Flemington track work

Like clockwork

Warren Huntly is a familiar sight to those at Flemington before dawn.  With stopwatch in hand he diligently records the times of the gallops of the horses working that day, providing sought-after statistics.  We find out about one of the less well-known roles in the racing industry.

How did you become a clocker? I purchased a share in a racehorse in the early 1990s and took an interest in attending trackwork whenever I could. The horse was trained by Bart Cummings with Leon Corstens running Bart’s Melbourne stable. Eventually Leon threw a stopwatch at me and said something like, ‘You’re here so often, you might as well make yourself useful.’ John Sadler and Lee Freedman were also welcoming. Des Spain was the Flemington clocker and keen to share his knowledge of racing, which developed my passion. Originally I was only clocking horses for Leon during my spare time, but eventually left corporate life to develop a career in racing, of which clocking gallops at Flemington was an integral part. An opportunity arose to provide consolidated trackwork times and other information to media outlets such as Sportsman and the Herald Sun and to this day I still contribute to Sportsman.

What is a typical morning like? I try to get to trackwork a couple of mornings a week and am usually in one of the trainer’s boxes by 5am. Tuesday is still the main morning but a number of trainers vary their main gallop morning depending on the racing calendar. I primarily observe horses’ work from a vantage point in the middle of the track, but I try to spend time in each tower to maintain relationships with the trainers. With so many horses based at Flemington it’s impossible to track them all. I do get to know many of them, and the cooperation of the trainers in helping identify the horses is crucial. I use a stopwatch and record the times manually, but there is also technology available such as Etracker that uses GPS technology to record a horse’s gallops.

Has the role changed? Like most things in life, the role of clocking has evolved over the years. When I first arrived at Flemington there was effectively only one vantage point to view the gallops. Flemington now has three separate trainers’ towers, with most trainers basing themselves in one. I’d say there is a strong camaraderie between the groups. In saying that, it is also a competitive environment as you can understand. There is always a lot of banter between the serious stuff of working the horses and that was a great attraction for me in the early days and still is.

Can you pick a winner? I’ve learned over the years that it’s not just about running fast time in trackwork, but it certainly can be a good guide to how a horse is likely to perform. Early on I observed the trainers taking a keen interest in how the horses recover after their workouts, which is another crucial factor in assessing a horse’s fitness levels. Most trainers clock their own horses and are very attuned to how they are progressing. Where I can be of help is to compare times across the morning, to see how horses from other stables have galloped.