THE Head Girl at a North Yorkshire stables who took the top prize at an industry awards night has spoken of her pride – and her hopes for the return of fans to the nation’s racecourses.

Rebecca “Beck” Edmunds, 45, who works for trainer Bryan Smart, based at Hambleton at the top of Sutton Bank, near Thirsk, was named the 2021 employee of the year at the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.

She received £10,000 for herself and a further £10,000 to be shared among her colleagues at Bryan Smart Racing, as well as the perpetual Godolphin Trophy.

Earlier in the virtual ceremony, which was broadcast live on Racing TV on February 22, Beck won the leadership award, which itself carried prize-money of £5,000 for the winner and the same amount to be shared among their colleagues.

She has worked at the yard, where her husband Kevin is assistant trainer, since 2005, and was nominated by her boss in light of what he described as her “exceptional knowledge... unwavering dedication and loyalty”. He also cited her attention to detail.

The judges agreed with Smart’s assessment and were particularly struck by the extent to which her colleagues view her as a mentor and a role model.

Speaking to the D&S Times this week, after a round of live television interviews, she said it had just about sunk it that she had won the top award. “It’s just been fantastic,” said Beck, adding that the honour was not just for her, but for the whole team at the stables. “It’s given us something to focus on, but we’re really looking to push forward now.

“It’s a very exciting time for us, especially once the weather starts changing and everyone can see the light at the end of the tunnel. This award has really boosted everyone, especially with, hopefully, there being a resolution to the Covid situation so we can get back out there with the crowds.”

As suggested by the judges’ comments, a big part of her role involves checking on the welfare of the ten to 12 stable lads working with the 50 horses at the yard – a task that has become even more important since social distancing rules were put in place due to Covid, bringing about wholesale changes to structure of the day.

“We’ve had to change quite a bit,” said Beck. “We usually start early then have two or three hours’ lunch break, and come back for evening stables. During the break, the lads used to go and sit in other’s cottages, but we’ve completely changed the structure of the yard to start later, work until 1pm and have an hour off, come back for two hours and finish at 4pm. Everyone really enjoys the early finish, when it’s still daylight. We might keep it like that in future.”

During partial lockdown, owners could only visit horses at the gate, and would have to drive themselves up to the gallops, while for the stable staff, there were real concerns about how the lack of socialising could affect mental health.

“We’re seven miles from the nearest town, and for the lads who live in, it’s tough for them, not being able to see their families,” said Beck. “A big part of my role has been keeping in touch with them and making sure that they are alright.”

She has completed a mental health awareness course through Racing Welfare, which she said “has helped me a lot in how to help them”.

“If they need to talk further, I can put them in touch with the relevant people. They are young lads and it can be their first time living away from home. They are part of our family, and I really try to get to know them, and a bit about them.”

The team are now busy preparing for the start of the flat season, with memories still fresh of last year’s full lockdown, which brought worries for the future of the sport.

“It has been difficult for everyone, but for us, we didn’t really know at the time whether we were going to be able to carry on,” said Beck. “It’s a pleasure sport, and it’s very expensive. It was a bit scary for a while there. With us being a flat yard, summer is our busiest time, so we were in the middle of everything.”

With the government’s four-stage roadmap to the easing of lockdown paving the way for the return of fans to sporting events later this year, should vaccination and infection rates continue going in the right direction, Beck said it will be wonderful to once more hear the crowd’s roar in the final furlong.

“It’s been strange going to empty racecourses. We’re looking forward to hearing that cheer.”