One of Britain’s top racehorse training yards, Kingsclere is steeped in racing history. So too the Balding family at the helm, who are British racing royalty. We spoke to the family that trains horses for the Queen about their past and future, their winning team and how Leave Dates is “the fail-safe” helping them get staff leave firmly on track
Established in 1865, Kingsclere’s Park House Stables have trained some of the greatest racehorses in history, from Ormonde, the 1886 Epsom Derby winner dubbed “the horse of the century”, to the iconic Mill Reef, who won the 1971 Derby under trainer Ian Balding.
The Balding family has run and lived at Park House Stables since 1953; Andrew Balding became Kingsclere’s licensed trainer in 2003, taking the reins from his father Ian, and continuing the racing success of his father, uncles, grandfathers and great-grandfather three generations before.
Today, Andrew runs Kingsclere with the involvement of the whole family: his wife, Anna Lisa, manages the staff and owners, his sister, the broadcaster Clare Balding, is president of the Kingsclere Racing Club, his mother, Emma, runs the Kingsclere Stud, while his father continues to ride out each morning, and his three children, Jonno, Toby and Flora, help their dad by riding out the horses and mucking out in the holidays.
The yard trains and cares for 220 horses, with owners including Sir Alex Ferguson and the Queen: her horse, Tactical, trained by Andrew, triumphed at Royal Ascot in 2020 and Newmarket in 2021.
In 2020, despite an interrupted season due to covid-19, the yard achieved over 100 winners and £2.1 million in prizemoney.
Kingsclere’s motto is “Preserving the past whilst promoting the future”, referencing the history of Park House and its reputation as a top training yard, but also the future of both horses and staff.
Housed in beautiful old red brick buildings in the stunning Hampshire Downs near Newbury, the historic site retains its old charm whilst also seeing extensive modernisation of facilities under Andrew Balding, to ensure the best training and care of the horses. It boasts horse walkers, equine pools, high-speed treadmills, all-weather gallops, state-of-the-art barns and a digital weighbridge. That’s in addition to 200 boxes, 9 yards, an outdoor arena, paddocks, starting stalls and grass gallops.
It’s a big team, with 80 core full-time members of staff. Many staff have been there for a long time, “who are invaluable”, says Anna Lisa Balding, whilst the older staff train up the young apprentices coming through, ensuring a team fit to continue Kingsclere’s legacy far into the future.
Most staff live on-site in staff accommodation, lending the yard a real community feel, rather like one big family. There’s a diverse range of roles, from yard managers, ground staff, riders and travelling staff to hostel managers, racing office staff, vets and a farrier.
“It’s a very big team, they mostly live onsite, obviously it’s competitive in that we all want to win races but it’s very important that the horses are looked after well” says Anna Lisa. “It’s the biggest team sport of all. It’s a huge team and a winner for everyone, whether you muck out, feed the horses, give them their vaccinations, do the gallop, cook for the lads in the hostel, or make the entries in the office. They are all a huge part of the team.”
The management team believes it’s crucial for staff to take time off: “The one thing that we try and do is to make sure staff do take the majority of their holiday”, says Anna Lisa.
And they encourage innovative ways of taking leave, too. “One of our girls is going to Bahrain to work for a different trainer for a month. She wants to get the experience, so we’ve said that she can take a month off and we’ll give her two weeks’ free holiday.”
It’s fitting that one of the most modern, best-equipped training stables in the world uses a modern HR tool to manage staff leave: Leave Dates.
Before Leave Dates, Kingsclere faced challenges tracking staff time off: “Trying to keep on top of people changing their minds – that was the big thing,” says Anna Lisa. “They’d come in one day and say ‘Can I do this?’ and ‘Actually no, can I just have a half-day here, a half-day there’, and it was becoming a nightmare to manage. There are two girls in the office so they’re not always talking to the same person.”
They tracked all leave by hand: “It was literally a hand-written calendar,” says Anna Lisa.
Looking for help and advice, she found Leave Dates and founder Phil Norton: “It was very apparent that I needed someone who was an expert and had experience like that. Phil was just so helpful.”
Tailored to Kingsclere’s team, Leave Dates perfectly accommodates the size of the team and the different allowances depending on the wide range of years worked, ages and roles, and they have found it very simple to use: “It’s absolutely brilliant,” says Anna Lisa. “Basically, it’s a go-to. How many days holiday have I had? How many days am I allowed? Can I take this weekend off? Can I take my paternity leave? It’s fantastic.”
High praise indeed, and then Anna Lisa adds: “It’s just made it fail-safe really.”
“It’s the efficiency. It’s just so easy to use and to know what’s going on. As I say, it’s the fail-safe.”
We’re delighted to hear how Leave Dates has helped Kingsclere. Would she recommend it to others? “Absolutely, yes. Definitely. Definitely. Give it a go. They won’t be looking back.”
Indeed, both Kingsclere and Leave Dates are striding firmly into the future.