I caught up with Clarry recently to talk about the early days and some of the success he has had to date. He loves what he does and still gets emotional when remembering some of the big wins like Belle de Jour. A tear was in the eye when reliving the Golden Slipper victory.
Your father Clarry Snr (Curly) was a trainer in the country after World War II. Tell us about growing up on the track in the bush back in those days?
It was pretty tough. We lived in Cessnock for a while where we rented three stables and had two horses. The horses had two of the stables while Dad and I lived in the other one.
The stables were located behind the Town Hall and we would give the caretaker bags of manure if he would leave the toilet door open at night time so we could jump the fence and go to the toilet. Things were pretty tough back then. When we won a couple of races I said to Dad that we need to move out of here. So from there we moved to Rosehill.
What did you learn back then that helped you when you started out on your own?
We learnt a lot back then because we were close to our horses. If we took one out without the other it would get stirred up because it was on its own. We learnt a lot about how the horses felt too.
My father was a very good feeder. Up until he was about 78 years of age he was still feeding my horses. He took pride in feeding his horses and he was a very good feeder.
Your Dad had many successful plunges back in the day. Any come to mind?
He had quite a few winners. He was very good at setting a horse up for a race. He had a horse when I was young called Alabama Boy who was in a Welter race at Rosehill and the race club had invited a horse from New Zealand to race called Akatarawa. He was a Champion over there and Dad had set our horse up for this particular race and it got up and beat the invited New Zealand Champion. That didn’t go down to good with the officials.
Early on, the horses that he had came to him with issues or problems like Hume that had bowed both tendons and Dad used to take him to the beach all the time and bandage his legs with sea water at night time. He won four or five races with him and he was my favourite horse growing up. He was such a quiet lovely horse. Without being big time he was quite successful.
You moved to Warwick Farm in the 60’s as a 17 year old. What was it like back then?
By God it has changed a bit now! We rented a stable there with about six boxes and it had a little kitchenette and two little rooms, so we had gone up market. Same thing again, we were there for our horses. Dad had a good horse there called State Marshall. He was a terrific horse who won numerous races for us. We took him to Melbourne later on and he only just got beaten in the Oakleigh Plate and the Newmarket.
We also had a horse at the same time called Turncoat. He was a great little horse by Renegade and on the Australia Day Handicap two day carnival weekend he won the Welter on the Saturday carrying 9 stone 10 and Dad backed him up on the Monday in the Australia Day Handicap with 7 stone 10 and he won that beating Gay Gauntlet. Dad won seven or eight races with him.
Tell us about Victory Prince your first Group One winner in 1984 and how you came to train the horse?
I had a horse for the Kelly’s called Derive and he was a really good horse. He was a real wobbler. He won in Sydney and then went to Melbourne where he could win down the straight however he couldn’t get around turns. So a few years later his full brother went through the sales so I bought him. I got some friends to come in with me and we paid $30,000 for him.
History says he was a good horse. He just got beaten by Max Lees’ good filly at Newcastle by a short head so that stopped me getting a run in the Golden Slipper. He came out the week after the Slipper and won the Sires beating Red Anchor then in the Champagne Stakes Red Anchor reversed the result by a neck.
Was it a difficult decision to sell him to the USA?
It set me up. He was a good little horse and we were offered a lot of money for him at the time. It is good money now but back then it was really good money. I thought that it would set me up and I spoke to my other owners in the horse and told them what we had been offered for the horse and they agreed. We sold the horse and with my fifth share I bought my stables.
In 1987 the Head of Newhaven Park Richard Kelly approached you to train some of their horses. What a partnership that became!
That was pretty special. I bought a horse at the sales by Boucher and his name was Artist Man and I won numerous races with him. He ran fifth in the VRC Derby as a three year old. He was going to go to Perth however they did not pay down to fifth prize money so I wasn’t going to go.
Mr John Kelly himself rang me up and said that if I wanted to take the horse to Perth he would pay for the trip and if the horse won enough money to cover the expenses I could pay him back and if he didn’t it was ok. It was all about promoting the Sire Boucher. He didn’t go and that was the start when Richard Kelly and Newhaven Park gave me horses to train and we have had plenty of success.
Research is one of the all time great fillies. Tell us about her.
Well there’s another story. I trained her mother and she only had two or three starts before they retired her and this was the first foal. She went through the ring and they didn’t get the reserve they wanted which was $20,000 and they only got offered $14,000. I approached Mr Kelly and asked if I could lease the filly. So three friends and I leased her from Newhaven Park and away she went.
She gave us a great time. She won three Group races in eleven days. She won the Group Two Storm Queen Stakes then the following Saturday she won the Group One AJC Derby then on the Wednesday it was the Group One AJC Oaks. She was a terrific strong mare.
Lets move on now to Tierce and Burst who are both Grand Slam winners.
Tierce was a nice strong colt by Victory Prince and that is why I got him. Burst is another little story. The Newhaven Park boys put her on a float to George Hanlon and young John Kelly said to his Dad why are you sending her to George in Melbourne you won’t see her for two years you should send her to Clarry Conners he might get her going early for you. That just shows how things can go good or bad for you in racing.
She was a flighty little thing who was unlucky a few times before she won. At Newcastle she got loose one day and dropped Shane Dye just outside the enclosure and the gate was open to the road and she went out through the gate and up the road. Some people filmed parts of it and it was very funny like the keystone cops. There were kids on bikes chasing her and the cops were there stropping the traffic. The Clerk of the Course was also up there chasing after Burst. And she never got a scratch on her which is quite incredible.
Belle de Jour was your fourth Slipper winner after Prowl saluted in 1998. What did you think when she missed the kick?
My heart stopped. They can’t do that in those types of races when you miss the kick and you are so far back. I had another horse in the race so I switched my eyes to the other one and every now and then I had a quick look to see Belle de Jour pushing up around the turn and I turned to my wife and said this little horse is still going to run a race.
I get excited just talking about it. She was just determined to win and was such a great little mare. She just put her head down and Lenny Beasley rode her terribly well. Instead of going around them he went through the pack and runs kept coming as Lenny went for them. It was a very gutsy win.
What's the secret to your success with 2 year olds? Is it patience?
I suppose it is patience. I am a bit easy on two year olds. A lot of my horses are a bit fat when they race and it might suit them a bit. If I am a bit easy on them it might keep them happy. Early on if you try and drive them to much they can go off their feed and they are going to go shin sore and once they are sore they are out. None of my Slipper winners have been shin sore; weather it is coincident or not they did not go shin sore. I swim my horses a lot too.
You have had great success over the years with John Singleton, what’s he like as an owner?
John is very good. He is a good owner who pays his bills and doesn’t interfere with how you train a horse. Now a day’s he is a little impatient. He has a lot of horses and he is more into the breeding and has a lovely place, Strawberry Hills. If they don’t win he says to me he wants Group winners and I say what a coincident so do I but it doesn’t happen like that. He is very good. If I say I want to do this or that he is good.
You have had Group One success with Victory Prince, his son Tierce and his grandson Encounter. That must hold a special place amongst your achievements?
Yes it does. I do not know if many people recognise that very much. Three generations is pretty special. If Encounter had won the Slipper that would have been something! All three won the Sires though.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
In the racing industry it would be Research. What we did with her was pretty special. Also my two son’s success with what they have done, they are good boys and I brought them up the right way and they do a great job.
Mouawad. Was it a case of what could have been?
It was a shame. It was an absolute tragedy. About eighteen months ago Johnny Tapp was interviewing Grant Cooksley about his career and asked him who the best horse was that he ever rode. He said he rode a horse called Mouawad and that he was the best he ever rode.
He was a great horse. When he was the favourite for the Doncaster I could have run the horse and he might have blown a tendon after the race however he would have won the race easily but because I had such a high opinion of him I told the owners and we didn’t race him. If I knew they were going to retire him I would have run him. That was probably one of my biggest disappointments.
You have had many great jockeys ride for you. Do you have a soft spot for any one?
Shane Dye. He was terrific for me. He rode hard and he rode well. We had a few arguments and eight times out of ten he proved himself right. He was never say die, he just kept going.
I also had a lot of success with Mick Dittman when he got onto Research. He is what made Research. He got her going. She was just a horse until Mick got on her and his vigorous riding made her really perform. I have a soft spot for both those fellas.
Who’s the best horse you have seen race?
Well I suppose I have to say Black Caviar. Kingston Town was also a sensational horse.
Do you miss the old days of racing?
Yes the whole thing has changed. It is hard and everything is red tape. People from my generation say well we have had the good times and we enjoyed them and it was good. Everything is harder now, life is different and the racing industry is harder too. As long as we poke along and do the best we can.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a timeline?
No trainers don’t retire we just get less horses and fade away. I still enjoy doing what I do as long as my horses are winning.
Your stable manager and partner in crime is your wife Maree. Could you do it without her?
No, I couldn’t do it without her. She does a lot of things like ringing jockeys, doing the accounts and looking after staff. I could not do it without her.
Thank you for your time Clarry. Best of luck for the stable and hopefully there will be plenty more winners in the future.