Exploring Clarken Racing: The Rise, Facilities, and Notable Horses
Will Clarken and Niki O’Shea
Since the establishment of Clarken Racing in 2010, the team has gone from strength to strength. Commencing as a small team at Morphetville, the operation has grown dramatically as the team has secured multiple black-type successes including a maiden Group 1 win with Bella Vella in the Robert Sangster Stakes.
Learn the backstories and experience of both Clarken and co-trainer O’Shea, and discover the new facilities and unique training techniques that have and will continue to bring success to the operation.
Meet Will Clarken
Will Clarken is a leading trainer out of South Australia. Following an initial stint in the saddle as a 15-year-old, Will rode 43 winners before succumbing to an inevitable battle with his weight which saw his attention turn to training.
Clarken managed Performance Park, an enterprise based on the idea of utilising sports science to optimise the training of horses. This gave Will first-hand experience in a variety of innovative training strategies utilised similarly by the Maher and Eustace team.
Following his tenure at Performance Park, Will took up his training license in 2010 with his first winner coming in June at Morphettville. Will is an innovative trainer who looks to find the winning edge through sports science, an experienced team and quality facilities to ensure every horse can maximise their potential. His niche comes from both identifying the right youngsters at the yearling sales as well as sourcing tried horses and lifting them to heights not thought possible, something he is renowned for across the industry.
There is no better example of that ability, than the success of Bella Vella. Who was purchased for $22,500 on Inglis Digital in 2019. She had three wins from 16 starts for three different stables and was only put up for sale after failing to get into foal.
Will turned her into a star, winning eight more races, including the Group 1 Robert Sangster Stakes and the Group 2 McEwen Stakes in 2020. This took the ownership group on the ride of their lives before she was sold to Rosemont Stud for $1.9 million.
In 2023, Clarken introduced long-time friend and exceptional horseman Niki O’Shea to the team as co-trainer. A move that is set to further strengthen the Clarken Racing team.
Meet Niki O’Shea
Niki O’Shea’s horsemanship and experience made him a valuable acquisition for the Clarken Racing set-up when looking to expand in 2023. O’Shea is an Irish-born and raised expat who moved to Australia following experience down under in 2006.
O’Shea started full-time in the industry as soon as he finished his education, working for high-profile trainers like Jessica Harrington and Dessie Hughes in Ireland while continuing to enjoy success as a jumps jockey. He finished his career in the saddle in Ireland with 55 winners before deciding to take a chance and move to South Australia in 2013, an opportunity that came up after making such a good impression in that first trip. O’Shea gained valuable experience under South Australia’s leading trainers Tony McEvoy and Phillip Stokes before partnering with Ashton Downing in 2016.
O’Shea jumped at the opportunity to join the expanding Clarken Racing team in 2023. Where his expertise sees him primarily overlooking the Murray Bridge stable. He is particularly excited about the possibilities as the new operation gets up and running as Clarken focuses on the expansion of Sellicks Hill.
Murray Bridge: An exceptional new training facility, the Clarken Racing team saw the opportunity to shift their main training base to Murray Bridge as a positive move for the future. With high-quality grass tracks, the new Murray Bridge facility is supported by a brilliant fibre sand track, hill track and pool. With a brand new 30-horse barn, horse walker and great supporting facilities the Clarken Racing team are excited about the future prospects of this facility and believe it will soon be the leading training facility in South Australia.
Sellicks Hill: Located just 40 minutes from Morphettville and 1 hour from Murray Bridge, Sellicks Hill is 45 acres of horse heaven. The team has taken the best aspects of all the stables Will has documented through his vast experience and brought that to the development of the farm.
Sellicks Hill facilities include an international-sized show jumping arena, a heavy sand track, a high-speed treadmill, British Horseracing Authority-approved schooling facilities as well as access to several beaches and Kuitpo Forest.
The facilities allow Will and his team to spend more time around their horses using a variety of training and conditioning methods without rushing them through a system. The mental stimulation and physical benefits of the farm’s training techniques hope to boost Clarken’s growing team and create more stakes racing success.
Notable Horses Trained
The Clarken team have trained a variety of stakes winners and Group 1 performers including Group 1 winning mare Bella Vella. After being retired as a broodmare and unable to get in foal, Bella Vella was sold for $22,000 to Clarken Racing having not run at the stakes level. Clarken’s team transformed the mare after her re-entrance to the track. Bella Vella’s career highlights with the team included a Group 1 win in South Australia’s own Robert Sangster Stakes whilst she also won the Group 2 McEwen Stakes at Moonee Valley.
The team have also had 10 other stakes winners including consistent Group 1 contender Ironclad and the Group 1 placed Beau Rossa.
Contributions To The Industry
Clarken Racing has initiated a specialised re-homing program for the horses in their stable that have been identified to be retired rather than re-sold as racing prospects. The team make it a responsibility to locate a suitable and permanent residence for there retired horses, where they can receive the best care and attention.
The program begins by carefully evaluating the best options for the horse taking into consideration the horse’s age, health, and potential. While some horses may go into pure retirement, others have the potential to re-train in other areas of equine competition or as non-competitive riding horses.
Once the Clarken team have identified the right path for the horse they allocate a highly experienced team member to undertake a specialised re-training program to ensure the horse is well prepared for their next chapter.
In 2022/23 the team finished 5th in the South Australian trainers premiership with 30 winners at a strike rate of 14% totalling over $1M in prizemoney. That was a 4 place rise from their 2021/22 effort when they finished ninth with the exact same 30 winners at a strike rate of 17%. Highlighting the consistency and ability to expertly place their horses. An ability that local South Australian owners have become accustomed to.