Horses have been part of Will Clarken’s life as long as he can remember – it’s in his blood. His father Robert was a jockey-turned-trainer-turned racing journalist, and Will inevitably followed a similar path.
Will became the fifth member of his family to embark on a stint in the saddle when taking up his apprenticeship as a 15 year old. Aware it would be a short-term proposition as weight would become an issue.
Will competed for 18 months, collecting 43 victories, but more importantly learnt some valuable lessons – an appreciation for what happens in a race and how things change, an insight into how to give instructions and read a race as well as the mental challenges of being a jockey. The stint also enhanced his passion for racing, developing a curiosity into the mindset of horses – the why, the when and the how of getting them to perform.
He was able to explore more of those ideas when he managed Performance Park, an enterprise in the Adelaide Hills driven by star footballer turned coach, Mike Nunan, based on the idea of utilising sports science to optimise the training of horses.
That gave Will first-hand experience of using heart-rate monitors, lactate analysis and the use of treadmills as he educated over 80 yearlings in his three years there, including multiple Group 1 winner Happy Trails.
During that time, Will took out his training licence and had his first winner in June 2010 when More Allowance saluted at Morphettville Parks.
He really came to the attention of the broader racing public when talented filly Molto Bene blew her rivals away in the Group 3 SA Sires’ Produce Stakes in 2012. From there Will enjoyed more success with his team growing his stable from five to 10 to 20 and then 50. Black-type victories flowed from the likes of Cavaloce, Mio Dio and Steel Frost.
His edge 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 the latter than 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.
He has now embarked on the next stage of his journey, investing everything he’s got into creating the property of his dreams, a world-class facility at Sellicks Hill. Sellicks Hill allows Will and his team to spend more time around their horses and utilise a variety of different methods without rushing them through a system.
Will is an innovative trainer who uses all the modern tools available at his disposal – a range of quality facilities, sports science and his own intuition – and taking his time to ensure every one of his horses are up to the physical and mental challenges of racing so they can maximise their potential.
In 2023 Clarken introduced long-time friend and exceptional horseman Niki O’Shea to the team as co-trainer. A move which is set to further strengthen the Clarken Racing team.