An Interview with Eloise Quayle - Clerk of the Course at Newcastle Racecourse
Eloise Quayle enjoyed a pony-mad childhood in Morpeth, Northumberland, surrounded by a few ponies, her mum’s ex-racehorse and a horse that her Gran had bred. After graduating with a degree in Biology from Newcastle University, Eloise lived a dream when she saw an advert placed by trainer Ben Pauling and chancing being offered the job! She spent many good times as Head of Travelling, flanking lots of winners. Being a true lover of racing, when a different career within the racing industry beckoned, Eloise, 29, grasped this new opportunity as a Trainee Clerk of the Course.
At 25, she was the youngest Clerk of the Course in the country when working at Windsor - Listed races and classy Group 3s were never daunting. Now, she has just left being Clerk at Uttoxeter and has moved to Newcastle, and loves every moment.
She has moved from Staffordshire and has gone back home with her two pet dogs, a whippet Jasper and a springer spaniel Maisie. She also still has three horses, Addy (a retired 21-year-old), Nancy (an 8-year-old ex-racer) and Felix, a 4-year-old Connemara.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
I was brought up in rural Northumberland and lived on a sheep farm. Mum had her own retired racehorses and my Grandma had a home bred, which she kept on the farm. I was lucky that Mum supported me and I had ponies growing up. Although I didn’t do Pony Club or competed as a child, I had great fun with them going for miles hacking out, building my own jumps, rounding up the sheep, etc. We also used to foster RSPCA yearlings, which I loved working with and learned a lot from. Mum bought me my first horse when I was 15 and from then I started doing a bit of eventing. I still have him now – he retired from a very sporadic eventing career last year, aged 21.
How did you get into racing?
I had always been obsessed with racehorses due to having Mum’s at home who I thought were amazing (they weren’t really but I didn’t care!). Between my Mum and Grandad, we went racing regularly to Newcastle, Hexham and Kelso and it was always a big treat. Mum also had friends who trained in North Yorkshire, so we used to go and stay with them and helped when they were injured or short staffed in the holidays. I’m not sure I was much help at the time (I thought I was!) dragging buckets around and being allowed to give the quiet ones a pick of grass or a brush. During sixth form and Uni holidays, I used to ride and muck out for a local permit holder and also drove the vet’s car at Newcastle Racecourse.
Photo Credit: Sarah Matthews
Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles?
I finished Uni and went straight to a private show jumping yard near Newcastle where I was Head Girl for six months, looking after ten show jumpers for junior riders (138cm, 148cm and horses). It was fun - we went to Hickstead and Scope Festival - but show jumping wasn’t my first love. I had a weekend off in October and the ‘Dark Horses’ feature was on the Morning Line and it featured Ben Pauling as an up-and-coming young trainer. I had frequently been looking on the Careers In Racing website and had never braved applying but they put an advert up that week and thought it was a sign. On my trial day, I was given Barters Hill to work first (he was an unknown quantity at that stage and was very kind and well behaved!) and the following lots all went well, so Ben offered me the job as stable staff and I was thrilled to take it. About four months later, having taken a lot of the horses racing in that time – and a very steep learning curve it was – the Head of Travelling left and I was offered the job.
What were your best days as a Head of Travelling?
Too many to mention really – I loved whenever we came home with a winner and the team was buzzing. My personal favourite was when Silvergrove (whom I looked after) won the Mandarin Chase with Barters Hill winning the Challow Hurdle on the same day. Another favourite day was when Willoughby Court won the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival. Taking Edwulf to the Punchestown Festival in a trailer on the overnight ferry was a real adventure too.
Which is your favourite racehorse?
That’s really tricky. I loved so many! Cyrius Moriviere, Edwulf, Carlos Du Fruitier and Newton Geronimo were some of my favourites to work with. I used to take to the ones that were a bit odd/characterful.
Best Mate and Florida Pearl were the ones I was obsessed with whilst growing up.
How did you get into clerking?
Clerking was never on the radar as a possibility until a friend mentioned seeing a Trainee Clerk job advertised and that I should look into it. I loved my time at Ben’s but felt ready for a new challenge and the thought of being able to do that within an industry I loved was too good an opportunity to miss. I shadowed some Clerks through my summer holidays at Ben’s to give myself a better insight into the role. I had always thought it was for ex-military types, so couldn’t believe it when I was offered the job as Trainee Clerk at Windsor.
What training did you have?
Alongside working at Windsor, I did sixty-four training days which included having to shadow and have an understanding of every official on the course from the Starters through to the Photo Finish Operators. They all had to provide reports back to the BHA on whether they thought I was good enough. In the 8 months that I trained, I visited twenty-six different racecourses and wrote a training logbook which had to be submitted to be judged along with passing a three-part exam and an interview in order to gain accreditation. I qualified in May 2018 – my first day was a Windsor family fun day with nine races (including an Arabian race) and an ROR parade too – it was a good day!
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to become a Clerk?
I think working in a racing yard is one of the best things you can do going into this job. It gives you an appreciation of all of the hard work and pressure behind the scenes. It helps you to understand how much the small things count. It also gives you a good work ethic! My advice would be to work hard and take it all in – absorb as much as you can as there are very many different ways of doing things but which can be quite racecourse specific too.
Which racecourses have you worked at?
I was based permanently at Windsor for the 2018 season, which I loved. I’ve covered all weather meetings at Southwell, Lingfield, Newcastle and Wolverhampton and turf meetings at Windsor, Lingfield, Sedgefield and Uttoxeter. I was stand-in Clerk at Sedgefield for a good few months while the excellent Michael Naughton was being trained up in 2018/19. I worked at Uttoxeter from January 2019 and had three brilliant years there.
Which racecourse do you work at now?
I am at Newcastle, since the end of 2021.
Which is your favourite racecourse that you do NOT work at?
Hexham, Kelso, Cheltenham…too many, sorry!
What did you love about Uttoxeter Racecourse?
It’s a really pretty place with some great racing and lovely people. I think it is underestimated. From a Clerking perspective, there aren’t any trappy fences. We get some lovely Novices running here who I really enjoy following subsequently.
In a nutshell, what does your job entail?
Running the racing side of the racecourse. Medical/veterinary provision, maintenance of the racing surface, preparation of fences/hurdles and course layout. Race planning. Major incident planning and management. Budgeting. Running the race day is the smallest part of the job.
Which is your favourite meeting/race day?
I love Midlands Grand National day. In its own right it is a brilliant race. Following on from the Festival everyone seems to be in good spirits with the relative pressure off – even if they haven’t had the best of weeks. Some would say it’s our most pressured meeting but the smaller meetings are just as important to me. I want everyone to have a good experience whether it’s in a Class 5 or a Listed race.
What are you most looking forward to about working at Newcastle?
I'm looking forward to the busy programme, which is all-year round over both codes. There's the Northumberland Plate Festival, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle day and now the All-Weather Championship Finals Day - as an all-weather track as well as a jumps track, there will never be a dull moment. Plus, I've come home!
In general, what does racing do well?
Overcome adversity. I think the Covid situation has really emphasised what a proactive and forward-thinking industry we are a part of. To enable racing to return in a safe way at such a rapid rate when other sporting bodies were struggling to get things passed by the Government was absolutely crucial for our sport to come through as well as it has. The knock-on effects at this stage have been relatively minimal.
Which aspects can be improved?
Communication between stake holders. We have some excellent representative bodies but I feel there is still room for more productive discussion regarding various aspects of our sport.
Please describe the different challenges between winter and summer jumping:
Winter jumping is less challenging than summer on most levels. Yes, the ground gets trashed and takes a lot of putting back. Sometimes we flood or freeze, other times we have to miss fences or hurdles and at times plans have to be changed to accommodate a worn or poached area. However, on the whole, it is manageable and there is more time to deal with it all when not watering.
Summer jumping is rather more challenging. Quicker ground means faster run races and more damage to fences and hurdles. We are constantly trying to provide safe jumping ground in sometimes very hot and windy conditions with short turnaround times between meetings. That, and the grass needing to be mown in-between the watering, racing and repairs. There are always differing opinions and desires for the ground in the summer too – it tends to be an 80/20 split between people wanting Good, with a bit of cut in it, and ‘Summer Good’. If possible, on a drying day we try to start the day with a bit of cut. Horse and jockey welfare is the priority. However, you have to accept that you can’t please everyone - there will always be someone wishing it was a bit quicker or slower.
Please describe your typical race day when you were at Uttoxeter:
Get in at 5.45am, check the weather station for rainfall amounts/overnight temperatures. Look at the weather forecast on various websites. If a hot/windy day, JP Jakes, the Head Groundsman, and I start the watering at 6am before walking the course. Update the Going by 7am. Finish paperwork with last updates and the course map in the weighing room. If no dramas (like Doctors dropping out for example), I dead head the roses (never stops) and water the hanging baskets or help with frost sheets in the winter. Check in at the stables and update with non-runners/ traveller requests. Update owners ticket requests and respond to their emails. Check in on the valets and officials when they arrive. Walk the course with the Stewards Panel Chair about two hours before the first race. Update the going if required and inform Stewards etc. Get changed, have a drink, do my radio checks and then it’s race time!
Is social media positive or negative?
Personally, I’m not a fan of it. I use it to update anything significant but never give my opinion on anything. That said, I do enjoy liking positive posts (especially winning ones at Uttoxeter) and when I’m busy, it keeps me in the loop on nice and not so nice things which is very helpful – e.g X has had a treble (make sure to say well done if I see them) or Y is injured (check to see how they are if appropriate). I think in the modern world we are far too readily available to be contacted. Everyone has a right to turn their phone off and just rest, but it is near-on impossible particularly in our industry, which is so fast moving and fashion driven.
What is the funniest thing you’ve seen on a racecourse?
There was a guy dressed up as a jockey at a stag do in Windsor who managed to slot in behind the jockeys going to the parade ring. He was chatting away to some connections (who were humouring him) they offered to leg him up - he suddenly looked worried!
Have the themed race days (ladies’ days/Irish music nights/family fun days, etc) increased spectator numbers and widened the appeal of racing?
I think it has definitely increased exposure. I know some don’t like it, but if for every fifty people, one person becomes properly interested, it can only be good for the sport. I feel that the family fun days are especially important. There is something enchanting about a beautiful racehorse. If they’ve had a nice time, a child who goes racing may want to pursue it as an interest or a career even if they’re not from a ‘horsey’ background and thereby increasing diversity and reaching to a wider population. Themed days create a fun atmosphere too – and after racing music means you can get away with the horse boxes with minimal traffic!
The Imitation Game.
Tackling Life by Johnny Wilkinson.
Rugby (Newcastle Falcons supporter), eventing (badly), music (listening and playing), tennis, hockey, baking.