Kingston Hill working at Epsom

05th June 2014

Racing hearts: My Investec Derby hopes and what the race means to me

Shaun Reilly, Huntingdon’s award-winning Head Groundsperson, has grown up with the famous Epsom Derby in his back garden but this year’s Investec Derby Festival could be one to remember, with two Classic contenders, bred by his father, competing in the Investec Oaks and Investec Derby.

Growing up on my Dad’s stud farm, Woodcote Stud in Epsom, I grew up with horses and the sport all around me.

You’ve got to have a passion for the sport to work in it; and I chose a slightly different route than my father, breeder Barry Reilly, by going down the groundsmanship route.

I got my first job at Epsom Downs Racecourse as one of the casuals when I was 15 and then worked full-time in the grounds team for nine years before moving to Sandown. I was then lucky enough to be offered the head groundsperson job at Huntingdon, which I’ve been doing for the past six and a half years now.

The average day for me is to get up and see what the weather’s doing. I’ll be on the course by 7.30am and one of the first jobs is to get the boys lively to start strimming and mowing the grass.

A lot of time and dedication is put in to the racing surface at Huntingdon to achieve the safest jumping ground. It takes us 13 to 14 hours to water the whole track and in summer we can be doing that every single day. I’m lucky to have the team here who are all really dedicated to the job. We have nearly 200 acres of grass to keep in top condition across the whole site and 90% of that grass gets cut every week.

Since I’ve started working, I’ve only ever missed one Derby day. Before that, if my Dad didn’t have a runner, we’d watch the races on the TV in the living room, so it’s a race which has been a big part of my life.

There are so many memories from The Derby. The meeting has such a good atmosphere and buzz about it; no two years are the same. One of the best memories to date is watching one of my Dad’s horses, Inchberry, come fourth in the Oaks. I helped foal her, so watching her come round Tattenham Corner whilst working at Epsom was a real buzz; I just felt a real sense of pride.

It’s been a big build up to Saturday with my Dad’s Kingston Hill running in the race. We watched him in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and although we were a bit disappointed by the way that he went, it was just one of those things.

Although my Dad talks about horses, he doesn’t talk about them like he talks about Kingston Hill. He’s always said to the boys at Coolmore that this is his Derby horse, so hopefully he can prove them right.

Luckily, I won’t be on duty at Huntingdon this weekend. I’ll be in my finest with all the family at Epsom Downs on both days of The Derby Festival as, as well as Kingston Hill running in the Derby, my Dad has Inchila in the Oaks.

It could be a very good weekend indeed but we’ll certainly be having a few drinks to celebrate whatever the outcome! If it’s a very very good weekend, then I might just have to leave the mowing to the rest of the team on Monday…