A DAY IN THE LIFE OF: A Clerk of the Course

Features | 8th April 2015

For the first of a new monthly feature on Lovetheraces, we caught up with Ascot’s Clerk of the Course, Chris Stickels, to see how his day went on King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day, the middle day of the recent Betfair Weekend..

6am – My racing day begins with walking the entire track with our C.E.O Charles Barnett and C.O.O Alistair Warwick. As racing took place at Ascot the previous day, we check ground conditions and how the repairs from Friday are coming along.

6.40am – All courses must phone through their current going and weather description to the Racecourse Association on a raceday morning. I call to inform their representative that the going remains unchanged from the previous day, so that he can distribute this information to the Press Association.

7.15am – Meet with my head groundsman to report back on how the repairs are going and any other jobs which may have arisen from walking the track. Then head back to my office and update the Weatherbys admin site with the going and current weather for trainers to log into. This is the time when many trainers will ring me for an up-to-date assessment of the track, so I field these calls in between filling in raceday forms and emailing all the Ascot staff to keep them in the loop about conditions.

8.30am – Head down to the racecourse stables to catch up with the stable manager, who informs me that his team were busy mucking out until 10pm the previous evening but that all preparations have gone smoothly. Have breakfast with him in the stable lads’ canteen and catch up with the hostel supervisor.

9.15am – Briefly return home to have a shower and change into my suit. On the way back, I catch up with the team on the Owners & Trainers’ Badge Desk, before heading back to the office to catch up on emails.

10.30am – Walk to the Weighing Room and meet with the stewarding supervisor, who manages the racing stewards in the parade ring, and brief him on the day’s activities and specifically on a special retrained racehorses parade which is taking place before racing. Also check that all the correct paperwork, for the likes of the Stewards, and Declarations Clerk, is in place in the weighing room.

11am – Grab a quick coffee and then it’s out to walk the track again with the chairman of the stewards, William Barlow. This is the final opportunity to oversee the work the 8 permanent groundstaff and the 35 casual workers have been repairing the track from Friday and to check that the going hasn’t changed and that the course is laid out correctly. Also with the BBC being on course to film for the afternoon, I double check that all cameras and cables are safely in place.

On the way back, I update the stewards and the British Horseracing Authority officials (including doctors and vets) of the retrained racehorses’ parade and all other matters.

12.15pm – Check in on the Owners & Trainers’ Bar to see that all is in order and that the catering staff are set up in the dining room.

12.30pm Up to the paddock as the retrained racehorses parade gets underway, which I oversee along with my P.A. Becky Green. Unfortunately one of the endurance horses rears right over, but the medical team and vets are straight on hand to deal with the incident. The horses head out onto the track and the next few minutes are quite busy directing these ex-racehorses back to the stables without meeting any of the 24 runners for the opening lady riders’ handicap.

1.15pm – The horses enter the paddock for this first race and the business of managing the day’s racing begins. I spend the majority of the afternoon moving between  the track, the parade ring, the pre-parade ring and the stewards’ box, overseeing the movement of horses/jockeys and coordinating all the various racecourse teams of vets, doctors and stewards. I’m always on hand to deal with enquiries from owners and trainers which may crop up through the course of the afternoon. On this day, everyone seems happy though, with the ground drying out and all the jockeys agreeing with the going description. The parade for the King George, which the racecourse stewards have organised by lining all the horses up in racecard order before they enter the parade ring, goes without a glitch and there’s a fantastic finish to the race as Danedream just gets up for a memorable victory for Germany.

5.30pm – Immediately after the last race I chat to the Racing Post’s correspondent to discuss how the afternoon went and the likely going for the following day’s racing.  I would normally speak to the weather forecaster, John Kettley, but didn’t have to on this occasion as I was aware of a clear forecast. The vets, doctors, groundsman and stable manager all report back to me regarding any issues they may have experienced during the day.

6.15pm – Head over to the grandstand for a post-racing cup of tea with Charles Barnett and the Ascot trustees, then it’s back to the office to answer further emails and importantly put my radio on charge for the following day!

8pm – Nearly 30,000 racegoers turned up on Saturday and some of them are still enjoying themselves and singing along to the music around the bandstand. However, my raceday responsibilities are over by this time and I can slip away to enjoy a pint at the pub with the head groundman and toast a successful day. Sometimes there can be a drama in the stable, a rail to move or watering to be applied to the course, but fortunately on this occasion it’s all quite straightforward and I can leave relatively early. Now just it all to do again tomorrow…