New to Tote? Get a £/€10 Welcome Offer
Join Tote >

Ben Clarke was thrown into the limelight in February when his horse, The Galloping Bear won the Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock, beating the fan favourite Bristol De Mai and we sat down with him to discuss all things racing. 

For the latest news on The Galloping Bear - Click Here

Maybe surprising to some, but Ben did not come from a racing background, in fact as a child he was terrified of horses and ponies. 

“My mother always had ponies but I was not interested at all. To be perfectly honest, up until the age of 15 I was absolutely terrified of horses and ponies and didn’t want to go anywhere near them. I thought they were very unpredictable animals that I didn’t want to be getting involved with.”

So how did Ben go from being terrified of horses to being a jockey and now trainer?

“My mother took me to Wincanton Races one day when I was about 15 years old and we went and stood next to the last fence and the buzz of seeing the horses flying over the fences captured my imagination and I just thought straight away that’s something I’d like to have a go at.”

 

Ben’s first steps into racing were when he was given the opportunity to complete his school’s work experience with a very well known trainer.

“I was due to do some work experience with my school and I decided to go to Philip Hobbs’ for two weeks and I lived there for the two weeks and they were absolutely fantastic to me. They allowed me on the gallops with very very little riding experience and they looked after me superbly and when I was making mistakes they helped me. Philip Hobbs and Johnson White were incredibly kind with their time. Them teaching me whilst I was there straight away made the racing industry something I wanted to get into.”

After finding his love of horse racing, Ben decided he wanted to start riding competitively.

“I became a jockey as an amateur, I had 150 rides and then spent a brief spell as a conditional, I rode a dozen winners. But the whole time my focus was to gain as much experience as I could. I decided to keep my mouth shut and my ears open and learn from every trainer that I stepped into a yard with. That went right up until I was 22 or 23 and then I started to get my first point to point horses to train.”

Ben was completely honest about why he never went professionally into being a jockey.

“From the moment I was race riding I never thought I was good enough or had the talent to become a jockey but it was a way of gaining as much experience with the horses and the knowledge of racing and how racing worked. So if I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to train I would have gained relevant experience.”

Ben’s first taste of training came when he joined the Anthony Honeyball team as assistant trainer. 

“I pretty much gave up race riding by the time I was 22 or 23, I was still doing a little bit of point to point but my focus was to be the assistant trainer, which I did for 2 and a half to three years. Anthony was great, I learnt an awful lot from him. He’s an incredibly good man for placing a horse in races so it was more that side of things I learnt from him. How to pick races and more the race management which was incredibly valuable to learn. And also Anthony uses the same gallops that I use now, so when I was lucky enough to take out a training licence, I already knew the facilities.”

 Ben also told us what he took away from learning from Anthony.

“It’s just his work ethic. He lives and breathes it. He’s one of the most competitive people I know. He finishes second and you think the horse has run well, but to Anthony unless they’re in front you’re not hitting the target. He was a very good man to learn from for placing horses in racing.”

So, I guess we’re all wondering, what’s next for Ben Clarke and his team?

“I currently have 15 horses in training, my next step is to raise that to 20 for next season so just a few more than we have now. My ambition is not to have 50 to 60 horses. You hear everybody saying ‘it’s a numbers game in racing’ and I completely understand what they’re saying but that’s not my approach. With the backing of some really good horses in my yard, our approach is very much 20 to 25 horses and the best quality that we can. Year on year I want to up the quality so we have a select team and we’re in a position where we can select what we’re training.”

Ben also discussed with us how important the Tote/ROA Ownership Scheme is for a small yard like his.

“It’s imperative to be honest. Without it, it would put a huge strain on myself and the owners. The sponsorship scheme that the Tote do is absolutely fantastic. At the moment we’re a yard that doesn’t have a sponsor so without the Tote and the benefits that come with that, it would put huge pressure on us. What the Tote is doing for a small trainer without a yard sponsor it’s so important and we’re incredibly grateful for their support and all of the benefits that come with it.”

Now Ben has had a taste of a huge success, he tells us what he’d love to win over the next few years.

“It’s got to be Cheltenham. For me, the Gold Cup is the race. A staying chaser, 3 and a quarter miles, you can’t be a plodder. Has tactical speed, jumps well, handles the unique nature of the track - You just have to have everything to win the Gold Cup.”

Talking about Cheltenham - If Ben could train one horse going to this year's Festival who would it be?

“Without question, I’d choose Honeysuckle. Firstly, I love training fillies. She’s blessed with stamina and plenty of speed. Probably not the most natural of jumpers but she’s got her way of doing it and she’s very good at it.”

And finally, if you’re looking to take on a favourite at the Festival, who would Ben’s selection be?

“Paul Nicholls’ horse Bravemansgame. I know he’s a short enough price, but he’s got to have a good chance. I think realistically at Cheltenham if you look for something out of the box, you want to look at the handicaps and look at the more unexposed types and maybe certain trainers who have been plotting.”

A massive thank you to Ben for taking the time to speak with us. 


Read More