Day At The Track

Clark Barron - One of the industry's true gentleman

04:21 PM 26 Feb 2016 NZDT
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Clark Barron with his daughter Ellie and wife Jackie Clark Barron and his father,Ron Barron Clark Barron - His building qualifications came in handy when building his own establishment
Clark Barron with his daughter Ellie and wife Jackie
Clark Barron and his father,Ron Barron
Clark Barron - His building qualifications came in handy when building his own establishment

The harness racing industry in New Zealand has never been one for the faint hearted.

Trainers and drivers have to be fairly resilient and thick skinned to make their mark and that in some cases in our experience leads to situations where people's behaviour and truthfulness can be less than exemplary at times.

One trainer/driver who doesn't fit that mold is this season's leading Southland trainer,Clark Barron.

Harnesslink has had many contacts with Clark over the years and we have always found his honest direct approach to everything refreshing in todays cynical environment.

Recently we sat down with Clark to talk about his career in harness racing, the run of success he is having at the moment and how he sees the future.

Harnesslink - I suppose harness racing was always going to be a career option with all the family involvement.

Clark - Yes, it was always something that I was around from an early age and I always had the desire to work with horses.

Harnesslink - Your father was keen on you having a qualification before you had a go at harness racing.

Clark - He thought I needed a trade behind me before going into harness racing  full time so I qualified as a builder before working with the horses.

I worked for Ray Harper during my apprenticeship.

It took me four years but through all that time I kept my hand in with the horses.

I use to go and help Maurice and Val Skinner every weekend and thats where I learned the basics of the game.

I use to go and help out dad when I could so there was never much spare time.

Harnesslink - Your first fulltime job in harness racing was with your father. 

Clark - Yes I went to work for dad when I was twenty one.

Dad went the extra mile on my behalf to give me every opportunity to make it as a driver.

He convinced most of his owners to put me up so I never lacked for drives when I was starting out.

It let me get my name out there and get established and I couldn't thank dad enough for his support in those early days.

Harnesslink - Your first winner wasn't long in coming.

Clark - I drove my first winner at just my third lifetime drive when Free Trouble won at Forbury Park in 1982.

What made it really special at the time was I beat Peter Jones who I always thought was the best driver going around at the time so that added to the thrill of winning my first race.

Harnesslink - It wasn't long before you got the drive behind some very talented horses.

Clark - Yes, Titan Chip (7 wins) was one of the first really smart horses I drove and he certainly lifted my profile.

Right through the 1990s I got to drive a number of very talented horses such as Whale Of A Tale (9wins) and Incredible Fella who dad trained also won nine.

Harnesslink - Who is the best colt - filly you have driven?

Clark - Prince Rashad - 21 wins ($202,375) was the best of the colts.

He was just so tough and never gave an inch in his races

The best filly was undoubtedly Lento - 15 wins ($272,110) 

She had blinding speed and was easy to drive.

In later times I would rate Raksdeal ($121,096) right up there .

She had speed but was a great stayer as well.

Harnesslink - You got married very early in your career 

Clark - Yes I got married in 1983 to Jackie

Honestly the best thing I ever did and I wouldn't change a thing.

Harnesslink - They tell me your daughter Ellie may be following in the footsteps of her father.

Clark - Ellie is training to be a physio at the moment but it wouldn't surprise me at all if  after she is qualified she ended up working with the horses full time.

So yes following the path I took when I was her age.

Harnesslink - You took out a training license in 1990

Clark - I started out at dads where I had twelve boxes and quickly had a good loyal group of owners around me.

The loyalty of the owners in Southland  has always been good and it makes the whole exercise of being a professional trainer that much easier when you have such supportive owners.

Harnesslink - Just when you were starting to put some good numbers on the training front in the mid-late nineties, Michael House called with an offer.

Clark - Yes and it was such a good offer I had to give it a go.

Michael was great for my career and a great boss to work for.

He let me keep driving down south so I could maintain my contacts down here but I also got to travel throughout Australia and New Zealand with the stable runners.

I learnt plenty in the couple of years I worked for Michael.

He is a very accomplished horseman and quite innovative in a lot of ways so it changed my outlook on some things after my time there.

I had a lot of success while there,driving 65 winners the second year.

Harnesslink - Anywhere you went on your travels that impressed you.

Clark - I know the industry in South Australia is not going so well these days but I loved the time I spent there. Probably the pick of the states I spent time in, in Australia.

Harnesslink - Any reason you only worked for Michael House for two years.

Clark - Jackie and I had made a decision before we went north that we would be settled back in Southland before Allie started school so that was the major reason we only stayed two years.

Harnesslink - Any problems getting reestablished as a trainer after two years away.

Clark - No, the same ten owners I had been training for before I left quickly came back to me when I moved home. It is that loyalty thing again.

Harnesslink - You get involved in the yearling sales at all?

Clark - I go every year but I focus on that $ 5,000- $15,000 bracket most of the time.

I have had a lot of success over the years buying in that bracket and turning them over for good money down the track.

My owners are comfortable in that price bracket and it means if we do miss it is not the end of the world.

Quick Relection 1:54.9 ($126,630) is a good example.

We only paid $10,000 for dollars for him at the sales and we only lined him up twice before selling him for really good money to the Jimmy Curtin barn.

Harnesslink - Are you involved in the breeding side of the industry.

Clark - The late Alec McDonald and I were breeding form several mares from the Lento family and the Joyfuljoy family and I have carried on since his death.

I usually breed seven or eight a year and I like to go to the proven stallions to give the mares every chance.

Last season I sent mares to Somebeachsomewhere, Bettor's Delight and Art Major and Auckland Reactor.

Harnesslink - Have you had an Auckland Reactor through the barn yet.

Clark - I have broken in a couple and I think they will both make the grade.

They are both nice horses.

Harnesslink - When did you move to your present property at Rakauhauka

Clark - We have been here 14 years.

When we came here there was just a couple of loose boxes so the building skills have come into play a bit since.

I had seen a number of things on my travels that I thought I would like to incorporate into the setup when I built it so starting from scratch has let me do a lot of these things.

It is a very functional setup which I think works really well

We have room here for up to twenty five and I am pretty full most of the time.

Harnesslink - The team has been on fire lately and you seem to have a bigger team racing than you normally do.

Clark - Normally my owners and I would have sold a lot of them but that hasn't happened this year and as a result we have had a big team racing.

Two or three have really stepped up which has been really pleasing and I still have a few more to bring out yet.

Harnesslink - Big moment last year when you drove your 1000th winner.

Clark - I am only the third Southlander to drive a thousand winners after Robert Cameron and my brother Ken but I was pretty happy that I had achieved the 1000 wins while based for most of my career in Southland. 

Harnesslink - Any thoughts of slowing down at some point in the near future.

Clark - When I turned fifty I stopped travelling outside of Southland to tracks like Forbury.

I will still go anywhere in the country if I have the right horse but travelling a lot these days for the smaller meetings is not that appealing any more.

I am happy with the size of the team at the moment but will look to downside a bit in the next few years.

Harnesslink - Whats your opinion of the changes that HRNZ were proposing for Southland

Clark - Very positive actually

We are looking to take the bits that we think can really move the industry forward down here.

Centralization is a dirty word down here but the idea of having the freedom to structure our whole season down here ourselves is exciting.

We have a working group that is working through the issues for the clubs and I think it is an opportunity to secure the future of harness racing in Southland.

Harnesslink - Thanks for your time Clark and all the best for the future.

Harnesslink Media

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