Racehorse training is not for the faint hearted – if a punter’s experience of the sport is a delirious mixed bag of agony and ecstasy, then imagine this magnified ten fold and you get somewhere close to the intensity of the trainer’s loop-the-loop roller-coaster ride. The boundary between elation and despair can be finer than a horse’s whisker; the trainer must be equipped with nerves of steel, underpinned by a red blooded passion for the sport. TNG caught up with Ben Pauling, whose passion for racing comes by the bucketload. Combine this with his cool head and his upbeat, genial character and it’s no wonder he’s jump racing’s rising star.
On His Formative Years
Before taking the reins of his own yard Pauling spent six years assisting racing wizard Nicky Henderson. ‘The way he trains horses is incredible,’ he gleams adding, ‘and then there’s Corky Browne, who has all these weird and wonderful ways for dealing with horses. You think he must be half nuts but they do work. I was very lucky to be involved with some great horses – we had seven winners at Cheltenham one year and then 5, it was all a bit of a fairy tale.’
On The Racing Bug
You’re a farmer’s son by trade but you spent your youth on the hunting field and evented throughout your teenage years. When was it you decided to prioritise horses over harvesting?
Ben: My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, as far back as you can go – they were all farmers but it wasn’t something that grabbed my attention. Horses got me hooked, my parents told me not to go into training because it’s such a cut throat industry, I didn’t really listen. I went to University and got a 2:2 in property but I had zero interest in it. In the end it was the horses that got me.
On Keeping His Cool
Racehorse training is an industry of extreme highs and lows, how do you handle set backs?
Ben: I do everything I can in my power to make sure each horse is sound and well but you do have injuries and illnesses. You deal with it as best you can, the highs are very high and the lows very low. You just have to stay extremely level headed. You can’t treat a setback like it’s a complete disaster, at the same time you can’t think a winner is the best thing since sliced bread – then go out till 7am in the morning and not turn up for work the next day. Horses aren’t a 9-5. You have to be prepared to be on call 24/7.
On Stable Star Barter’s Hill
We bought him unbroken in 2013. I was looking not to spend too much on a horse and for that you either need a horse with good size and scope but not necessarily the best pedigree or one with very good pedigree but whose confirmation is not 100% and needs work.
Barter’s Hill was a raw three year old with plenty of size and scope but one we didn’t expect to come to hand that quickly. His pedigree wasn’t bad at all and we bought him for €1600. He grew in every shape and form and became quite an ungamely horse that didn’t really know what he was up to. It took over an year to turn him into a racehorse. We entered him at Huntingdon, just for an educational run but he duly won and it re-sculpted what I thought of him and my aims for him thereon. He then won another bumper under a penalty at Warwick and then again at Newbury. It was quite amazing to see the improvement in a year. He reached heights we never could have dreamed of. We knew from that point onwards that we had a horse with plenty of ability – although, when we jumped him in the early days he didn’t really know how to keep his legs out of the way – he just wasn’t natural, but he’s an impressive horse with a huge engine. We worked on his jumping over the summer and he became the horse that he is today.
On Being Sponsored By a Brewery
You’re sponsored by the Cotswold Brewing Company, do you relax with a beer in hand at the end of a hard day?
Ben: It’s well documented that I like to have fun and go out, it’s quite amusing for a lot of people that Ben Pauling is sponsored by a brewery. It doesn’t mean I drink every day by any stretch of the imagination. When we have a winner we celebrate and that’s why we’ve never struggled to get the staff. People hear on the grapevine that we have a lot of fun at the yard so people come to us. We’ve got a relatively young team, my assistant, Mary Vestey is 23 and the Head Lad, Tom David is 26. Obviously it’s not the most enthralling thing to do when it’s pissing with rain but we have a laugh while we’re doing it. My team don’t see me as an uptight boss who they can’t talk to – if they want to take the piss out of me they can.
On Rapid Growth
Laura: You started with 8 horses, you now have a string of 40 horses. How have you achieved this so quickly?
Ben: It’s obviously success that drives growth. We started off with eight in our first year and that number grew to 14 as the months progressed. We had 9 winners that year. All from horses that were lovely but were by no means superstars. Then in 2014, Ravens Tower came 5th in the Fred Winter’s Juvenile at Cheltenham. That sort of success got one of our biggest winners, the Rooneys involved and they dramatically changed the way the yard was seen in terms of numbers. We doubled our winners last year and focused on producing high profile horses like Barter’s Hill.
We are also lucky that things have gone so well, people in the racing industry are starting to know who the hell we are. In your own little world, you think 9 winners a year is brilliant but you’re still a minnow in a massive industry. But we’re now getting to the stage where owners are phoning us regularly and asking us, ‘will you train this, will you train that?’ We’re looking to expand to 65 horses next year and that’s the kind of progression we need if we are to get to where we want in a few years time.
On His Crop of Cheltenham Horses.
What about your other runners at Cheltenham? How are they looking?
Ben: At the moment, our Cheltenham horses really could not be any better.
- Silver Grove: I inherited him from a trainer. He was rated at 117 when I got him and now he’s at 138. He’s a strong traveller and jumping horse. He’s an exciting horse to have in the handicap. He will continue to progress but horses do hit a plateau at a certain level, whether he has reached it or not, we will not know till after Cheltenham Week.
- A Hare Breath: Running in the county hurdle, he’s on 137 and he’s very well handicapped. He won by 4 lengths at Cheltenham earlier on in the season. Back then, we were still finding out whether he’s a 2 and a half or a 2 miler and we found out he’s a 2 miler. I didn’t realise he hated the soft ground so much but he’s a tough horse that gets the job done.
- Raven’s Power – He was our first ever winner. He wasn’t quite right last year but because he’s best when he’s fresh, we’re very hopeful that he’ll be competitive, but it’s a huge ask for a small horse.