Charlie Moore, Clerk of the Course at Uttoxeter Racecourse
PUBLISHED: 10:53 17 October 2013 | UPDATED: 10:53 17 October 2013
Pat Ashworth meets Derbyshire-based Charlie Moore
People sometimes ring up Uttoxeter Racecourse and say they’d love a job working with horses, says Charlie Moore, Clerk of the Course. He has to tell them that, actually, they wouldn’t be working with horses at all because despite the 102 stables at the racing venue, no horses live there. ‘They turn up on race day, they make an awful mess, leave, you clean out the stables, repair the track and they return. But you need to have someone on site who understands what horses are, how they operate, how the race affects them, how the layout of the course affects them and what is or isn’t safe. I am that person.’
Charlie has been involved with horses since the age of seven, when someone kindly gave him a riding lesson for his birthday. It wasn’t long before he was hooked: first ponies, then hunting and eventing followed by a Pony Club Scholarship, then on to point-to-pointing. He’d like to have been a vet (but says he wasn’t bright enough) or a farmer (his father talked him out of that one), but opted to train as an agricultural engineer. ‘My housemaster was convinced I was all set for a career in Her Majesty’s Forces, which was laughable because I hated the Combined Cadet Force with a passion,’ he declares.
But his housemaster was proved right. The engineering diploma had given him the qualification to go on to Sandhurst if he chose or to university, and he decided to ‘give the Army a crack. I thought, if I can join an organisation that has the managerial and leadership challenges that I think it has, has all the variety of life and allows me to continue my sporting and equestrian aspirations, I’ll go for it.’ He thought he would join the King’s Troop but was told he would have to be selected from the wider Royal Regiment of Artillery, which he duly joined and where he led what he describes as a charmed existence.
And he did get his four years based in St John’s Wood with the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, which he describes as ‘wonderful, paid to ride and train horses but paid to work very hard too. I’m proud of my time in the Army and some of the fantastic soldiers I’ve worked with. I saw bits of the world I wouldn’t otherwise have done and have ridden horses I certainly wouldn’t have done.’
When the prospect of desk (staff) jobs was looming, with the inevitable reduction in working with soldiers, he retired from the Army and went into racing because 25 years ago, it was the only equestrian sport with any funding, he says.
He started as a Clerk of the Course and manager at Market Rasen and moved to Towcester via similar roles at Doncaster and Nottingham, resisting a head office move to London and going to work for Northern Racing, based at Uttoxeter. Another head office move found the nature of his work changing and the travelling increasing: the early starts and late finishes necessitated by clerking at Yarmouth and Sedgefield – 200 and 140 miles respectively from his home near Ashbourne – were arduous. His great ambition was to get back to Uttoxeter and cut down the travelling, and when the vacancy came, he took it up with alacrity. He is now in his fourth year as Clerk of the Course.
In a glossary of horse racing terms, the Clerk of the Course ‘Has British Horseracing Authority accreditation. Inspects and improves the track for racing as well as controlling the day’s racing’. No two race days are ever the same, he says, because of the equine and people mix, the type of race and the racegoers themselves. ‘Whilst a lot of the time, I’m the man that walks around with a pair of binoculars on my arm, a racecard in my hand, a radio and mobile phone, looking as though I haven’t a care in the world, I’m actually like the graceful swan (some might say ugly duckling), paddling like hell underneath,’ he says cheerfully. ‘When all’s going well and the team are all doing what they’re required to do, it does go well. But you are rather like the ringmaster in a circus: when the Big Top comes down, that’s when you earn your money.’
He never bets – ‘I learned that a long time ago, on the fruit machines at college. I gave up then. Yes, it’s tempting but I haven’t time to do it professionally, it’s high risk and I’ve seen an awful lot of people lose an awful lot of money. I go home from every day’s racing with the same amount of money in my pocket that I came with. It’s not the gambling that turns me on, though I know how important it is for the sport, and a lot of the interest is from those who like a bet. You always have to be conscious of the need to maintain the integrity and fairness, because if people are going to bet, they must be on as level a playing field as possible.’
Having ridden as an amateur over fences with some success – ‘hard to believe I once rode at Sandown at 10st 12lbs!’ – Charlie Moore is a clear fan of jump racing and never thought flat racing would interest him but the more he learned about the thoroughbred and the racing industry, the breeding and the quality of the horses on the flat, the more it inspired him.
‘Although there’s the sheer delight of watching quality flat racing, there’s still nothing better than a really good two-mile steeplechase. I can still remember a fantastic race when Usher’s Island, Deep Sensation and a few other top two-milers ran the Mansion House Chase at Doncaster – it was breathtaking. I’ll never lose the memory of that race,’ he says with conviction. ‘And equally, a good chase like the John Smith’s Summer Cup here – they are great to watch; a lot of intrigue as the races unfold.’
He pays tribute to jockeys, for whom he has enormous respect: not least for JonJo O’Neill, who survived numerous injuries and then beat cancer to return to the sport as a great trainer. ‘Thank goodness for the Injured Jockeys Fund,’ he says, thinking of some of the far from wealthy young men with mortgages whose livelihood this is, who put their necks on the block and who are always only inches away from hurting themselves.
‘We have some of the best doctors and vets here, and the Jockey Club and British Horseracing Authority have set high medical standards,’ Charlie says. And for himself and his ground staff – ‘a real team of grafters’ – the responsibility for the safety of the course is huge as they manage the turf, prepare the fences and hurdles and move miles of running rail.
‘Safety is absolutely paramount. If we are ever screwing up our toes saying we hope they get round that bend all right, we are saying we haven’t got it laid out as we should have. We have to make sure they are going out into as safe an environment as possible. There’s always an element of risk and tension. If the ground is too quick, for instance, there is the risk of concussive injuries to the horses’ legs. A good day for me is when every horse and jockey comes back safe and sound, and that is always my ambition at the start of every day’s racing.’
He is privileged, he says, to work ‘in such a great industry, on such a cracking course and with such a super team of people... We say we are the finest country racecourse in the land and I think we live up to that.’ It’s lucky, he exults, that Royalty plus the great and the good like racing and so does the man in the street; lucky that racing is shown on terrestrial TV and via fantastic satellite coverage – ‘Every time you’re racing, you’re being watched not just by the thousands of people here but the many more watching all over the world.
‘It’s another thing that’s heightened the need for us to perform out of our socks every day. We have to be ready to cope with every ball that’s thrown at us. All the time there is something you can do better than the time before, whether for the customer, the horse or the owner. Every day is a championship match for us.’
Uttoxeter is a busy racecourse, with an events arm that now turns over a million pounds a year from conferences, weddings and special events. ‘There are a lot of facilities here to keep us in employment, to keep moving forward the standard of everything we’ve got,’ Charlie says ‘And so many people come racing now – we get 16,000 on Betfred Midlands National day.’
Around the course, he’s affectionately known as Maj or Major as well as Charlie. He tried hard to shed his military title when he left the Army, thinking it ‘a thing of the past and not what you needed.’ But he tells with mischief and perfect mimicry the story of the first morning he went to work for Lord Hesketh at the Towcester office – ‘When I arrived, he was standing at the top of the steps of his great mansion and bellowed at the top of his voice, “Morning, Major! Shot anybody on the way in? Hopefully from the Jockey Club” – which he despised. That was the end of my efforts to lose it.’
Thank goodness, he says, that he’s still riding horses himself. ‘While my body will let me, I strongly suspect that I’ll continue doing so. I’m not for sitting watching TV on Saturday afternoons, I’m busy outside or on a horse somewhere in the winter months and all the ancillary bits keep you fit. Living where I do, in the heart of superb hunting country, and while we can still hunt (accepted the laws on such have changed) and the farmers will let us, it’s a great pastime and you meet a lot of interesting people along the way.
‘I’m still a bit of an adrenalin junkie. I still want to jump a big fence. I still want to go fast, though I’m too big, too fat and too old to race now. I was very lucky to have ridden round Aintree’s National Course (in the Foxhunter’s Chase), and ridden at the Burghley International three-day event, and as long as my body allows me to do it, I still want every so often to do something that tightens my nerve. And takes me to the edge.’
For details of fixtures at Uttoxeter go to www.uttoxeter-racecourse.co.uk.