For someone who spends virtually every waking hour at a racecourse, you would think Mark Clayton may opt for a different activity on those rare days off.
But the new general manager of Southwell Racecourse admits there’s a very blurred line between his job and his hobby.
“Even though I’m now managing a racecourse that holds around 70 meetings a year, it doesn’t stop me going at least a couple of times a month when I’m off work,” he admitted.
“It’s a bit of a dream come true for me and I’m relishing the challenge of leading the Southwell team.”
Mark’s passion for racing stems from an upbringing watching his father David as a jump jockey.
While he didn’t follow him into the saddle, although he has recently taking up riding again in his spare time, Mark pursued a racing career as soon as he left university.
“I started working at Weatherbys first and, as the administrators of the sport, it was a fantastic introduction into the industry,” explained the 36-year-old.
“I learned a lot during that time. One of my jobs was to write the tips in the racecards so I soon got to know a bit about the form. Weatherbys was a great grounding for me.”
From there Mark moved on to Huntingdon Racecourse as operations manager where he remained for three years before moving on to Doncaster Racecourse in the same role, but looking after much bigger dates such as the four-day St Leger Festival, managing crowds of up to 33,000.
“We started the music concerts after racing while I was there and booked bands such as Madness, Texas, McFly and Status Quo,’ he added.
“There were some hugely successful days at Doncaster.
“The worst day of my working year was always the day after the St Leger Festival had finished because so much of my life went into that. I used to get such a buzz out of putting on such a great four days for so many people.”
Now Mark’s challenge is to replicate that feeling at the Nottinghamshire course where he hopes to introduce some similarly successful events.
“Each of the Arena Racing Company-owned courses has their own personalities, which is what makes it so interesting,” he added.
“Southwell is not just a race course, but a very successful golf club as well. That means people can come here for a variety of reasons – golf, conferences and racing – which means we should be reaching a cross-section of the community.
“One of the challenges of racing all the time – which we can do here because we have a mixture of all-weather, jumps and flat turf racing – is that it is hard to keep the numbers up on every fixture.
‘But our newly-launched All-Weather Championships series which has seen ARC invest an extra £2 million into prize money, has certainly helped. It is attracting a higher standard of horse and consequently a lot of racing fans who are following the series.
“I feel a great sense of pride in being involved in something so innovative because it is something which will just grow and grow. This will culminate in a fantastic finals day at Lingfield Park on Good Friday.”
Once the All-Weather Championship Series is over, Mark will concentrate on some other ideas he has to attract people to visit Southwell.
“For me, racing is about more than just watching horses running around a track – it is about the occasion and there should be an emphasis on making the whole day an event to remember. This could be based on a family fun day, our very popular Ladies’ Day or our beer festival,” he said.
“We don’t pretend to be Ascot or Cheltenham but we do pride ourselves on having much to offer to a lot of people.”