Twelve students are chosen each year for an exclusive and international horse racing experience. The two-year program called The Darley Flying Start Program was founded in 2003 by Sheikh Mohammed. The scholarship program is for those interested in becoming a leader in the thoroughbred racing industry. The students' training consists of class work at leading universities, hands on farm experience, lectures from race industry leaders and work placement assignments in different countries.
Leah Clark is a member of the 2010 Darley class graduating in July.
Leah has always loved horses and started out riding hunter jumpers in the Chicago suburbs. She started riding at 10 years old, on an off the track thoroughbred. She then worked at the stables to save up for lessons so she could ride as much as possible, although she never owned her own horse. Her involvement in the race horse industry happened sort of by chance. The stables she rode at used retired racehorses. She says she grew to love their intelligence and athleticism. In turn her love for horses grew into a love for the thoroughbred which drew her to racing.
Arlington Park Race Track was nearby and she started working for Jim Gulick. Leah got her first real view into racing while working for him. "I am so glad he is one of the first trainers I worked for because he is such a quality horseman," says Leah.
After earning her Equine Science degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale she started working for Wayne Catalano. It was at this time she really realized she wanted to pursue a career working with horses and training race horses. After working for about a year she decided she was ready for a change. She decided to pursue her career as a leading race trainer and applied for the Darley program. Leah was chosen out of two hundred applicants.
Leah Clark on the track.
Her journey has taken her around the world. In my next blog, Leah will share her experiences from Ireland, including starting horses "the Irish way."
Around the World
In all countries the students attend different universities for course work, have industry leaders present on different important topics, work on farms, go to major races, and go on four work placement assignments.
Students stay in Ireland at the beginning and end of the course. In Ireland they work on farm breaking yearlings the “Irish way." They teach horses how to lunge in draw reins and ground drive. This starts them off with a proper education. The horses are driven in figure 8’s and other exercises to teach them to have a mouth and learn to carry themselves safely. Overall this training method seems to make horses more accepting of riders and cues they believe.
Ground driving a yearling colt at Kildangan Stud in Ireland
In Ireland, students study at the University College in Dublin in courses in Equine Science focusing on reproduction. They also attended the major races at the Curragh.
As her final placement Leah will be working with John Oxx for four weeks. Oxx is the trainer of Sea The Stars arguably one of the best race horses ever.
In the United Kingdom the students study at The British Racing School. The horses at the school are donated and the horse Leah rode was a retired steeplechase horse of Paul Nicholls.
Learning the basics at the British Horse Racing School
In the UK they attended horse sales, evaluated pedigrees, and attended races at Newmarket. Students also worked rotations through the Darley Nominations and Marketing offices, rotations at Darley's pre-training stables called Hamilton Hill, and went around the Darley's Dalham Hall Stud evaluating breeding stock on conformation and sales evaluating.
In the United States, the students attended University of Kentucky and studied equine nutrition. They also had the opportunity to study at the Kentucky Horse Shoeing School for 2 weeks under Mitch Taylor. They were given the opportunity to learn how to trim horses. They learned how to tell a good farrier from a bad farrier, and how to make sure horses are shod properly according to
conformation and movement.
Learning how to use a rasp properly
Students got to put there skills to the test at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home in KY where they got to trim the horses. “It was a character building experience to trim horses for the first time outside in the freezing cold,” explained Leah.
For her first job placement Leah worked at Fair Hill with Graham Motion. He had never taken on a Flying Start Student, and Leah found out just before the 2011 Kentucky Derby that Graham had accepted her for placement. In the days before the Kentucky Derby, Leah got to pony Animal Kingdom, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby that year. “Being at the Derby and watching a horse that I had just worked with days before win, was definitely a highlight," says Leah.
Animal Kingdom at Churchill Downs
During her placement with Graham she was also given the chance to help manage a string of horses at Presque Isle Downs.
Training on Fair Hill’s synthetic Tapeta surfaced training track
Overall the placement was fantastic. “He is such a gentleman his philosophy and approach to training is one of the best. A classy operation,” states Leah. One of the things she likes most is the farm is not based on a track it is more European style. The farm includes round pens, paddocks, trails and fields. She says Graham even takes the horses out in fields for hacking, giving it a very laid back atmosphere, which leads to happy horses.
Leah on George, an ex-racehorse, lead pony, and stable mascot
Next up on the tour around the world - Australia and Dubai.
In Australia, the students studied leadership at the University of Sydney. They also worked at the Darley Stud Farm in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales and handled broodmares, yearlings, weanlings and foaling.
Darley Woodlands Stud Farm
They do things very differently in Australia out of necessity, because there is so much land it is not unusual to see someone leading two brood mares on quad bike. They also do what they refer to as “spelling”, which is simply turning a horse out in a paddock for a few months. If a horse is not performing, they get turned out. The philosophy is when a horse isn’t happy or performing anymore just give them a break. In general this leads to horses that are chill and happy.
They attended the Melbourne Cup and got to enjoy the festivities of the whole week.
The jockeys are introduced to the crowd at the Melbourne Cup 2011
Of all the countries Australia has one of the healthiest horse racing industries as far as the money that goes into it and the popularity. The whole atmosphere is great with people dressed to the nines. Leah says it’s fun to enjoy the pageantry and the atmosphere.
The Parade Ring at Flemington Racecourse
In Dubai, the students' school work consisted of business, marketing, human relations, and IT at Emirates Academy for Hospitality Management. Dubai was a unique experience because of the cultural differences.
Leah says the highlight of Dubai was meeting Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who is the Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and constitutional monarch of Dubai. Students were invited to his desert palace where they sat around a gorgeous outdoor bonfire with Sheikh Mohammed and his bloodstock advisor John Ferguson. Most of us can’t imagine how nerve racking it must be to meet the ruler of a country. Sheikh Mohammed set a light tone right away. They listened to his stories about how much he loves his horses and how different horses have affected his life. “It was incredible to hear his stories because he is such a charismatic person and a visionary. He is inspiring to be around,” said Leah.
While in Dubai students attended the Dubai World Cup. For the week leading up to the race they worked for Falcon PR and were responsible for promoting Dubai internationally as a business center. They helped set up parties and send invitations to the Dubai World Cup events. They also hosted guests and helped with those horses that were coming in from over seas.
Dubai World Cup winner Monterosso
Dubai World Cup 2012 winner
Leah had two placements in Dubai. The first with Doug Watson, an American training in Dubai, and the second was with Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin.
Now the students are back in Ireland working on business plans and awaiting graduation and future job opportunities.
Keep an eye out for Leah! I have a feeling we may be seeing her name next to one of the next big winners! She has been offered a job with Graham Motion and will be moving to Fair Hill after graduation to start her management position. She hopes to move up to an assistant trainer in the future.
If you are looking to have a career in the horse racing industry and are considering the program Leah says, “Go for it! If you are ambitious and driven, and are looking for a career in racing, then have a go at it and be yourself!”
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