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Profile: Julian McLaren

PROFILEWeb Master
  Julian McLaren    The rising star in Scandinavian racing    Julian McLaren was suddenly thrown into a trainer’s role less than two years ago and quickly started to make a name for himself on the Scandinavian racecourses. European Trainer caught up with the young Swedish trainer to discuss racing in Scandinavia, the new Stockholm racecourse, and how he overcome his fear of riding.     Growing up around racehorses, Julian McLaren always knew that he wanted to devote his life to horse racing. Having a trainer as a father and a racing administrator as a mother, the Swede has been a part of the Scandinavian racing community since before he could walk. “My dad, Alex McLaren, came to Sweden from Scotland in 1979 and started training near Stockholm shortly after,” Julian McLaren explains. “I grew up on the farm where he trained, and later we moved closer to the city and kept the horses at Täby Galopp.”     As a teenager, he spent most of his free time at the track, and once he finished school, his involvement in the racing industry became more serious. Valet, jockey’s agent, starting stall handler, and stable hand are only a few of the many roles Julian McLaren, now 30, has experienced.     “One of my most valuable experiences was spending six months in Dubai, working in the starting stalls. I got to work with some of the best horses, jockeys, and trainers in the world, something which I learned a lot from,” McLaren recalls.     He also spent time with trainers in Scandinavia, including Wido Neuroth in Norway , “a trainer I really admire”, and travelled to Australia to work as an exercise rider for Robert Smerdon in Melbourne and Anthony Cummings in Sydney for a few months. However, the idea of exercise riding was initially very alien for the young Julian McLaren.     “I was actually afraid of riding until my early 20s”, McLaren admits. “The speed, power and size of horses scared me. But I loved being around them, bringing horses in and out, brushing them, washing them, and everything else. But I really didn’t enjoy riding, I was just way too afraid.”    A horse called Hurry Lime eventually got McLaren to overcome his fear of riding. It was when working for trainer Fredrik Reuterskiöld at Jägersro in the south of Sweden that McLaren met the then three-year-old American import, Julian McLaren happily admits that he had got the gelding to thank for a lot.     “He became my best friend! He was so kind, and really looked after the person he had on his back. I started riding him, and he built my confidence up. After only a few months I was riding five lots per day, including some of the best horses in the stable.”    Not long after, Julian McLaren rode in his first amateur race. “I ended up riding in eight races, and won two of them, so I know the feeling of winning and I know the feeling of losing”, McLaren says with a laugh.     In fact, one of the wins came aboard Hurry Lime, who then had moved to McLarens’ barn. When Julian McLaren talks about the horse, it is obvious that the chestnut still has got a special place in the young trainer’s heart. “Hurry Lime is still in the barn, although he retired last year. Nowadays, he is just my track pony, but he is very well. When I rode him the other day, he tried to take off with me. He still loves the game!” McLaren laughs.  “And in the stable, he is like a dog. There is no need to put a headcollar on him when bringing him out to the walker, he just follows you anyway.”    With a 20% strike rate as an amateur rider, it might have seemed tempting to continue the riding career. However, standing 6′2 ft tall, Julian McLaren certainly is not built like a jockey, and the strict diet regime and many hours in the sauna before each race was never going to be a sustainable venture.  Although his race riding experience is limited, the trainer admits that the experience has come in handy in his new career.  “It is definitely an advantage to have been riding myself, and particularly to have ridden in races. At least I have an idea of what it is like, so when jockeys come back after a race and tell me that this happened or that happened, I find it easier to understand it from their point of view.”     In between other jobs and commitments, Julian McLaren kept helping out in his father’s training barn at Täby Galopp as often as he could. A dream of becoming a trainer one day began to emerge. “I wasn’t in any rush, and the plan was to eventually take over training when dad wanted to retire”, McLaren says. “I bought a horse at the horses in training sale in England that I kept in dad’s barn but that I trained myself, just to get a soft start as trainer.”     Julian McLaren saddled his first runner on 20th December 2015, unfortunately, that was as much of a soft start as the young Swede would get. Only a week later, the McLaren family’s life changed dramatically. Alex McLaren left the track a bit earlier than usual one morning as he was not feeling well. The same afternoon, he suffered from a heart attack, and later passed away in hospital. The Scandinavian horse racing community had lost a valuable and very respected member.    “It was a huge shock for everyone. He was only 59, he was fit as a flea, and still riding out most days.  No one saw that coming, especially not me.”    Suddenly, Julian McLaren found himself with a barn full of horses that had to be looked after and exercised. “I knew my dad wanted me to continue with the horses and I had worked with him on and off besides my other jobs for several years. I knew all the horses and he had taught me well, so I thought I would give it a try. But it was a strange way to become a racehorse trainer; it was far from a natural progression.”     “At the time, we only had ten horses, but still, it was a big change. Normally, you would walk into the barn and find dad there, saddling a horse or talking to an owner or working in the office. If I had any questions, I could just ask him. Suddenly, I could not do that anymore. Instead, I had to figure out what he would have done in the same situation. But it took me a while to realise that he wouldn’t be coming back,” McLaren recalls.     Julian McLaren pulled himself together and decided to keep the business running, and all the owners stayed. Less than ten days later, he found himself in the winner’s enclosure when Lovemeloveme won at a snowy Täby Galopp.    “It was a very emotional victory which meant a lot for many people. The horse is like a part of our family, and dad trained both her dam and her granddam.”     More changes followed in the coming months, although these were of a much more positive nature. The Stockholm racecourse, Täby Galopp, where Alex McLaren had trained for many years, closed in May 2016. The city had grown closer to the racetrack and sky-rocketed the value of the land. The racecourse was sold for redevelopment, which financed a new state-of-the-art racecourse and training centre in Bro, 40 minutes’ drive from the city centre of Stockholm.    Julian McLaren admits that the thought of pursuing his father’s ambition of moving to the new racecourse, Bro Park, was something that made him even more determined to carry on with the training business.  “Dad had looked forward to moving to Bro Park for years, and he was very engaged in the development of the new facilities.” Once the new training centre opened, Julian McLaren moved his whole training operation to a new-built barn with 20 boxes.     Located in the countryside, the racecourse and training centre cover 500 acres and have large paddocks for the horses, which complies with the strict animal welfare laws in Sweden stating that you may not keep your horse in a stable for more than 16 hours a day, and that horses must be turned out daily in a paddock big enough for them to be able to trot and canter.     “The move was a big change for everybody, but I really like it. The boxes are much bigger with plenty of airflow, and we have great facilities for horses as well as staff. The horses love it here; they really do look well.” says McLaren, who occupies barn 6 on the grounds.     Bro Park has permanent stabling and training facilities for 300 horses, and a total of 18 trainers have the new track as their base. Julian McLaren explains that they can train on the 9.5f main dirt track as well as on a 5f straight track. The 10.5f main turf course is occasionally open for gallops. Furthermore, there is a possibility to walk and trot on paths and fields across the grounds.     The new racecourse was inaugurated in June last year with an attendance of more than 10,000 people, and it could not have got off to a better start for McLaren, who saddled a winner on the opening day.    “Dreams Cape won one of the races in the international female jockey’s challenge, with Chantal Sutherland aboard. It was definitely the highlight so far in my career, It meant a lot to me, it was really something special. I had hoped that he would be close to the pace but he had something else on his mind and was tailed off last. He was so far behind the others that he couldn’t even be seen on the TV screens. But in the last furlong and a half, he shot past the rest of the field like a bullet and won quite comfortably. Chantal got some good speed out of him!”     By the end of the year, 72 starts had resulted in eight wins for the stable, and the runners to places percentage was over 40%. Furthermore, the young McLaren had almost doubled the number of horses in the barn and had welcomed several new owners as well as a sponsor, Skoda, to his team.      “I was very fortunate. I got off to a good start and with the help of the owners I could invest in new horses. I currently have seven two-year-olds in the barn, one of which is a very nice filly by Kodiac that we purchased at the Doncaster breeze-up sale in the spring.  She was third in her first start the other week.”     At the moment Julian McLaren has got 16 horses in the barn, and that is a number that well could increase after yearling sales in Scandinavia and the rest of Europe this autumn. He has no intention to settle with 16 horses and explains that he is hoping to expand the training operation over the coming years.      “I want to grow as a trainer, and hopefully I will be competing with the big boys soon. My short-term goal is to be among the top-five trainers in Sweden. Longer term, I would like to see my horses racing in the rest of Europe, and Dubai.”    When asked about his strengths as a trainer, Julian McLaren stops to think. His girlfriend, jockey Malin Holmberg, who plays an important role in the business, gives her opinion, “Julian has a very good eye for a horse. He has the ability to see each horse as an individual, and to figure out what they need. And he is very adaptable and flexible, both when it comes to horses and people.”     Training racehorses in Scandinavia might not be the fastest way to wealth and fame, but Julian McLaren has never regretted his choice. “I am living my dream. I get to work with animals. I love training an individual horse to be as good as possible, and get them to the winner’s enclosure. And I get to meet a lot of people.”    From a business point of view, it has been going well, although training always brings its challenges. “The prize money is great, and it is increasing. But it can be difficult to find good staff these days. And it is also hard to get new owners, very hard. As a young trainer you need someone to back you up properly and support you with good horses… and good horses cost a lot of money.”    Rome wasn’t built in a day, but McLaren hopes that the new racecourse can help create more interest for horse racing in Stockholm, and make it easier to attract more owners, both local and from overseas.     ”It really is a great place for owners and racegoers with a good atmosphere and a brilliant restaurant. And you can get very close to the horses, particularly in the turf races.”     “I also hope that more trainers from abroad will take a chance to send over horses to Stockholm and Bro Park to compete. The prize money is great here and we only have a total of around 1,000 horses in training in Sweden at the moment, so, naturally, the racing is not going to be as competitive as Great Britain or Ireland. Furthermore, we’re only a short flight away from pretty much anywhere you want in Europe, and we often race on Sundays, so it could be a good opportunity for owners to go to Sweden for a weekend break.” McLaren explains with enthusiasm in his voice.      His passion for horse racing is obvious, and that might be a reason to why he hasn’t settled for just one role in the industry. Beside training, Julian McLaren also works as a TV-presenter on some race days. “I really enjoy it! I have always been a show monkey and I enjoy being on TV. And it’s a good way to get your name out there.”    However, for the most part, Julian McLaren can be found in his barn at Bro Park. He is very hands-on and does a lot of the ground work in the barn himself. “Normally I have three freelance riders per day who come in and ride four or five lots each. I don’t ride much myself at the moment. It happens, but not very often, just Hurry Lime, the old man!”
 

Published in European Trainer - October - December 2017, issue 59

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GALLERY

The rising star in Scandinavian racing

Julian McLaren was suddenly thrown into a trainer’s role less than two years ago and quickly started to make a name for himself on the Scandinavian racecourses. European Trainer caught up with the young Swedish trainer to discuss racing in Scandinavia, the new Stockholm racecourse, and how he overcome his fear of riding.

Growing up around racehorses, Julian McLaren always knew that he wanted to devote his life to horse racing. Having a trainer as a father and a racing administrator as a mother, the Swede has been a part of the Scandinavian racing community since before he could walk. “My dad, Alex McLaren, came to Sweden from Scotland in 1979 and started training near Stockholm shortly after,” Julian McLaren explains. “I grew up on the farm where he trained, and later we moved closer to the city and kept the horses at Täby Galopp.”

As a teenager, he spent most of his free time at the track, and once he finished school, his involvement in the racing industry became more serious. Valet, jockey’s agent, starting stall handler, and stable hand are only a few of the many roles Julian McLaren, now 30, has experienced.

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