Craig Hope meets former Grand National jockey and North-East trainer Chris Grant

Chris Grant with one of the horses in his yard .Picture By Frank Reid
Chris Grant with one of the horses in his yard .Picture By Frank Reid

LESS than a mile away, beyond the barns, gallops and starting stalls, runs the drum of the A19, the gateway to the outside world.

Here, though, in the conservatory of Chris Grant’s racing headquarters, there is tranquillity, only punctuated by the clatter of hooves and the buzz of the telephone.

On the table rests a Racing Post, on the wall hangs a widescreen television programmed only to the racing channels and, on the computer screen tucked away in the corner, runs a demonstration of the latest equine software, heart-rates, top speeds and all.

Even the family dog, Oli, acts as pacemaker for many of the yard’s 45 horses during morning gallops.

It is horseracing all the way, all day, every day.

Just one question is met with silence, bemusement almost.

“So what makes Chris Grant tick away from racing?”.

Chris turns to his wife, Sue, who is an integral part of the team.

“We go for the odd meal to The Stables at Wynyard,” she interjects, “But that’s just because it’s called The Stables.”

Chris offers his own take.

“From when we get up at 5am to going to bed it’s all about horse racing,” he says, now entering his 18th year as a trainer.

“I never ever have a day off.

“You eat, drink and breathe this game.

“The TV comes on at dinner time and it’s the racing channel all day.

“I do follow the football I suppose and I’ve been up to Newcastle the odd time.

“But I would rather watch it on TV – I can flick to the racing channel that way.”

The A19, it appears, is merely a gateway to the country’s racecourses, for everything he and his team do at their picturesque 500-acre yard is geared towards raceday.

Conversation is broken only by the telephone, for there are declarations to be made ahead of tomorrow’s racing.

Our dialogue, though, soon returns to racing and what was a decorated career in the saddle.

So how did it all begin for the softly-spoken trainer from Bolton-on-Swale in North Yorkshire?

“I left school at 15 and went to Dennis Smith’s yard,” he recalls.

“From my teenage years I always wanted to be a jockey.

“At 14 I went for my summer holidays to his yard and had six weeks there – I could have stayed there forever.

“I knew it was for me.”

But knowing and doing were at loggerheads.

“When I first started I was struggling with my weight and I thought I might not make it,” he concedes.

“I almost called it a day but then all of a sudden it took off.

“I remember my first winner at Hexham – Trim Lawns.

“You never forget the buzz of your first winner.

“I trained my first winner at Hexham as well, it’s funny how it works sometimes.”

Trim Lawns was the first of nearly 800 winners for the jockey who once finished second in the riders’ championship to Richard Dunwoody.

Each one of those winners, however, was earned with great sacrifice.

“I had a fair old battle with my weight from then on,” he admits.

“I’m quite a heavy-boned type of lad.

“Naturally I would be 12 stones but I had to ride at 10 stone seven pounds.

“But it didn’t compromise on power.

“I was known for being very strong in the saddle when I rode – your body adjusts.

“I’d then have two months off during the summer.

“The first month I’d binge and let rip before spending the second month getting back down to weight.

“It was hard work at times but I did it because I loved my life as a jockey, I have no regrets.”

The one regret Chris does perhaps harbour is the one year of his life away from the sport.

“I never thought I’d be a trainer and when I packed up at 37 I had a year working for a food supplement company,” he says, “It did my head in.

“At the time Sue (herself an accomplished rider) was breaking in one or two point-to-point horses and we were getting more involved.

“We got a horse called Bobby Grant to break in and the owner said we could train him if we got a license.

“We did that and he was our first winner.

“We’ve had a lot of fun since then but you always want more winners and better quality horses.

“You just keep working away in the hope that you’ll get that one horse to take you up there.”

There are no prizes for guessing, then, the ultimate remedy to his Grand National seconds.

“The ambition is to have a horse good enough to run in the National and the dream is to win it,” he smiles.

“At the moment we haven’t but you never know.

“Anything is possible in horseracing.”