St. Paddy's Days
Updated: Apr 21
An Interview with Groom Paddy Trainor
'I have my real family, Sam and Shannon are my rocks, they’ve stood by me through injuries and we all understand each other,’ Paddy Trainor grins. ‘But I also have my racing family. The Johnston Family have always been there for me to, so have all the friends I’ve met along the way.’
Photo Credit: Michael Harris
Fulltime racing groom Paddy Trainor is a hero. He’s a massive part of Mark and Charlie Johnston’s hugely successful operation in North Yorkshire, where he has been employed for twenty-three years. ‘When I started, there were a hundred horses and now it's more than double that,’ Paddy points out proudly. At this year’s Godolphin Stud And Stable Staff Awards, Paddy won his category of Rider Groom, before scooping the top spot of Employee of the Year.
Paddy, 40, has grown along with the yard, reiterating how much the Johnston family invested in him. There’s more shining pride when he speaks about a school computerised matrix system, where every skill learned is ticked off. Now Paddy invests in people like Mark Johnston Racing invested in him. He’s a fully qualified Rider Coach, the training program for which is run by his wife Sam. She was an employee of Mark Johnston for ten years, after Paddy got her the job. Sam rose to be an assistant barn manager and during pregnancy, she completed a secretarial course. Thus, she had something to fall back on and have money for childcare. Nowadays, Sam is the one of the Northern Horseracing College’s roving assessors and looks after thirty to forty students. In the 2021 Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, Sam was a worthy top-three finalist in the Community category.
Paddy didn’t have horsey parents or a family with a background in racing. ‘I moved around a lot in my childhood because both my parents were in the army. I was born in London but moved back and forth to Germany for about seven years. My Dad was from Ballymena in Northern Ireland so we lived there before we moved to Scotland, where I spent my secondary school years in Glasgow.’ Yet, there’s no bitterness from Paddy towards travelling around. ‘I had a great childhood and saw some beautiful places,’ he says with a smile.
Paddy always speaks with that infectious smile and in a chatty Scottish dialect which hints at his Glaswegian teenage years. He was touched to be nominated in the industry awards, shocked to be in the top ten and a finalist, and utterly astounded to win: ‘I didn’t win it for me, I won it for the team.’ He’s used winning to help others.
Paddy explained about his childhood issues with dyslexia and how horses and subsequently racing always helped him. Just by breaching a taboo subject like learning disorders has had strangers and friends alike thanking him for speaking out. This gratitude clearly meant just as much than the reems of congratulations that Paddy received from top trainers and jockeys, including Frankie Dettori.
Having lived in Middleham for over two decades, Paddy has recently moved a few minutes down the road to West Witton, along with Sam, eight-year-old daughter Shannon and beagle Benji.
Did you have a horsey childhood?
I always wanted to ride horses and, because I was dyslectic, I found school hard. My parents were advised that I should take up riding as I loved interacting with the horses and ponies. As a result, my grades got a bit better. When I was growing up in Germany, I rode ponies for six to seven years at a British pony club.
How did you get into racing?
Straight from school, I went to join the army and completed the basic training but found out it would take seven years before I could join a horse regiment. I therefore left and went back home to Glasgow and signed up for the dole. The career office helped me and they got in contact with the British Racing School. I used my dole money to get the train from Glasgow to London, to Cambridge to Newmarket and back the next day.
I did nine weeks at the BRS and was placed at Jonjo O'Neill's when he trained in Penrith. I was happy working with the horses but I was a 17-year-old kid in the middle of nowhere. A friend from the BRS was at Mark Johnston’s, so I moved there and I've stayed here twenty-three years.
What's your favourite racecourse canteen?
It was Ascot for a long time but now it's York.
What's your favourite racecourse in the UK?
What's your favourite international racecourse?
Deauville – it’s situated in the beautiful French seaside town, which has never changed in hundreds of years. It's so laidback. The beaches have so much history being ‘Sword Beach’ during the Normandy Landings.
Who's your favourite jockey?
Joe Fanning and Jason Hart.
Which big winners have you led up so far?
The first Group One winner I led up was the Falmouth winner Nahoodh, ridden by Frankie Dettori.
There was Awzaan winning the Middle Park too, also at Newmarket.
One winner that meant a lot was Joe Fanning winning another Middle Park on The Last Lion in 2016 - it was Joe’s first Group 1 winner and it was also on his birthday.
Which have been your favourite racehorses?
The great handicapper Watersmeet, who was All-weather Final champion. He always tried and did well throughout all of his career.
A group horse Dee Ex Bee, who was second to Masar in the English Derby in 2018. When I broke him in as a yearling, he was a bit of a boyo but came right. He bolted up first time out at Goodwood. He was also my first Derby lead up, by which time he had matured and relaxed. A lot of people doubted him but he did us proud coming second.
He's gone to stud over in Ireland. I follow all of our horses when they leave, at stud and in other yards. That day, Dee Ex Bee also won the best turned out, which was judged by Dame Helen Mirren.
Please describe your daily routine:
I don’t ride out as much now because I’m heavier than I used to be. So, every day is so mixed – some days I swim, muck out, do the treadmills or stalls work, and other days, I might hold horses for the farrier. In the winter, I do the breaking and clipping and throughout the summer, I go racing.
What is your favourite time of year in a big flat yard?
I love breaking in the yearlings. It takes about four to five weeks and I love doing a good job. I enjoy the youngsters coming off the wagon and then going on to win races.
What was the best advice you were given?
Read the horse in front of you.
What is the best advice you can give?
Watch and listen to your elders – that’s how I learnt - plus, if you've got anything to say, say it – speak up.
What is the best thing about your job?
Seeing a syndicate, racing club’s or small owner’s horses running well and the smiles on their faces; happy owners are part of the team. Getting a pat on the back or well done means a lot. The main thing is the horse always comes back home.
In your opinion, how did the shortage of staff in racing occur?
Too many of the younger generation only want to come to work in the mornings and don't want to work the evenings. There's no pride in stable management anymore.
Sum up your feelings about winning the Godolphin Stud And Stable Staff Awards:
I've always followed the awards and have known past category winners, and have always looked up to them. I always thought how I'd love to be a finalist and had previously been in the top ten a couple of times. I found out I was in the top three and I was up against my colleague, night feed man John Nicholson, who worked so hard.
There were other friends in the final line up too. Simon Olley, who's Phil Kirby's head lad and with whom I worked at Jonjo’s all those years ago - I felt honoured to be up against him. Allyson West, who's at James Ferguson's, was also another finalist and I've seen her go through bad times she really deserved to be up there in her category.
Firstly, when I won the category, I felt so proud that I cried, even though I'm not a softy. I was just so happy. Food and drinks had been put on in the boardroom and all the team celebrated. I was racing at Southwell the next evening so I held back a bit on the drink.
Later on, winning the Employee of the Year came as a shock. I never even thought of the money and will probably put it towards a house and in trust for Shannon's future.
How have you personally tried to educate yourself?
All through Covid I worked through the Racing2Learn. I never had a problem learning through this despite my dyslexia; the lady voicing up to videos helps with understanding and means there’s not too much reading. I encourage everyone lacking in confidence to just do it.
Please describe how you became a rider coach:
When I first came into racing there were barely any qualifications available, only the NVQs. Now there is the rider coaching course. I was originally put off by my dyslexia but I went to the NHC regardless. Sue Ringrose taught the coaching and the safeguarding; she was brilliant. Throughout the level 1 we buddied up and learnt how to teach. In level 2, we went into yards to watch riders on the gallops and help them on the simulators. There's a big ambitious plan to have a rider coach in every yard. So far, I’ve been to Michael Dods’ and Philip Kirby's, helping the new and less confident riders. I did this through the Regional Staff Development Programme, which my wife Sam worked tirelessly to set up.
What changes have there been in racing in your time?
There's more money now; the wages were a lot less back when I started in racing. At the races, the overnight accommodation is so much better. Up in Ayr, there used to be dormitories with curtains separating the beds and now we all stay in hotels. Trainers also provide proper hostels nowadays, not just porta cabins or caravans like in the past.
There's a lot more time off - one in three weekends. Here, at Mark Johnston's, on the third week we get the Sunday and Monday off. Two days off in a row is great.
How would you sum up your life so far working in racing?
I've broken bones, been bitten, kicked, jumped on resulting in blood, sweat and tears, which are tears of joy for winners and tears of sadness for losses.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
What’s your favourite meal?
Italian – pasta or pizza – or seafood.
What’s your favourite drink?
I’m not a big drinker but I do like a pint of Peroni.
What’s your favourite music?
Anything, everything old and new.
What’s your favourite film?
What are your hobbies?
My wife and daughter have a pony each and I go out with them on my bike and take the dog.
What’s your ideal day off?
Any day off I spend with my family. I have particularly fond memories of when we camped at Bramham Horse Trials.