Clerk of the course Jane Hedley is looking forward to building on Warwick Racecourse’s renaissance when jump racing returns on September 20, writes David Hucker.
Hedley, who is also clerk at sister track Nottingham, took over from Sulekha Varma last January. Like her predecessor, Hedley hails from Scotland and both followed a career path which included hands-on experience working in a racing stable.
After graduating from Edinburgh University with a BSc (Hons) in Agriculture, Hedley undertook voluntary work for the Thoroughbred Breeders Association before travelling extensively to gain experience as a pupil assistant in a number of yards, including six months with Henrietta Knight, trainer of Best Mate.
She stepped up to assistant trainer with Richard Guest before spending nearly six years as a yard manager at the stable of Mark Johnston at Middleham in Yorkshire, being responsible for around 30 horses.
Hedley joined Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) in 2012 as a trainee clerk and qualified a year later, taking responsibility for Nottingham and Market Rasen.
When Varma returned to Scotland, JCR combined the Warwick role with the one at Nottingham to give a better year-round balance.
She arrived at Warwick at just the right time, as the course is enjoying an upturn in fortunes following a period of uncertainty over its future.
Her first meeting was Classic Chase Day, one of the busiest in the calendar, which she described as “a baptism of frost”.
“It was a tricky week,” says Hedley. “It came right in the end as we made the right call over laying the frost covers which saved the meeting.”
To show their commitment to the course, JCR have been investing in the track surface and fences over the summer.
A 500m section just past the stands is being drained and levelled to allow more flexibility in the placing of the running rail and improve the racing surface.
The final three fences in the back straight are being completely rebuilt and will have the ability to be extended by eight feet on to the hurdles track when the old outer flat track is in use.
When we met earlier this week, Hedley’s next appointment was with inspector of courses Peter Hobbs, who had arrived to check out the progress which had left parts of the track looking like a moonscape.
Nevertheless, Hedley is confident the changes will be for the good and allow better track management.
“The track is in fantastic shape and we’re looking forward to seeing the benefits of the improvements made over the summer.”
Key to the future is attracting what Hedley calls “a constant stream of quality horses”.
One trainer who continues to send runners to the course is Willie Mullins, who almost landed the British title to add to his Irish championship in 2015/16.
Mullins has sent out 60 winners in Great Britain over the last five years, seven of which have come at Warwick at a 64 per cent strike rate.
“We’ve had a phenomenal start to 2016 at Warwick, with 106 more runners compared to the same period in 2015,” added Hedley.
“We have excellent facilities for visiting trainers and their staff and enjoy welcoming Willie Mullins and his team here.”
September 20 cannot come soon enough for Hedley.