The Saturday Interview: Andy Neild talks to hotelier and racing expert HARRY BARLOW

WHALLEY may be something of a ghost town on May 18.

Charabancs full of excited villagers will be bused out to Ripon Racecourse to become eager racegoers for a day.

Those punters will be screaming themselves hoarse, hoping to carry 'Arkwright' shoulder-high all the way to the winners enclosure.

Arkwright was the lucky winner plucked out of the hat in the Swan at Whalley Racing Club's Christmas draw.

And first prize was to own one of the syndicate's horses for a day.

"We all want to go and see Arkwright own a horse for a day," smirked the man behind the racing club, landlord Harry Barlow.

"His name isn't really Arkwright it's Gilmartin the ironmonger but they call him Arkwright because he's open all hours.

"The lad who won last year won over £2,000 and appeared on Channel 4 Racing where he was interviewed by Derek Thompson."

It is hardly surprising Harry found his way into racing considering his upbringing.

Showjumper David Broome used to live at the farm next door to his childhood Welsh home and taught him how to ride.

But it was the 'dodgy' dealings of his father that really got him hooked.

"My father was a bookmaker years ago in the days when they were illegal and he had to hide all the money under the bed.

"By the time I was 10 or 11, I could work out bets in my head quicker than I could do anything else. Often when there was night racing the local police inspector would raid the pub because he was a Methodist do-gooder so backing horses was terrible. "My dad would be kept in overnight and then hauled before the magistrate in the morning.

"He only used to get fined a couple of quid, though, because the magistrate was one of his best customers."

When he bought The Swan in Whalley, after 28 years in the Army, Harry soon realised he needed an idea to boost flagging trade.

Most publicans would have beefed up the menu or put on a pub quiz - but Harry decided to buy a racehorse with Cockerham-based trainer Jack Berry and name it after the pub.

"I bought The Swan at Whalley five years ago and, when he won in his first season as a two-year-old, I just got the bug.

"Then all the customers wanted to come in on it so I bought another horse and a 100 shares went like hot cakes.

"Things have snowballed from there and we now have eight horses.

"I've never had to advertise anywhere. It's all happened through notices in the pub and by people staying as guests here.

"There are now over 350 people involved in various syndicates with share capitals ranging from £150 to £1,500."

Even pensioners as old as 94 have now become punters.

Co-ordinating the operation so that things run smoothly has become a full-time job.

The Swan at Whalley Racing Club has it's own monthly newsletter and a page on the Internet. And the spin-offs for the pub have been just as eye-opening with turn- over increasing seven-fold.

The house wine is labelled with a picture of The Swan at Whalley and the champagne carries the pub's racing colours.

Even the menus and the fruit machine carry a racing theme.

But Harry is not in it for the financial rewards.

It's that injection of adrenaline that makes every hair on the body stand on end, every nerve-end jangle, when a runner is first past that winning post.

"When you have a winner it really does give you the most amazing buzz - there is nothing quite like it.

"If I go to race meetings now it's just not the same unless I have a runner.

"You don't make a lot of money out of racing.

"People just get enjoyment from going up to the stables and watching horses on the gallops and having a day out.

"And through these syndicates it's a cheap way of getting into the sport of kings."

As well as paying for their share, owners must also pay to train and stable a horse which costs around £5,000 a year.

Prize money is shared out in November at the end of the season and so far that has amounted to well over £10,000.

"We've been very lucky with our horses so far.

"The Swan at Whalley has won some good handicaps although he's been a bit of a rogue by his refusing to go in stalls which has got me a lot of publicity.

"He should have been banned for doing it three times but I managed to get him off the hook with the Jockey Club because he was running for charity." But a spell with racing's Dr Dolittle, Monty Roberts, who works magic by talking with the horses and breaks them in through sign language, seems to have cured the problem.

The Racing Club were due to have seven runners ready for the off this season.

But they were rocked last weekend by the news that new two-year old bay colt Ribble Pet had died suddenly through liver failure.

"We got a call from the stables to say he had died during the night.

"Everyone was shocked and really upset and some people were close to tears because you get attached to these horses."

That left a bitter taste compared to the champagne which had been uncorked three days earlier to celebrate the birth of the club's first foal.

Harry had spent weeks pacing up and down like an expectant father waiting for news from the stud in Yorkshire.

"We only got into breeding because no-one wanted to get rid of Pride of Whalley when she injured her legs and had to retire.

"But she's got good breeding stock and she's a lovely horse so she will produce winners there's no doubt about that.

"Now the new foal has arrived we are very excited." And just maybe the new arrival might develop into a horse capable of pulling off his dream.

His hopes are now pinned on Swan At Whalley, Top Of The Form, Ribble Princess, Ribble Assembley, Captain Harry and one so far unnamed.

"My overall ambition is to win a group race.

"But if I could win any race in the world then it would have to be the Derby because there is only one race in the world. You never know. As Jack Berry used to say if you keep producing good two-year-olds for long enough you will hit the jackpot."

If they do, you can bet the doors to The Swan will be open all hours to celebrate -and at least one Arkwright will be smiling.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.