Trainer Talk: Claire Hart

Claire schooling Myfanwy's Magic
Written by Jake Exelby

Claire Hart has been one of the most successful female riders of the past decade, notching up 101 victories between the flags – many of which she trained herself – alongside another 14 in Hunter Chases, and finishing runner-up to Gina Andrews in the Ladies Championship twice. Best-known for her association with the prolific Palypso De Creek and Dabinett Moon, it was on another multiple winner – Lady Myfanwy – that Claire first came to prominence. Which is why it’s appropriate that Claire – based near Blockley in Gloucestershire – has been pre-training one of that popular mare’s offspring, Myfanwy’s Magic, for the new 360 Racing Club.

The 360 Racing Club is a syndicate with a difference. As well as having runners in points, it is involved under rules, with breeding (the mare Rosemary Russet is currently in foal to Planteur) and the Retraining of Racehorses, with Leith Hill Lad, part of a Mollington treble for Claire in 2015 and subsequently successful under rules, now involved in dressage and eventing. South Midlands Area Press Officer Jake Exelby went to see Claire’s new set-up and to talk to her and 360 Racing Club principal Kate Miller about how they hope to encourage more owners into pointing and racing.

Claire moved to her new yard at Hailstone Farm in the summer of 2022, with facilities such as an outdoor school, where we watch her take the five-year-old Myfanwy’s Magic through his paces.

Claire schooling Myfanwy's Magic
Claire schooling Myfanwy’s Magic.

“He’s by (the Medician stallion) Mr Medici,” Claire explains, “As Lady Myfanwy’s owner, the late Paul Miles, also had Findlay’s Find, who was by Medician.” As Claire jumps the youngster, Kate tells me how they came by the horse. “Paul’s wife, also named Myfanwy, sent him to us as a lovely big baby during lockdown to be broken in. He was for sale, but in lockdown… so he stayed and stayed. We all thought a lot of him, so I talked to Myfanwy Miles one day and at the end of the call, we’d bought a horse! He’ll start off under rules with Martin Keighley and hopefully go back and forth between that and pointing, as you can nowadays.”

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The 360 Racing Club’s second pointer is Nickolson, trained by Julie Wadland. “She’s a good trainer, who produces a lot of winners,” confirms Kate. “Nickolson won a bumper and a hurdle for Olly Murphy.” But as Kate is keen to point out, the 360 Racing Club is not just about watching horses run. “It’s about the overall experience,” she says of the syndicate’s raison d’etre. “From seeing the foals born, then being broken in as youngsters, watching them race, then staying with them in their new career when they retire from racing. We want to take people on the whole journey, be accessible, get as many involved as possible and see things they wouldn’t normally, all year round. We plan to have as many horses in training as membership allows, with a minimum of two in training at any time.

Kate explains how the 360 Racing Club was born. “We’d just bought Myfanwy’s Magic, had been doing some retraining and rehoming of racehorses who’d been with the likes of David Bridgewater and Neil Mulholland and were talking about syndicates.” Claire chips in, “After retiring from riding, I wanted to stay involved, but do something different, not just the breaking-in, pre-training and training pointers I already offered, but breeding and rehabilitating ex-racehorses. We also want to make it inclusive for people who can’t afford a horse of their own or be involved in a smaller syndicate, and we want to educate people on the effort it takes to get horses to run. Myfanwy’s Magic is a perfect example of this – he’s not the most straightforward of horses, a bit of a character, and we want the club members to see that. Most people have never seen a racehorse being backed, long-reined or going through the stages of their education. It’s not all about race day – we’ll do different things, from yard visits and stable tours, to stud visits and schooling and training demonstrations.

I ask Claire about the breeding side of the 360 Racing Club. “Rosemary Russet is out of Apple Days, a niece of Dabinett Moon and a half-sister to Glimpse Of Gala, who was placed in a Grade One bumper. We’ve sold her Passing Glance yearling and her foal, also by Passing Glance, is for sale – it’s a business after all.” Kate interjects at this point with, “Hopefully we can get a syndicate together and sell her to stay in the yard but, even if not, her Planteur foal will belong to the 360 Racing Club and the dream is for our members to follow her whole journey.”

On the latter point, Claire talks about Leith Hill Lad, “The equine love of my life. He’s done three or four dressage tests so far and loves his showjumping and eventing – he jumps for fun.” For Kate, it means that, “People can see the other end of racing and what happens to a racehorse afterwards. I’d never seen it myself, but we had Reality Bites – who was too kind to be a racehorse – and he’s now showing and has won all sorts of competitions.”

Claire with Leith Hill Lad after winning at Mollington
Claire with Leith Hill Lad after winning at Mollington.

The 360 Racing Club costs £35 per month – you sign-up online at 360racingclub.co.uk and you get a month free if you pay for a year upfront. “It’s difficult to price,” admits Kate, “But it’s effectively £1 per day, which makes it affordable, for a load of fun. We want to introduce our idea to a lot of people, so are looking to keep membership numbers fairly low, and it’s a not-for-profit club – all prize money will go back into the club pot and the more money we have, the more horses. I want people to be happy with what they pay because of the experience we offer,” she continues. “If I phone Claire on a Friday and ask if five people want to come on Sunday to see Myfanwy’s Magic schooling, she’ll say yes – you can’t do that in a syndicate under rules. We want to keep group events small, so members get treated like owners and are given a premium experience.”

“For the fee, club members will get lots of online content,” adds Kate, “Videos, classes, workshops – I’ve got plenty of ideas. There will obviously be regular e-newsletters and a dedicated members area on the website. And, as well as yard visits, all members will get free entry to the point-to-points where we have a runner – we’ll fund it ourselves if necessary. It’s terrible that pointing owners get nothing and have to pay to get in, then pay for a race card.” She cites an example of when the Claire-trained Melekhov ran for a syndicate of ten, who also have horses under rules, at Cocklebarrow last season. “It’s got a heated marquee, which is one of the reasons so many people go, and it must pay for itself, but there was nothing for the owners, who couldn’t believe they had to pay for everything. Point-to-points need an owners’ area.”

“The big thing is the experience on the day for owners,” Kate continues. “Prize money is less important – there’s not much difference between winning £250 and £350.” Claire agrees. “If I could, I’d just let my owners drive-in for free – it would be a good start to their day. I’d have a marquee with free drinks and snacks – I’d make the sandwiches myself if necessary. Something like that shouldn’t cost a sponsor more than about £1,000. We need to give them something better than standing in a muddy field.”

Another factor that Claire and Kate believe is discouraging more owners from sending horses pointing is that there are too many opportunities for moderate horses in National Hunt racing. Claire explains what she means. “Horses that wouldn’t be able to go through the grades in points can make money in 0-100 races under rules. Nowadays, you need a 110-rated horse to win a Maiden and a 130-rated one to win an Open. We should grade some Conditions and Open races in point-to-points, for example for horses that have never reached a mark of 120 under rules. Horses running in points are often better than those at midweek National Hunt meetings.” Kate cites the need for a closer relationship between pointing and the National Trainers Federation – “There’s a big pool of owners and trainers who don’t understand the benefits of sending their horses pointing.”

Claire is an advocate of licensed trainers like Fergal O’Brien and Dan Skelton (through Nick Pearce) who do have pointers. “They’re not doing it with highly-rated horses, but those who’ve lost their way, and they’re doing it for their staff – it’s great for the young jockeys in the yard.” However, she is in two minds about the increasing dominance of the big pointing operations. “I’ve got nothing but admiration for what they do – and they’re pointing people who don’t want to go under rules – but I can see how it might put people off when racing becomes uncompetitive. Everyone involved in the sport would like to see a diverse group of winners.”

It’s also worth saying that the 360 Racing Club is not the only new venture for Claire and her team this season. Partner Gareth Price, who only sat on a horse for the first time in August 2021, may make his debut in the saddle less than 18 months after learning to ride.

Claire and partner Gareth, who she taught to ride last summer
Claire and partner Gareth, who she taught to ride last summer.

Having talked about the future, we convene for a coffee as Claire reflects on the past, talking about her riding career, which lasted from 2001 to 2021, when she signed-off a few weeks after riding a final winner, at Charing on Midnight Chill following the resumption of pointing after lockdown. I ask her why she retired. “I’d had an amazing weekend, riding at Aldington, Chaddesley Corbett and Edgcote – the most rides I’d had for ages. In my head, I’d already had enough – I didn’t want to get hurt any more. Plus, I had a business to run – I’d become a grown-up!”

So, what does Claire miss most – and least – about her time in the saddle? “Most, the girls, the banter… and the winning! Only the other day, I was reminiscing with Richard Bandey about Alskamatic (on whom Claire won six, as well as finishing a close second twice at Cheltenham). I don’t miss the falls and the injuries – I felt sick just watching the Ladies Open at Cocklebarrow last year. Mum… and codeine… used to fix me and I even rode a winner with a broken collarbone!” 

Claire cites her career highlight as “My hundredth career winner on Western Diva, owned by a family syndicate – it was very special and a milestone only I could have dreamt of.” And her funniest moment? “Sue Sharratt is a great friend now, but she used to terrify me! I remember when I was a novice going to Weston Park one day, pleased with myself as I’d had a winner the day before. Sue had schooled the horse I was due to ride, so I built myself up to ask her about it, introduced myself and she replied, ‘Claire Hart? Never f*cking heard of you. That horse? Can’t f*cking jump!”

As I leave, I ask Claire what fuels her passion for pointing. “It’s the people, the teamwork and the memories. It’s the most amazing sport and I’ve appreciated everything about it. And it’s the dream, loving it when the horses win, which is why the club is so important to us, sharing the experience as we drink fizz together at the back of the lorry!”

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