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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

The Racing Life of Gordy Clarkson

Gordy Clarkson, 52, has worked with racehorses his entire life here in the UK and over in Ireland, with only a brief hiatus when he was younger and worked away from racing. He has latterly been a commentator and now is a jockeys’ agent. He was once the ‘lad’ who cared daily for Barton Bank and speaks of times working in racing that are long gone and of people equally no longer with us. He tells colourful stories about working for David ‘The Duke’ Nicholson at Condicote and then at a brand-new Jackdaws Castle. He was not a jockey but did ride in two point-to-points for a bet that he duly won.

Gordy, never gravitating far from the Cotswolds, lives in Bourton-on-the-Water with wife Jemima (they met whilst working for trainer Richard Phillips) and five-year-old twins, Phoebe and Charlie, and a white fluffy Maltese called Barney.

What was your background with horses?

My grandfather, Jeff Hardtop, owned racehorses with John Webber, Paul Webber’s father, and it was through him and my grandmother, Joan Hardtop, that I had ponies. I was incredibly lucky doing Pony Club, competitions and hunting. My first ponies were Sovereign and Pippin, then I had Footsteps, a Prince Philip Cup pony. Footsteps proved a brilliant hunter and was often too tired to compete in the mounted games on the Sunday!

How did you get into racing?

When I was 14 or 15, I started riding out at John Webber’s. The first racehorse I ever sat on was More Pleasure.

Which trainers have you worked for and in what roles?

My first job was at John Webber’s – I earned £32 a week. Staff lived in caravans or three former monkey houses purchased from Twycross Zoo – but I chose to keep living at home! I started on “day release” from my secondary school, by going to Webber’s one day in the week. Instead of sitting my O-Level maths exam, I was schooling Mid Day Gun over hurdles!

I then got out of racing as I wanted more money. I worked for six months on the Channel Tunnel as a “fitter’s mate”. I then started playing rugby and, through this I became a delivery driver for one lad whose company reconditioned London buses. This is when I started driving for a living.

I then worked in Ireland, where I originally went for a break staying in County Waterford as it had the reputation of being a great place to be. I went into the local bookmakers Noel Cummins, who is still there today, and asked who the local trainers were. I was given a list of three, chose John Queally and started working for him the next Monday. I stayed for two and a half years. In Dungarven, you didn’t just work in racing, you worked for the whole town.

I then returned to the UK and went straight to the Duke's at Condicote. I started as a yard man as the Duke said I was “too fat to ride out” so I spent my mornings pushing up the muck heap and haying. I moved with the Duke to Jackdaws Castle in 1992 and stayed there until the Duke retired. I ended up as his pupil assistant behind Kingy (Alan King) and then became Kingy’s assistant trainer when he took over after the Duke's retirement. I stayed on as assistant to Richard Phillips when he trained there and followed him when Jackdaws Castle was bought.

The last horse I rode out, called Whenever, was nine years ago and I haven’t sat on one since.

Please give details about working for the Duke:

When the Duke first moved to Jackdaws Castle with 65-70 horses, he would have named sixty of them blindfolded. He was an unbelievable trainer. I didn’t appreciate how good a boss he was until now – he was a funny, unbelievable man too and incredibly loyal. I remember at a rounder’s match against Twiston-Davies’ staff, the Duke appeared on the yard wearing a band-new tracksuit, waiting for evening stables to finish so he could play on his staff’s side.

The memorable days of working for the Duke; an Open Day

at the new Jackdaws Castle

Did you ever have any nicknames?

Gordon got shortened to Gordy at the Duke’s, and I was also known as Slippers because I used to go straight from work to the Plough.

Who influenced you the most in racing?

My grandfather to start off with. And then in Ireland, Nicky and Helen from Dungarven. Helen looked after me like a mother; they were really good to me and we’re still in touch now.

Who do you admire in racing?

I certainly didn’t appreciate what a great trainer and, more importantly, a great man the Duke was.

What were your best days in racing?

Barton Bank winning the King George in 1993. I ‘did’ him after his hurdling career. He should’ve won two King Georges but was unseated the year after. He gave me the best and worst days’ racing.

Which were your favourite horses?

Barton Bank for the obvious reasons.

Dark’n Sharp, who kept me in a job when winning the Red Rum Chase at Aintree in 2002. We celebrated by going on the lash for three days!

Yann’s, also from Richard Phillips’, who was just a brilliant horse, and was great fun every day. He’d buck, stand on his hind legs and was just a proper character.

Gordy with Musthaveaswig, winner of the Mapperley

Handicap Chase at Nottingham in February 1993

What roles have you had in racing but out of yards?

Since leaving Phillips’, I have been commentating on SIS on greyhounds and virtual racing. In Leeds, I have commentated on horses for ICS. I am the race day presenter at Hereford Racecourse, giving out the best-turned-outs and calling out the official results. A few times a month, I also work with Racing 2 School, teaching school kids maths (with a keen emphasis on Imperial versus metric) and getting the kids interested in racing.

From summer of 2019, I joined jockey agent Chris Broad (‘Broady’) as his assistant. We sort out bookings for Sam Twiston-Davies, Gavin Sheehan, Johnny Burke and David Bass, among others.

Describe being an agent:

I’m always up early. It’s slightly obsessive – awaiting entries, then it’s time to do the decs. I love communicating with the jockeys, many whom I have known for years. It’s great to still be involved in racing, just in a different way.

How has racing changed?

When I started working in racing, we only did three horses, and now everyone does six to seven horses each or works round every night. There were far fewer girls than lads. Now racing is far more open to women, which is a positive change. Staff have a lot more time off now, which is also good. Yards work one in three weekends and have half days off. We worked solidly, having only every other Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. Yet, there was no Sunday racing, or summer jumping and we had the end of May to August 1st off.

Prizemoney must be improved. In 1992, Musthaveaswig finished second in a novice hurdle round Uttoxeter and won more prize money than the winner did this year.

What was the best advice you were given?

All horses kick.

What was the best advice you can give?

All horses kick!

What’s your favourite pub meal?

Steak and chips.

What’s your favourite pub?

The Plough at Ford for old time’s sake.

What’s your favourite drink?

Tempest beer.

What are your favourite racecourses?

Newcastle, Kelso as it has the best hospitality for overnighters and Newton Abbot, nicknamed Newton About, for being the best run racecourse bar none. Plus, Hereford is another well run course.

Who is your racing hero and heroine?

Nicky Dee and my wife Jemima, for being the rock in the Clarkson family!

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