For a national hunt jockey, riding at the Cheltenham Festival is always an exciting prospect. Being booked for the Grade 1 feature race on the opening day, the Champion Hurdle is extra special.
When Sporting Chance Ambassador Joe Williamson mounts Jason The Militant on Tuesday afternoon, you would be forgiven for judging it simply as an incredible achievement, a significant milestone in his professional racing career.
Prior to this year’s Cheltenham Festival, conditional jockey Joe - who rides out for Phillip Kirby - has 29 career wins from 345 runs since his first ride under rules on Minella Bliss, a faller in 2016.
But its Joe’s off-field journey that makes his ride on Tuesday even more poignant.
“If you’d have said to me 12 months ago, I would be sober and have a ride in the Champion Hurdle, I just wouldn’t have believed you.”
In Summer of 2022, supported by the Professional Jockeys Association, Joe spent a period of time in Sporting Chance’s residential clinic, having admitted himself as a result of his increasingly problematic alcohol use.
“I had to take a bit of time out, I spent a bit of time in the Sporting Chance Clinic for a month. I was struggling with alcoholism and wasn’t dealing with a huge amount in my life. The PJA and Sporting Chance have been a huge help for me. I spent a month in their rehab facility and it’s saved my life. It’s helped me turn it around and given me another chance.”
Sporting Chance, founded by Tony Adams in the year 2000 following his own troubles with alcohol, runs the only residential clinic in the world treating athletes with addiction. Joe was able to access support through horse racing’s connection with the charity.
Now into its fifth year, The PJA’s relationship with Sporting Chance provides all its members with a pathway to confidential, professional support. Alongside the residential unit, the PJA offer a 24-hour helpline for jockeys to access Sporting Chance’s services, and fund treatment for any emotional or mental health issue. There are plans in place to roll out an education programme for all its members to help them better understand and engage with the help that is available to them.
If you are a member of the PJA and need help with your mental health go to www.sportingchanceclinic.com and click ‘get help now’ for more information.