Inside the Cotswolds country club where horses are just as welcome as humans

Unlike the droves of Londoners who arrived in the Cotswolds in their Range Rovers during lockdown, buying up homes for more than £10 million and riling the locals with their double parking, Ben is a dyed-in-the-wool local. His father was a farmer – he worked Jeremy Clarkson’s farm, Diddly Squat, and he was his retirement that led to Clarkson taking it on – growing up surrounded by horses and pulling pints at his local.

Ben initially dreamed of being a jump jockey but lost the sight in his right eye in an agricultural accident, when a piece of rusty barbed wire pierced it. “After that it was all about being a trainer,” he says.

Initially, he worked for jump racing champion trainer, Nicky Henderson. His own yard followed in 2013, the year after he married Sophie, with just eight horses belonging to friends and family.

And at first, Ben Pauling Racing could do no wrong: Barters Hill, a gentle bay named after the area where Ben used to race his ponies, put them on the map by winning his first seven races to become one of the best novice hurdlers in the country; in 2017 Willoughby Court was his first Cheltenham Festival winner.

“Everyone cried – we were watching a dream come true,” Sophie says. By the time Le Breuil became their second Cheltenham winner in 2019, Ben Pauling Racing’s owner demographic had expanded to include celebrities and entrepreneurs, including Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company.

“Harry Redknapp became an owner just before he went on I’m A Celebrity; I was touched that we were one of the first calls he made when he came out of the jungle,” Ben says.

There followed an annus horribilis. A virus worked its way around the yard, sending the horses off form; the following year Covid struck. “When racing started again there were no spectators, so I’d have to call the owners with the results. If it was a win, fine, but dealing with disappointment and frustration when you’re not able to enjoy the show is tough.”

He’s certain the atmosphere at this year’s Festival is going to be more electric than ever. “There’ll be some titanic battles up that famous hill to get the hearts racing.” He has entered six horses this year, including Redknapp’s two.

Naturally, there will be after-parties back at Naunton Downs.

One key difference to Soho Farmhouse is that there are no plans to turn Naunton Downs into a private members’ club. Everyone is welcome; the only VIPs are the racehorse owners, who will be able to watch their animals on the gallops from the warmth and comfort of a glass-fronted lounge, with a glass of Champagne in hand. “I’ll have to suppress the urge to tell them to man up and get outside,” Ben admits. “But I do realize that other people don’t want to be in the rain all day like I do.”

Two Tribes Soho Farmhouse v Naunton Downs

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