A FORMER librarian who swapped lending books to pursue her dream of becoming a racehorse trainer hasn’t looked back and is on course for her best ever season in 2022.

Stella Barclay is just one of just five Lancashire-based trainers - but in Darwen she is known as something completely different, having been a librarian in the town for more than 20 years.

But the 76-year-old, who grew up in Cowpe, in Rossendale, was never too far away from a horse while growing up.

She said: “My father was always interested in racing and that was how I started off. There was a little racing yard round the corner from where we lived.

"The horses would go past every morning and it just excited me as a small child. When I was about nine I started riding them out – no protective gear or anything.

"I practically lived at that yard. That trainer taught us so much but then he had free labour for I don’t know how many years.”

After attending university Stella joined Darwen Library in the late 70s and has plenty of happy memories, working for 20 years in the town.

She added: “I started up a youth theatre in Darwen. We had a room which we got funding for in order to transform it.”

Her passion would always sneak in though as she added. “It was well-known Darwen Library was the best racing library in the whole country.

“Anyone who wanted any racing books used to apply to us, there wasn’t anything that we didn’t have. It was quite a racing community up there though, there were plenty of people who followed the sport.”

Through her passion Stella met her partner Paul Clarkson in 1982, working in the sport for the best part of 40 years and presenting around 3,500 race days across the north.

The couple bought a yard just north of Preston in Barnacre in 1987, and worked with the amateur point-to-point and Arabian racing circuits and ran racehorse ownership syndicates.

As their number of syndicates increased, Stella left Darwen Library at the end of the 90s to concentrate on racing full-time, originally with a pre-training yard.

Things were slowly blossoming and ironically it was the financial crash in 2008 which caused the business to move to the next level.

Paul said: “We started building up the facilities and we always wanted to train but we never thought we’d be able to do it financially.

"Then when the banking crash came I realised we couldn’t afford all these syndicates, so we thought we’d get them fit at home.

"We built a gallop and Bruce Hellier came along and held the licence for us, followed by Richard Ford and Mike Hammond.

“Stella was desperate to do it herself but even though we had this training yard and we were responsible for all of these horses at one time or another, you had to have five years of employed experience at a yard on your CV to satisfy for the licence.”

It was Richard Ford’s departure from their Lancashire Racing Stables operation in 2017 which opened the door to Barclay taking the reins, though she rather understandably had reservations at taking on a new venture at such an advanced age.

She said: “ I just had this burning desire to do it myself and prove I could do it, which is what gave me the enthusiasm. Despite my age it was a fresh experience for me, so I think it’s what got me going.”

Barclay was granted her full licence in 2018 and after a slow start she hasn’t looked back since, recording 14 winners in 2021.

Her tally for this year stands at seven winners but they have almost matched last year’s amount of prize money, which shows the quality of horse is improving.

And while both Stella and Paul are both of pensionable age, they have no plan to stop anytime soon.

She added: “We could sell up and go to somewhere where it’s always nice, but it wouldn’t be the same.

“Winning a small race is as rewarding for us, as it is for Sheikh Mohammed winning a big race somewhere.

“The sense of achievement is the same and in fact we probably get more out of it because you know what you’ve put into it.

“It’s very nice to have a winner as an owner but when you’re a trainer you’ve done it yourself.

"You’re feeding them, you’re exercising them and that’s why it’s special.”