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Behind the Scenes at Team Kingsclere

Deep down leafy, twisty lanes, Andrew Balding's Park House Stables nestles in acres of luscious green. The slope of Watership Down – think warring rabbits – rises in the near distance, the white rails just visible. This gallop is another option up which to work the string, adding to the straight and circular ones situated nearer to the yard.

The weathered, rust-coloured brick of the traditional yard from where Andrew’s father Ian trained the likes of Mill Reef, sprawl into the newer, airy barns – additions built to accommodate the 250 now in training. The yard even boasts its own manicured cricket pitch. When I visited on a bright, breezy Monday morning, talk was of that week’s highly competitive match between Team Kingsclere and Ralph Beckett’s staff. The hundreds of acres and every furlong of the sand and grass gallops are cared for by two gallop men and a maintenance team.

At the helm of this highly successful operation, which sent out the 2000 Guineas winner Chaldean in May, are Andrew and wife Anna Lisa, backed by loyal assistants, barn managers and travelling heads, as well as farriers and vets. Then the large army of yard staff and grooms power the engines: a thorough assortment of skills but who all lead-up at the races, and every rider learns to ride work. What some lack in experience they make up for with a keenness to learn and enthusiasm. Everyone improves with the help of regular visits from rider coach and former head of travelling Leanne White, use of four Equicisers and riding upsides professional jockeys. The yard gym was constructed last year and they can progress in fitness under the watchful eye of personal trainers, including Maddy O’Meara, who is also a barn manager.

Of the hundred full time staff, seventy-seven are provided accommodation, split between flats, cottages and houses, with the younger persons living in the hostel. The cluster of houses, the next step up from the hostel, are all situated close by, only a short walk or cycle away for non-drivers.

After fifth lot, staff members trickle through the hostel doors, hungry, hot but bubbling like shaken champagne. They congregate in the large lofty dining room with a huge table and many chairs at its heart and enlarged photos of past champions embellishing the walls. Thirsts are quenched by glasses of vibrantly coloured squash and the contents of a fridge-freezer are picked over. Two boxer dogs, Doris and Georgia, wander in, hopeful of treats. The chatter is of excitable Monday lots and arrangements for the upcoming Go-Karting trip, punctuated with light ribbing and laughter.

This happy troop, all immaculately clad in the black uniform embroidered with the King Power motif, are aided by the heroic hostel manager Charlotte ‘Char’ Clarke, whose duties go way beyond the catering and cheffing in which she was originally trained. Described as 'amazing' and 'a second mum' by her younger colleagues, I don't think that really does her standard of care and commitment any justice.

Tucked away in a small corner of beautiful Berkshire, Team Kingsclere is as bouncy as the two-year-old colts and fillies they ride out. If they don't have you hankering to be a racing school recruit, daisy-fresh and a sponge to all knowledge, then nothing will.

Meet five members of staff who live on site and, alongside every member of Team Kingsclere, are a big part of this yard’s success:

Barry Lewis, 24, is a work-rider groom who has been here for a year. He is from Reading and, after finishing a degree in Equine Science at Hartpury College, he came here as it has the added bonus of being closer to home than Gloucestershire.

Did you have a horsey childhood? Not really and I wasn't even sporty. I had lessons on ponies at weekends with my older sister Julia. I stuck with it and she gave up.

How did you get into racing? When I was at Hartpury, I worked for Kim Bailey and learnt how to ride out. When I finished my degree, I wanted to try the Flat. Kim Bailey's assistant trainer Matt Nicholl suggested Andrew Balding's and wrote me a good reference, so I came here last year.

Favourite horse: Runaway, who is a full sister to Blackbeard. I ride and look after her.

What is the best aspect about working for Andrew Balding? Each week, I look forward to work riding. We get to work alongside the jockeys, who give us guidance to improve, and I enjoy seeing how the horses are progressing.

Who is your racing hero? Ryan Moore.

Favourite racecourse: Chester.

What are your dreams for the future? When the time is right, I’d like to try out for an amateur license. Then, in the distant future, I’d like to progress as a senior member of staff as a head lad or travelling head lad.

Favourite meal: Spaghetti Bolognese.

Favourite drink: Coca-Cola zero.

Favourite snack: I do eat a lot of toast and popcorn.

Favourite holiday destination: Majorca.

Hobbies: Running and cycling.

Leisha Brooks, 18, is from Essex and has progressed from showing ponies to working with racehorses. She has worked here for a year and a half as a work-rider groom.

Did you have a horsey childhood? I did in-hand and ridden showing with my little 12.2 Ruby.

How did you get into racing? When I was doing GCSEs, I knew I was leaving school but I didn't know what to do, only that I wanted to work with horses. I went to the Northern Horseracing College in Doncaster and had a placement at Epsom for six weeks on the ground and then I came here to ride.

Favourite horse: Enchanting, the two-year-old filly I look after.

What is the best aspect about working for Andrew Balding? The horses I look after – Sovereign Spirit, Enchanting, Falsetto and an Unnamed two-year-old filly by Starspangledbanner.

What is your best day in racing so far? Leading up my first ever winner at Ffos Las.

Favourite racecourse: Newcastle – the hotel where we stay is nice.

What are your dreams for the future? To travel horses around the world, and to put on a stone!

Favourite meal: Chicken nuggets.

Favourite drink: Tropical juice – sometimes with vodka.

Favourite snack: Kitkat Chunky.

Favourite holiday destination: Morocco.

Hobbies: Art and taking photos.

Ella Boo Tait Golden, 17, is from Winchester and started working here in October 2022 as a work-rider groom. Having initially lived in the hostel, she moved into the ‘girls’ house’ a couple of months ago. Having grown up with a big age gap between her and her two little brothers, Ella is as adept at babysitting as she is looking after racehorses.

Did you have a horsey childhood? I grew up around horses but I never rode until I was about ten, when I started going to a riding school.

How did you get into racing? I was on the FLP (Flexible Learning Program) whilst I was still at school, which meant through Year 10 and 11, I also went to the British Racing School in Newmarket. Before I’d go to the BRS on a Tuesday, I rode out two lots in Newmarket and on Saturday mornings. I went to Ralph Beckett 's last summer and I also did two weeks at Richard Hughes’ in Lambourn. I originally came here only for a couple of days and then after I really enjoyed it, I spoke to Andrew Balding, got the job and have been here ever since. I love it – there's lots of people my own age and it's close to home.

Favourite horse: Nate The Great.

What is the best aspect about working for Andrew Balding? The people I work with.

What is your best day in racing so far? When Nate the Great, who I rode every day, went to Saudi Arabia and finished fifth.

Racing hero: The top girl jockeys like Hayley Turner and Hollie Doyle.

Favourite racecourse: Epsom on Derby day for the exciting environment and atmosphere.

What are your dreams for the future? I’d like to improve my riding, be able to travel and ride out in different countries, to see how things are done differently around the world.

Favourite meal: Cheesy pasta.

Favourite drink: Orange juice.

Favourite snack: Kinder Bueno.

Dream holiday destination: One day, I’d love to travel America.

Hobbies: I love swimming.

Padraic ‘Paddy’ Dahill-Rowan, 24, grew up in Abud Dhabi and Dubai for sixteen years. When not living in the hostel, he now classes Liverpool as home, where his family have a golden retriever and three cats. He's been here for two years; it is his first job in racing and not having a horsey childhood has not hindered his role here of ground staff and yard staff.

How did you get into racing? When I was about 12, I liked watching horses on the TV with my Granddad so I wanted to work with them. I emailed fifty trainers and this one seemed the best job.

Favourite horse: Torre Del Oro.

What is the best aspect about working for Andrew Balding? Going racing. Andrew and Anna Lisa listen to us, like if you want to do something different like going to the sales, and they look after and support us.

What is your best day in racing so far? Racing is always a good day out – in fact, every day is a good day here.

Racing hero: Aidan O'Brien.

Favourite racecourse: Chester.

What are your dreams for the future? To work in the veterinary industry.

Favourite meal: Pasta.

Favourite drink: Dr Pepper and Sprite.

Favourite snack: Peanut M&Ms.

Dream holiday destination: Maldives.

Hobbies: Swimming, cycling, golf, running – I like doing everything.

Archie Burgess, 18, it's from Lewes, East Sussex. He started here a year ago and is a work-rider groom.

Did you have a horsey childhood? Not really. I didn't sit on a horse until I was seven at a riding school.

How did you get into racing? I went to Ray Goldstein's riding school and he is an ex-jockey. He said to go to Suzy Smith’s yard so I did at weekends and in school holidays. After two years, when I was sixteen, she said to come here.

Favourite horse: Holguin.

What is the best aspect about working for Andrew Balding? Going racing, especially when it's sunny.

Racing hero: Ryan Moore.

Favourite racecourse: Plumpton – I grew up nearby so I have a lot of lovely memories of going there, especially at the Easter meeting.

What are your dreams for the future? To become a successful jump jockey and then be able to afford a house in the Maldives.

Favourite meal: Domino’s Pizza.

Favourite drink: Hot chocolate.

Favourite snack: Dairy Milk Fingers.

Dream holiday destination: I’d love to go to the Maldives – I’ve never been but it looks lovely, especially being able to slide from your bed into the sea.

Hobbies: Football – I support Liverpool.

*Huge thanks to Char who sorted out the staff for these interviews - please read a previous interview with the best Hostel Manager ever:

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