In good hands with the clerk of the course
In their red jackets or safety vests and white breeches, the clerk of the course is a familiar sight. The clerk of the course, along with the stewards, starter and judge, are horse racing officials. Easily identifiable in their traditional dress that harks back to the hunting days in England, their job is to maintain order among the runners before and after the race and to respond to any emergencies on the track.
Clerks therefore need to be calm, confident and experienced riders. In their red jackets or safety vests and white breeches, the clerk of the course is a familiar sight. The clerk of the course, along with the stewards, starter and judge, are horse racing officials. Easily identifiable in their traditional dress that harks back to the hunting days in England, their job is to maintain order among the runners before and after the race and to respond to any emergencies on the track. Clerks therefore need to be calm, confident and experienced riders.
The Pattersons are a family of talented horsemen where the profession runs in the blood. They are a fixture at the tracks around Victoria, with brothers Shane and Peter following in the footsteps of their father, the iconic John ‘Patto’ Patterson, clerk at Headquarters from the early 60s, who led in an astonishing 50 plus Cup winners.
VRC ambassador and stylist Aaron Mitchell conducts a styling session and wardrobe transformation on his dad and Flemington Clerk of the Course Peter Patterson. The journey starts at the Patterson stables in Flemington, where Pete and Aaron discuss their history in racing and with the VRC. Aaron encourages Pete to undergo a one-on-one styling, to prepare themselves for race day.
Peter fulfils the role of clerk of the course in the country and the city and the Pattersons also break in horses at their historic Flemington stables that they have occupied for more than 46 years, a stone’s throw away from the racecourse. They are also a familiar sight driving their horse and cart around the back streets of Flemington, educating thoroughbreds, show ponies, trotters and others.
A clerk of the course is a safety net for horses and jockeys whether they are on the way to the start of a race, during a race or pulling up after a race as they return to the mounting yard. As talented as our jockeys are in the saddle, on occasion their skill is tested, and it is moments like these when the clerk is called to help.
And often their ability to help depends entirely on the horse the clerk is working with. It takes a special horse to do the job.
Peter Patterson and his colleague Bob Challis travel the state assessing the horses of the 40-odd clerks currently registered with Racing Victoria as well as potential new horses that could be trained up for the job.
Traditionally, clerk of the course horses have been white, but the colours of the horses themselves have changed as more importance is placed on suitability for the job.
They have to have a calm temperament. If they bite or kick, they’re not going to make it as a clerk horse. When clerks pull up alongside a loose horse at speed, they have to have an animal with a calm nature to help settle that loose horse. As herd animals, they feed off each other, sense the calm and will eventually settle enough to be caught.
Retired thoroughbreds are often used as clerk horses, and are re-trained for the job. They are taught to slow down, because they’ve been taught all their racing life to go fast.
Trainers start by leading horses off them, getting them used to working alongside another horse at an easy pace. As it is a completely new job for them, a calm temperament and smarts is important. Clerks need a horse that understands what they need it to do.
And in the heat of a moment, that communication between horse and rider happens in a split second, especially when there is a loose horse on the track.
Clerks therefore have to have their eyes everywhere and wits about them. They are all fitted with radios and communicate with the other clerks as well as the stewards.
With talented horsemen such as Peter Patterson in the saddle helping to maintain order on race days, we can be assured that our equine and human athletes are in good hands.