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  • Writer's pictureJo O'Neill

An Interview with Hannah Gregory - Assistant Trainer to Richard Phillips

Being a pony-mad girl, Hannah Gregory, 28, has ridden since she was three. She rose through the ranks of the local Pony Club and competed in a variety of equestrian disciplines. Despite riding ponies, Hannah was not from a racing background nor did she have a family with a large bank account.

From Richmond, North Yorkshire, it was a yearly day out that introduced Hannah to racing, to its jockeys and the racehorses. “Every New Year’s Day, I went with my family to Catterick to watch the jump racing. I’d bet with my £5 pocket money and I adored Graham Lee; he was my idol. I’ve always loved horses, so I guess I caught the bug!” Like many school leavers Hannah attended the Northern Horseracing College in Doncaster.

After finishing at the racing school, Hannah was placed at Jonjo O’Neill’s in Gloucestershire as a racing groom. “I was weak as a kitten but hard working on the yard. I was always asking the senior staff members and jockeys how I could improve.” This hard work and dedication paid off. Hannah’s riding improved so much she was soon leading the string, working and schooling with the jockeys. She stayed at Jonjo’s for two and a half years, during which time Don’t Push It won the Grand National.

As often happens, a different pathway beckoned and Hannah left racing for ten months. She failed the Army medical to get into Sandhurst and the former tug of racing prevailed above any other direction. She went to James Bethell’s on the Flat, learning a lot. There, she looked after Penhill as a yearling – he won for her twice and always won the best turned out. She went with him to the Newmarket Sales when he sold for 230,000 Guineas.

Hannah on Owen Glendower at Stratford

Photo Credit: Michael Harris

After that, Micky Hammond’s head girl, Becky Smith, approached her to work as Assistant Head Girl. This was a step up – Hannah’s first senior role in racing. “I appreciated being given the chance to do that – it was as if my hard work was beginning to pay off,” Hannah remembers. From Middleham, she moved to Sophie Leech’s and was head of travelling for three seasons and rode as an amateur jockey. During her time there, she led up Anteros, whom she rode out every day, when he won a Listed race at Cheltenham.

In June 2018, Hannah’s drive to progress found her just down the road from her original job at Jonjo’s, in Adlestrop, Gloucestershire, working for Richard Phillips. She moved up the job ladder to be an Assistant Trainer. Whilst there, Hannah has been nominated for the Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards. For two years previously, Hannah was nominated in the Groom’s Awards category and in the last three years, she was nominated for the Leadership Award Category, making the final ten for the last two years. This, in itself, is a major achievement, demonstrating Hannah’s dedication to the job role. Hannah has implemented many positive changes for the yard, such as introducing a “breakfast” break time, every other Wednesday afternoon off, a new educational staff room and a gym. Since working for Richard Phillips, she has become an advocate of the Lycett Team Champion Award, helping to write the team’s nomination. For the past two years, the yard has earned three stars and, most recently, a gold accreditation and a Certificate of Excellence for their policies on Diversity and Leadership. The yard has finished runner-up twice and certainly deserves to win in the future.

In 2018, Hannah combined training her own horse Owen Glendower for point-to-points with her full-time job. The pair gelled, coming placed and winning the Ladies’ Open at Sandon and, more than she’d ever dreamt of, the Ladies’ Final at Stratford. ‘Owen’ and Hannah had gone back a few years even before this. She had looked after him at Sophie Leech’s, rode him every day and had taken him to the Punchestown Festival. He had later suffered a tendon injury and Hannah was kindly gifted him. After giving him a year and a half in the field to recover, Hannah brought him slowly back into training. Despite other people’s reservations, Hannah trained him herself at lunchtimes. “I get their doubts,” Hannah reflects. “He was a 12-year-old, a bleeder, had bad wind and bad legs and was supposedly a ‘steppy ****’. A few had commented on why I would bother with him and that I would be an idiot to ride him. On my first ride on him at Bangor-on-Dee, we finished a close third. We had made a crucial mistake on the last circuit, resulting in me jumping a fence with no irons. However, as usual, I left him alone, talked to him all the way round and we flew up the home straight.”

Hannah finished fourth at the Cheltenham Hunter Chase evening, beaten by twenty lengths, and decided to go to Stratford. “We were 33-1 and I planned to be handy but the race went off flat out, so I dropped him in and left him to it.” Hannah lights up when she talks about Owen and that memorable day. “We won by thirteen lengths. My family was there, we won the best turned out and my best friend led me up. It had been a tough few months for me personally, so it meant more to me than people will ever know.” They qualified for the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ the following year, and it was Hannah’s dream to ride in it. She joked that she “wanted to be the first partnership to win the Foxhunters and the Retrained Racehorse class at the Horse of the Year Show in the same year” but she sadly lost him on the gallops. “He was a beautiful horse,” she says, sadness shadowing her face.

Hannah’s love for racing is all too apparent, despite the undulating fortunes that this sport brings. She has no inclination to leave racing again in the near future. “I’d love to train but financially, I’ll always be up against it,” she ponders when asked. “I dream about getting another superstar horse to win the Foxhunters’, as a trainer or a jockey. I never thought in a million years that I would have had a license, let alone win a Ladies’ Final on a horse I’d owned, trained and ridden.”

Last summer, she started her own business: Hannah’s Clipping and Trimming. Utilising all the skills she’s learnt through racing and previously when briefly working for a show-producer and in show jumping, she trims and plaits horses up for their owners. “I did all the clipping last winter at work and have often won the best turned out at the races, so this is something I feel comfortable doing,” explains Hannah, and details how she undertakes her own business in her spare time. As the winter approached, she was busy clipping for clients.

Most recently, Hannah has taken her business online through social media. Proving extremely popular, she has added educational elements, such as explanations of a variety of clips (all portray her own work), general trimming, tidying and plaiting. She is often approached for advice and is currently filming some tutorials as requested by her ever-growing social media following. Hannah’s work has not gone unnoticed; she can now proudly announce she is sponsored by one of the biggest and most popular worldwide clipping companies, Liveryman. She is also a brand ambassador for a smaller company called ClipitGrooming.

Putting as much into the sport as she’s got out of it, Hannah has also spent the last few seasons being one of NARS’ Racecourse Inspectors. She visits different racecourses, trying to ensure their facilities are the best they can be and encourage improvements for all stable staff in canteens, accommodations and in the stable yards. In June, she held a supporting role at Lingfield and Ascot to ensure the stable staff were happy with the coronavirus procedures. She is also on NARS’ executive committee, aiming to continually make a positive difference within racing.

Hannah talks animatedly about the optimistic aspects within racing. She lists the massive support network as the number one positive; that the help is not actually difficult to find and is always available. She speaks of the many opportunities and range of courses that are now available, but adds there is a lack of uptake from stable staff. “Racing is one big dysfunctional family. It is a good industry to be in if you love horses and the sport. It’s tough, but highly rewarding.”

Photo Credit: Sarah Matthews

The sport has altered even since Hannah started working in it. Now, the news is so fast paced and instant through social media. Hannah says the staff have encouraged their boss Richard Phillips to improve the yard’s social media sites – and their posts are now positive, imaginative and regularly portray the beautiful Cotswold scenery. She stresses that social media is great for showing the positives in racing. It is a useful tool in yard promotion, and through it the staff are given a chance to portray their own perspectives. “Yet,” she muses. “some people don’t understand what is involved within the racing industry, so they have a different outlook, sometimes resulting in trolling, bullying and negativity.”

Outside of racing, she runs with the North Cotswold Triathlon and Running Club. “I often break just before a race,” she grins. “like a weak two-year-old!” She loves cooking and baking, often producing delicious birthday cakes for her colleagues! Additionally, she loves walking her Jack Russell terrier, Reuben.

“I’ve had no ‘leg up’ from any source, I just worked hard. I’m now an assistant trainer,” says Hannah, reflecting on the years she’s worked in racing. “I’ve achieved everything, and more than what I set out to achieve – no matter what. I’m proud of myself.” She certainly ought to be very proud of herself.

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