How a Policeman and a Headmaster ended up in the Parade Ring

Clive (one from right) and Tony (five from right) after Kalarika wins at Exeter

“Where’s the man with the jokes?”

These were words spoken by the late Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer Robert Alner at a stable visit earlier this year. He could only have been referring to one man – Clive Cole. As Clive duly took centre stage and delighted everyone there with his repertoire of jokes, I looked around and considered the makeup of the room. To my left, an ex-policeman and racing syndicate manager was in conversation with a Grade 1 winning jockey who is now a talented trainer. To my right was a former headmaster exchanging jokes with one of the sport’s greats.

Clive Cole and Tony Gale have both changed my life, and many others’, by opening up a world which has given me enormous enjoyment.  They also seem to me to be the type of people who are well placed to advise how we can get young people involved in the sport.  In this article, I hope to shine some light on their backgrounds and how they became involved in racing.

The first day of school – it’s one of the most vivid memories of childhood. The weird smells, new rules and grown ups who aren’t Mum or Dad can be rather scary to a small child. As I entered the classroom for the first time and waved a teary goodbye to my parents, I felt abandoned and very unhappy. My new headmaster must have noticed the stream of tears running down my cheek and took me aside to find out what was wrong. He passed me a tissue and we talked about our common interests. I told him I liked national hunt racing and, with a twinkle in his eye, he assured me that everything would be okay. This solicitous headmaster was Clive Cole.

Throughout my years at primary school I continued to have these brief conversations with Mr Cole about our favourite sport: who we thought would win the 2:40 at Newbury or the amount of winners that McCoy was going to rack up on any given day. Looking back at it now, I think that these chats at a young age really fuelled my love of horse racing and I am very pleased that I kept in touch with Clive.

As a pupil at his school, I can confirm that Clive was a brilliant teacher and I began this interview by asking him about his approach to being a headmaster.

“Being a headmaster is very different to what I’m doing now. When you do a job, especially as a headmaster, you have a big responsibility because every child that comes through your door is your responsibility. It’s most important that you get the best out of them because, like horses, they’re not all the same. You get some children that are very bright, some horses that are very intelligent, some that will try harder than others. I loved the job as a headmaster as you got a chance to influence children’s lives. Everybody should have something that they are good at and you should always try and emphasise that thing. I also think that it’s about instilling values in them. I do have a bit of a sense of humour – as you know – and I just wanted their childhoods to be full of nice experiences and to get the best from them.

“It’s the same with horse racing: everyone wants to get the best from their horses in relation to their ability. You’ve got to emphasise the positives in young people because this is their starting point. For me, it’s so rewarding to see children go on and do something special and make the best of their lives.

“What am I doing now? My wife, Sue and I are retired, we’re just going along and enjoying life, this is what we worked hard for. If I didn’t have my racing, I don’t know what I’d be doing – I could only do so much decorating! I get a real buzz from going and seeing the horses run, being part of it all.”

Like many people involved in the horse racing industry, Clive’s interest in the sport started at a young age and was largely influenced by his parents. “I think I first went racing when I was about seven, my father used to like a little bet – he didn’t go mad – and my Mum worked for William Hill in the betting office. We were always interested in horses.”

Going racing at such a young age can be rather confusing and I couldn’t help but laugh when Clive told the story of backing his first ever horse. “I can vividly remember backing a horse called Brown Stout at Towcester. We were on the inside of the course and it finished first so I was elated, but I was a little more despondent when my Nan said ‘it does have to have a jockey on it as it goes past the line!'”

Clive went on to explain how he became an owner. “I thought I’d never own a horse – we had ponies, which I loved, but when I was working I found out about the Elite Racing Club which had thousands of members. It was only about £99 for membership and so I decided to join.” Clive had a taste of success at Elite Racing after he “got to walk into the winner’s enclosure with a horse called Ffestiniog which went on and won several races and proved to be a good broodmare.” Since his days with Elite Racing, Clive has held a share in more than 25 horses. He joined Axom Syndicates and had a couple of shares in horses with John Oaksey. But then he met Tony Gale, founder of Gale Force Racing. Since then, he’s held a share in every Gale Force horse since Theocritus. When I asked Clive to talk about the joy of horse ownership, a large grin appeared on his face. “Every time you go racing as an owner and see your horse run it’s fantastic, when a win comes it’s an absolute bonus.”

Clive currently has an interest in eight horses. Clive and Sue own three horses  (Castcarrie, Dorrana and Castkitello) with their great friends Tony and Ann Gale. He owns three with Gale Force (Kalarika, Early Days and One for Dunstan), and Clive and three friends own the mare Chloe’s Court. Clive and his wife Sue are also the sole owners of a yearling by Scorpion out of the three time winning mare Shoofly Milly who was owned by Gale Force.  Having had shares in over 25 horses, Clive has had the chance to be associated with some great stables. Among others, Clive has had horses in training with the likes of Martin Pipe, Nicky Henderson, Paul Cole, Colin Tizzard and Robert Walford.

Clive and Sue’s yearling out of Shoofly Milly

When asked to choose his favourite horse that he’s owned, he named the three-time handicap chase winner, Castarnie. He was bought as an unbroken five year old to be trained by Robert Walford and was almost un-rideable at the start. He also had a bit of a character. “On occasion, he would let himself out of his stable. One day he let himself out, ate a bag of pony nuts, a whole bag, and when Rob got in in the morning, his stable door was still open and he was inside, stamping his foot waiting for breakfast.”

Every owner hopes that one of their horses will go down in the history books like Arkle, and Clive is no different. “There was a horse called Mill House, a fantastic horse, Arkle gave 16 pound to that horse and a 20 length beating. He was just an absolute machine, and a character with it. When you buy horses, you’ve always got that hope that one of them will be a freak like Arkle.”

I asked Clive what his advice would be for young people who are considering going racing for the first time. “If I were a youngster, I wouldn’t go to one of the bigger meetings. I would try and find a local track, perhaps midweek during the holidays, somewhere like Fontwell, Newton Abbot or Plumpton. The first thing I would do is go and have a look at the horses in the parade ring to see what athletes they are and how well they are prepared. For the race, I would go and stand next to a fence, preferably a steeplechase fence because on the television you cannot get the real feel and sound of those horses brushing through that fence. It’s fantastic. Then I’d go back to the paddock to see how well they are looked after and try and pick one for the next race – it could be the colour of the horse, the name or the silks. Just go and see the horses in action.”

One day at Wincanton racecourse, when I was seven or eight, Clive and Sue introduced me to their friends, Tony and Ann Gale.

Tony joined the police at 19 and had a long and distinguished career in different roles. He can remember always having an interest in horses and started going racing when he was eight or nine, visiting point to points in West Dorset and East Devon.

Tony’s first involvement in ownership was in 1999 when he bought a share in Head Gardener, trained by Richard Lee because he liked the name. Head Gardener ran at Hereford on its first run after Tony bought the share, and won. Tony remained in ‘The Another Comedy’ syndicate for many years before buying small shares in horses with Middleham Park racing, who, he adds, “weren’t as grand then as they are now!”

Middleham Park was being run as a business and Tony and another friend decided to form their own syndicate which aimed to enhance the involvement of smaller owners. They called the syndicate ‘Gale Force’ playing on Tony’s surname and that many of the original group of owners were, or had been, members of the police force. Tony added, with some satisfaction, “we’ve still got a couple of original owners with us now, almost 20 years down the road.”

Since 2002/03, Gale Force has been involved with around 30 horses, trained by Richard Lee, Nick Williams (who trained the first ever Gale Force winner), Colin Tizzard, Jeremy Scott and now Rob Walford as well.

Keen to find out about how Tony assigns trainers to horses, I asked what his approach is. “We like to spread horses about because if one trainer has a virus in the yard then hopefully the others can race with no problems. We always tended to use smaller trainers, that applied to Colin Tizzard when we went to him first – he was then a farmer who trained a few horses. We’ve now had horses with him for quite a long time but we’re always looking for small, new trainers who we get on with.”

Tony’s favourite horse is Desert Orchid who captured the hearts of the nation. “He was a big grey and what he achieved with David Elsworth was quite remarkable really. We’ve got a picture of Desert Orchid on our stairs here.”  Tony’s wife, Ann chooses Yeats, the great flat horse.

Tony’s favourite horse he has been involved with is Philson Run. “He was a very inexpensive horse – we bought him at the Doncaster sales for £6,500. He had his first run in a Hunter Chase at Wincanton, he was the outsider at 33/1 and he won that race. After that, he ended up winning the Eider Chase, the Midland National and a couple of other chases before being placed in the Aintree Grand National. He won a total of £170,000 and we sold him when Nick Williams felt that he couldn’t do any more with him. In his retirement, Philson Run went back to a girl that looked after him at Nick Williams’ yard and she rode him to her wedding. He made a lot of owners very, very happy and financially they did quite well out of him too.”

Ann chose Morello Royale. “We bought her as a foal in Ireland. We saw her grow up and then she won a big mares’ race at Kempton which made her an Elite Mare. She was rated 140 at one point.”

Perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that Ann and Tony agreed with Clive about how young people can be encouraged to go racing.  Tony emphasised how the horses are the stars of the show. “A horse is a beautiful animal and an athlete. They might not win on their first start; every horse has a different ability but racing is ultimately about appreciating the animal on the racecourse. Betting comes into it, but it’s very incidental to watching the actual excitement of the race unfold.”

Ann added, “I’m not a betting person so therefore betting doesn’t doesn’t appeal to me at all but I think you’ve got to appeal to the younger generation as a sport not an occasion exclusively for drinking and gambling. Nowadays, some racecourses allow you to go down to the start, look at the weighing room and go behind the scenes. By racing making itself so open to newcomers, some young people will be fascinated by being able to access and observe everything that goes on behind the scenes on a race day. I think more racecourses should follow suit.”

Clive, Tony and Ann were all interested in racing when they were children and have kept on going, eventually owning horses themselves. They all talk about their appreciation of horses as athletes and encourage the racing industry and courses to open themselves up and make the horse the focal point of attraction.

My own interest in horse racing is ultimately down to enjoying the magical spectacle of watching horses jumping fences. But I have also been introduced to many decent people in racing through Clive and Tony who share my enjoyment of the sport.  I’m very grateful to them both, and their wives, for the kindness and patience they’ve always shown me. I turned 16 a little while ago and I now have a very small share in a horse with Tony and Clive for myself.

By Ezra Woodman


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