THE timing of major cutbacks at the Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE) could not have come at a worse time.

For those immediately and directly affected, it is a disaster, with many of them seeing their role there as much a vocation as it was a job. Working closely with young people, at a formative time in their lives, requires absolute dedication, and this was what students got from the staff at Curragh House, on the outskirts of Kildare town.

It is incredibly poignant that this has all happened at the very time that RACE should be in the throes of celebrating 50 years since its foundation. The vision and perseverance of men such as Derek O’Sullivan, Stan Cosgrove and others got RACE through many dark days, and how sad it is that their original dream should presently lie in disarray. Is there a way back? Is there an appetite from the industry for such a facility?

It is not easy to comprehend the full enormity of the original vision of its late founder and first director, Derek O’Sullivan, who sadly died nearly 21 years ago. We all saw a derelict building and he saw a school that would educate young people, and develop talent. How well it did, with Johnny Murtagh and Conor O’Dwyer among its distinguished graduates.

Derek’s faith and vision, perseverance, dedication and total commitment, fed into the teams at Curragh House over many years. Its success has always been a team effort, often in the face of great adversity. Stan Cosgrove’s stories about the means he often employed to ensure survival are legendary.

Even though the Centre has been in place for half a century, the idea for it went back a further decade, and involved visionaries such as Stan Cosgrove, Michael Osborne and Colonel Bill Rea. RACE finally opened its doors in September 1973, and for the first few years Curragh House was a hostel for a small number of young apprentices, offering lodgings, educational and social supports.

The original trustees’ committee was made up of a mix of educators and leading lights in the world of racing; Stan Cosgrove, Joe McGrath, Michael Osborne, Tom Ryan (Newbridge College), Tom Casey (Naas Vocational School), Jim Marsh and local auctioneer Tom Brophy.

While it is believed RACE has a future, what that looks like is presently uncertain. It has gone from being a world-class apprentice school to the present situation at a time when there is a need and support for such schools elsewhere in the world.

How apt are the lyrics of the song, “you never miss the water till the well runs dry”?