Stella Barclay on her dream job as a racehorse trainer
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 March 2020
It’s taken her a while to get there, but racehorse trainer Stella Barclay is finally in the job she always wanted.
Stella Barclay spent more than 20 years in charge of Darwen library but now she has gone from books to bookies, and she's living the life she always dreamed of.
'In my heart of hearts, I always wanted to be in horseracing,' she said. 'This is a lifetime's ambition for me which I never thought I would fulfil.'
She is now one of only a handful of licenced racehorse trainers in Lancashire - and the only woman in the county to run a yard.
Her love of horses started early. She used to help out at a small racing yard near her childhood home in Cowpe in the Rossendale Valley. It's a passion that was sparked by her father who would take Stella and her sister to race meetings after their mother's early death.
'He was interested in racing and he brought us up, so he'd take us to the races - I don't think mum would have been keen on that at all,' Stella laughs.
'We used to help out at a small racing yard round the corner from where we lived. The trainer there taught us to ride and we'd be there before school in the morning and at every chance we had.
'I was exercising racehorses at the age of ten - that's before it was compulsory to wear safety gear and there were a few hairy moments. I dread to think what could have happened. I was breaking in young horses without a hard hat.'
Although she spent her working life among the shelves of Darwen library, she has always kept horses and been a keen racegoer. She met Paul Clarkson at the Prix de l'arc d'Triomphe meeting in Paris in October 1982 and the pair bought their own yard in the Lancashire countryside five years later.
'There was nothing here then and we have gradually built it up,' said Paul who was the raceday presenter at meetings across the north for years and used to run syndicates and organise racing holidays.
Paul, who is originally from Blackpool, also had a childhood interest with racing, in his case it was sparked by a fascination with the mathematics involved, the betting and the odds.
As a teenager, he visited Ginger McCain's Southport yard and knew instantly that he wanted to work in racing. He went on to work in admin at Jack Berry's yard in Cockerham before taking the microphone at 3,500 race days, including 25 Grand Nationals and meetings at Cartmel and Carlisle, until his retirement in December last year.
The couple now run the Lancashire Racing Stables, based at Barnacre in the glorious rolling countryside to the north of Preston.
For years Stella was assistant to more experienced trainers who held the licence, but in May 2018 she completed the lengthy process to become licenced herself.
They now have 26 horses in training - some they bought at auction and others they have bred - as well as some young stock and brood mares.
'We are a small yard, buying horses at the cheaper end of the market - we can't go out and spend tens of thousands on a horse, we're more like a lower league football side, trying to find promising bargains that wouldn't get much of a chance at a bigger club,' Paul said. 'It's tough at our level but we love what we do and we really celebrate when we have a winner.'
At the time of writing, they'd had eight winners in eight months and were targeting 18 wins from up to 200 runners this year.
But being small has its advantages. 'Because we are a small yard, we're able to offer the horses a different lifestyle,' said Stella. 'We can be more flexible with their training regimes. We train the horses individually, we don't do the same with each of them, because what works for one won't necessarily work for them all. Some of the bigger yards aren't able to offer that.'
That training involves runs on the yard's five furlong gallops, walks on the lanes and bridleways and occasional days out on the sands at Pilling.
'We have got lovely countryside and hills around us here that's perfect for getting horses fit,' Stella added. 'They enjoy themselves and get to go out together and that helps to keep them mentally sweet.'
Another benefit of being a smaller yard is that Paul and Stella know all the owners and part-owners who have horses in training with them.
'We know everybody who has a share of a horse with us and they can always come down and spend time at the yard and on the gallops,' Paul said. 'They can come and have a chat, look round the yard and meet the staff - you couldn't do that at the bigger yards.
'Some people own a few horses, some five per cent - in total we have about 50 owners or part owners and we'd like to attract more. We offer everything from owning a full horse, down to owning five per cent.'