as how to undertake a Performance Quality Standard (PQS) on a racecourse, including testing grass coverage, soil moisture and the gradient of the ground. As well as this the attendees received demonstrations of drainage techniques such as sand slitting where they add more sand into the soil, changing its profile and improving drainage.
On his time as a trainee at Bath so far Ben commented “I’m really enjoying it, I’m lucky to have brilliant support from our Head Groundsman Andy Hogston. I’m learning a lot, particularly about the techniques they use to manage the course for summer racing with no watering system in place.
“I’m looking forward to my first racing season, seeing how the course takes the racing and how the team work to help the track recover in between fixtures.”
When asked what advice he’d give to anyone looking to get into the grounds management industry Ben said “Spend as much time around experienced people as you can. Visiting and learning from different venues has been invaluable to me, not every team does things in the same way and there’s so much you can learn by listening to others.”