Clarry Conners

published: 13 Apr 2015 in Personality profiles

Clarry Conners learned all about horses literally on his father’s knee and the methods taught by this wise old horseman have stood his son in good stead, taking him to the top echelon of Australia’s trainers and landing him four winners in the Golden Slipper-Gr.1 and a host of other successes 
at the elite level.

IT was clear from the time Research won the VRC Oaks, AJC Flight Stakes, Derby and Oaks to become Horse of the Year for 1988-89 that Clarry Conners was going to become a very successful trainer. Since then notables such Air Seattle, Arborea, Encounter, Tripping, Mouawad, Only a Lady, Mossman, General Nediym, Viking Ruler, Pins, 
Rose Archway, Staging, Zagalia, Allow, Apercu, through to present star Dear Demi have been in his Victory Lodge stables at Warwick Farm.
  They have won races such as the VRC Australian Guineas, AJC Australian Oaks, BTC Cup, AJC Champion Stakes, QTC Castlemaine Stakes, AJC Chipping Norton Stakes, AJC Flight Stakes, VATC Futurity Stakes, STC George Ryder Stakes, VRC Oaks, VATC 1000 Guineas, QTC Queensland Derby and Oaks, T.J. Smith and Winter Stakes. However it is his STC Golden Slipper Stakes winners, Tierce, Burst, Prowl and Belle du Jour, combined with Clarry’s other two year-olds credits where attention is most focused.
  While not exactly a secret, there is a proven method to the way he prepares his young horses. The system was developed over many years spent alongside his father Clarry Conners senior (affectionately known as Curly). This close association began while helping with his father’s horses as a schoolboy. 
He later travelled to various racing centres with his father, who continued to be busy mixing the feeds at Victory Lodge into his eighties.  “I learned a lot from Dad,” Clarry said. “He didn’t win any major races, but he did win a lot of races while he was training. Dad especially liked feeding horses and he was good at it.
  “He was also easy on his horses because the ones he had weren’t the best bred and they had to be nursed along. I think feeding well and being kind to them, which I learned from my father, has had a fair bit to do with the success I’ve had with two year-olds. Although sometimes it hasn’t helped me because my horses often look a bit big, and nowadays the theory is that you can’t have them big. You are supposed to have them looking like Tommy Smith’s horses did in the old days . . . all bone and muscle, but I’m going to keep doing it my way, the way I learned from my father.”
  A soldier in the Australian Light Brigade Clarry Conners senior, who died in early 2014 aged 97, was, as his son says, first and foremost a horseman. He had begun training at the old Roseberry racecourse before the Conners family moved to Newcastle where Clarry (Clarrence Edward) was born in 1946. Clarry says that by the time he was “eight or nine” he was helping with the horses, often when he should have been in school, and also had his own pony.
   “We didn’t live on a farm or anything like that, but I could ride around the bush and on the roads because the traffic then wasn’t anything like it is now,” he said.
  Then after Clarry’s parents parted, his father became an itinerant traveller who was always accompanied by a couple of horses. “I wasn’t much into school lessons and I left school at 14, or maybe even earlier. 
I went with my father and we moved around a lot,” Clarry said. From Newcastle they went to Rosehill, then to Cessnock, Queanbeyan, back to Rosehill and then to Warwick Farm where Clarry set up his own stables nearly half a century ago.
  “We went from one place to another, and that was that,” he said. It was a different era, without the intense regulation of the present, and he remembers a time when his father rented three boxes behind the town hall in Cessnock. “We had two horses on either side and we lived in the middle box. Dad would go to work during the day stacking bricks and I’d look after the horses. We’d bag up manure for the caretaker at the town hall and he’d leave a door unlocked at night so we could jump the fence and go to the toilet.
  “Dad was always training winners wherever we went. He was a respected name, particularly around places like Queanbeyan and Canberra.”
  All the while young Clarry was holding ambitions of becoming a jockey, and was an enthusiastic track work rider before increasing weight directed him towards training. “As I was growing up I always wanted to be a jockey. I rode work for people like Maurie Anderson who was a champion trainer, Eva Langworthy who was a very good horsewoman, Bert Lyell, Cyril Kearns and quite a few others. When I realised I wasn’t going to be a jockey I thought the only other thing I could do would be to become a trainer.” So at 21 he rented a “couple of boxes” at Warwick Farm.
  Capitalising on the lessons he received from his father, the first runner Clarry saddled was Coney Princess who won a two year-old 4.5f (900m) maiden at Kembla Grange in 1967. She was ridden by Hilton Cope, a highly talented jockey whose wins included the 1970 AJC Doncaster Handicap on Broker’s Tip for another Warwick Farm trainer in Harold Riley.
  While gradually building up his team Clarry was still able to socialise and met his wife Maree at a dance studio in Liverpool. They were married in 1969 and he said, “it would have been pretty hard getting by without her”. Maree took over the handling of the accounts and “kept track of everything” before becoming stable manager.
  “That’s a big job these days because there is an awful lot of paper work. Maree now has Louise helping in the office so that eases the pressure a bit.” 
  First though, Maree had also to care for their sons Marc, now 44, and Heath, 41, who have followed the family tradition by becoming trainers. As the boys were growing so was Clarry’s team, which led to him being given the opportunity to rent a property at Warwick Farm.
  “It had 23 boxes and an old fibro house, which was just about falling down,” Clarry said. “Later the owners gave me the chance to buy the place and I was happy enough about that. I went to my accountant to see whether buying was possible and he said ‘when I work everything out you are making $16 a week, so I don’t know how you’re going to do it’. Anyway, we put a deposit on the place in the hope that a good horse might come along, and few years later Victory Prince arrived.”
  By the Newhaven Park stallion Imperial Prince (IRE) from the Todman mare Victoria Cross, the colt was a brother to Derive, who Clarry had trained to win races for the Kelly family. He had retained a fifth share in Victory Prince after paying $30,000 for him at the William Inglis and Son Australian Easter Yearling Sale in 1983. After just missing out on a start in the STC Golden Slipper Stakes Victory Prince went into the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes (1400m) as an 80/1 outsider, but Clarry rated his prospects much higher than that.
  He was proved correct when the colt registered the stable’s first Gr.1 success by defeating the champions Red Anchor and Spirit of Kingston, on Anzac Day in 1984. Two weeks later Red Anchor turned the tables, by a long neck, in the AJC Champagne Stakes-Gr.1 (1600m).
  “The trend had just started to send horses to America to race, and we sold him for a lot of money,” Clarry said. Subsequently, Victory Prince returned to Australia and began standing at Richard Turnley’s Boscobel Stud at Sutton Forest in 1987. Around the same time Clarry’s career started on its spiral to the heights when he leased a filly by Imperial Prince from the Boucher (USA) mare Outing from the Kelly family.
  “I’d trained the mare, and the filly was the first foal from her. They didn’t get enough for her at the sales so she was passed in. Mr Kelly rang me to see whether I would lease her and I formed a partnership to race her.” That was Research, who registered seven of her nine victories in black type events, six of them as a three year-old filly, and earned her owners a total of $1,880,845 in prizemoney. Those accomplishments resulted in her being acclaimed as Australian Champion Racehorse for the 1988-89 season.
  Then as Research’s career was winding down along came Tierce, by Victory Prince, the horse who started it all, from the Rheingold mare Manx Park (IRE). 
As the Golden Slipper was drawing closer Tierce won the NJC Coca-Cola Classic-Gr. 3 (1200m), a race in which his sire had lost by a nose to Rivage, and the STC Todman Slipper Trial-Gr.2 (1200m). Sent out at 4/1 in the Golden Slipper he comfortably accounted for Canonise, Big Dreams and 11 others, with Shane Dye aboard. Tierce went on to score easy wins in the Sires’ Produce and the Champagne Stakes to join Baguette (1970) and Luskin Star (1977) as the only winners of the Sydney Two Year-Old Triple Crown.
  However, there was to be drama when Tierce tested positive to Lignocaine, which was contained in a mouthwash used before the Golden Slipper and Sires’ Produce. Clarry was fined $10,000 on each occasion and wisely refrained from using the mouthwash before the Champagne Stakes when the swab on Tierce was given the all clear. Then quite remarkably, Clarry won the Triple Crown again the following year with Burst, who was by Newhaven Park’s Golden Slipper-winning stallion Marauding.
  “She was to have gone to George Hanlon who trained her dam Sudden,” Clarry said. “She was being loaded on the float when John Kelly said ‘George won’t race her until she’s three so why don’t you send her to Clarry?’ With that they took her off the float and sent her to me.” 
  Despite her lack of size Burst, who was raced by J.W., F.J. and R.J. Kelly and Jack Ingham, proved to be an exceptional youngster winning five races in succession culminating in her Golden Slipper, Sires and Champagne Stakes wins and earning her connections $1,736,103. Also filling boxes in that era were VATC 1000 Guineas and VRC Oaks heroine Arborea, Champagne Stakes winner Euphoria and Queensland Derby winner Air Seattle, who led through to Mouawad, the horse Clarry regards as possibly the best he has trained.
  “He came out of the blue,” Clarry said of the younger brother to Octagonal. “He was a beautiful horse bred by Patrick Hogan and went through the sales. He was knocked down to Rob McAnulty who formed a syndicate to race him, and I was asked to train him. Mouawad had a few niggling worries as a young horse and I didn’t start him until the October of his three year-old season.”
  Wins at Rosehill and Flemington during the Melbourne Cup Carnival followed, but when he was beaten into fourth place when resuming in January, before going on to a comfortable win in The Debonair (1400m), a Listed event at Sandown, and then in three Gr.1 events, the VRC Australian Guineas (1600m), Futurity Stakes (1400m) and George Ryder Stakes (1500m).
  To Clarry’s dismay Mouawad was retired to stud after suffering a knock to his off fore tendon. “It wasn’t a serious injury, hardly noticeable, and I knew he could race again. I tried to buy him but my offer was knocked back and he went to stud.”  The pain of losing Mouawad was softened to a degree by the presence of Encounter who was raced by the Kellys in partnership with Jack Ingham. A colt by Tierce, who began standing at Newhaven Park Stud after retiring from racing, he won the AJC Breeders’ Plate-LR at his debut at Randwick on September 28, 1996. Encounter resumed with two placings before winning the STC Pago Pago Stakes-Gr.2 and had the Golden Slipper won until he shied away from Shane Dye’s whip, and was beaten a nose by Guineas carrying the all-cerise of the Inghams. “He’d never been hit with the whip before and he just didn’t like it,” Clarry said.
  The incident prevented the stable achieving the extraordinary feat of a third Triple Crown with Encounter capturing the AJC Sires’, as his sire and grandsire had done, and then the Champagne Stakes. Encounter went on to prove himself an outstanding performer with his victories at three including the Gr.1 features, the AJC George Main Stakes (1600m), VATC Caulfield Guineas (1600m), Futurity Stakes and AJC Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) before taking up residence at Newhaven Park.
  Around the time of Mouawad and Encounter, Marc was training in conjunction with his father at Victory Lodge, which by then had been turned into a shining showplace. “Marc was always interested in the horses and he went to pony club, did dressage and that sort of thing as a boy,” Clarry said. After being given a solid grounding in the business by his father and grandfather, he spent time working at stables in England and the United States before taking out his licence.
  “Marc now has lovely stables just around the corner from us. He works hard. He’s trained a Gr.1 winner and a number of feature race winners so he’s going all right. Heath worked around the stables as a boy and later became stable foreman, but funnily enough he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a trainer.
  “He thought there were already too many captains, and he tried a few other things until I said I was going to open some stables in Melbourne. He said if you are going to do that I’ll go down and run it for you. 
We won a lot of races and then after being with Aquanita for a while he got the chance to open stables on the track at Geelong and has a beautiful complex down there. He’s been leading trainer at Geelong for the past two seasons, so he’s going all right too.”
   As Marc and Heath were making their way into the business Clarry was winning races such as the QTC Castlemaine Stakes-Gr.1 and AAMI Vase-Gr.2 with Vinery Stud stallion Mossman, who was Australian Champion Two Year-Old Sire of 2013-14. Another stable graduate around that time was Pins, the leading New Zealand Sire of 2010-11, who won the 2000 Australian Guineas and four other black type races while in his care.
  However, Clarry’s third Golden Slipper Stakes winner Prowl, by Marauding from the Seattle Slew mare Matins (USA), had to be gelded early on because he was such a handful. Newhaven Park had added Prowl to Clarry’s team after he had been passed in at the 1997 Australian Easter Yearling Sale.
  Transformed into a genuine racehorse once gelded, Prowl secured his place in the 1998 Golden Slipper by winning the STC Skyline Stakes-Gr.3,, but after a fourth in the Pago Pago Stakes-Gr.3 Shane Dye opted for the unbeaten Laurie’s Lottery. It was a decision he was to regret when Prowl, with Chris Munce up, had the Slipper well and truly won 200m from the post.
  The foundations for the stable’s fourth Golden Slipper victory two years later came up when Clarry asked John Singleton at the 1999 Magic Millions Yearling Sale if he would give him a horse to train. “Singo said he’d just bought a filly by Dehere and that I could train her,” Clarry said. “I met him about 
an hour later and he told me the filly had gone berserk and had cut herself so badly she would never race. I thought ‘well that was short lived’ but about six months later he rang and said that filly is going to be okay so he’d send her to me . . . and that was Belle du Jour.”
  A brilliant and courageous performer she won four times on her way to scoring, arguably, the most breathtaking win in the Golden Slipper’s history. 
As the gates opened Belle du Jour stumbled badly before leaping high in the air and almost unseated Lenny Beasley. She was three lengths behind the field on settling down and still among the tailenders on the turn when Beasley began weaving a miraculous passage through the opposition to reach the lead in the last few strides.
  “That was unbelievable,” commentator Ian Craig declared of the effort by Belle du Jour and Beasley, “absolutely freakish.” Belle du Jour went on to perform at the highest level over the next three seasons with her victories featuring the 
VRC Newmarket Handicap-Gr.1 in 2003. From those days onwards John Singleton has always had horses with Clarry and has been a particularly strong stable supporter.
  He has been rewarded with numerous feature race successes including a Queensland Oaks-Gr.1 with Zagalia, a Magic Millions Two Year-Old Classic with Mirror Mirror and a VRC Oaks with Dear Demi who remains the stable’s headline performer.
  “She’s won just on $2m in prizemoney and she’s the star of the stable at present. You always need one or two of those or your name soon disappears from the papers.” However given his record of achievement during the past 30 years, that’s hardly likely to happen to Clarry. n