By William Shanklin
Sheikh Mohammed’s vision for a premier globally-oriented management training program pertaining to Thoroughbred breeding and racing came to fruition in 2003 with the launch of Darley Flying Start.
The DFS curriculum takes two years to complete, with a first-year class and second-year class run concurrently. Each echelon is comprised of 12 students, whose backgrounds are diverse, running the gamut from fields such as business, law, and veterinary medicine.
In a typical year, about 50 of 150 applicants are chosen for additional consideration. Initially, these 50 men and women take online aptitude and competency tests and furnish a video demonstrating their ability to ride a horse. Each must have experience with Thoroughbreds and be fluent in English.
Next is an actual in-person interview, wherein a candidate completes written and group assignments and converses with Clodagh Kavanagh, the DFS course manager in Ireland, and Joe Osborne, managing director of Kildangan Stud and a DFS trustee.
The dozen individuals ultimately selected for DFS receive a scholarship covering their course-related expenses, plus a monthly stipend. Students spend five months in Ireland, two months in the United Kingdom, six to seven months in the United States, four months in Australia, and three months in Dubai—where they learn and work under the guidance of part-time DFS regional coordinators.
Students divide their time between classroom instruction and actually gaining hands-on experience with breeding and racing stock. Subject matter varies from business management to industry-specific topics; curriculum modules have been certified by universities in Australia, Ireland, and the United States.
DFS has graduated five classes. Fifty-nine alumni from 15 nations are employed in some facet of racing and breeding. They are spread out over eight countries and five continents. Their occupations encompass a wide range of activities, including racehorse trainer, bloodstock agent, and television personality on a racing channel.
Todd Pletcher, who has employed DFS students and graduates, said: “One of our assistant trainers, Michael Dilger, is a former Flying Start student. We have also had three students intern with us. All were very well prepared for what we asked them to do. They were reliable and dependable. Darley is providing a valuable service to the industry.”
Kavanagh believes DFS “has added a new level to the career structure in the Thoroughbred industry, which encourages talented young people to pursue their interest and commitment to Thoroughbreds. In the long term, this should translate into an industry that is strong and adaptable though a human foundation of committed, influential, and educated people.”
William Shanklin, a longtime contributor to The Blood-Horse, is the publisher of the Web site horseracingbusiness.com