RACING fans are often asked to name their heroes. No doubt rolling off the tongue you’ll hear names such as Tony McCoy and Frankie Dettori, but Paul Mant is unlikely to be mentioned.
Mant is the head groundsman at Fontwell Park and he and his colleagues, along with their counterparts at other courses, are the true unsung heroes of the racing world. Their work behind the scenes is vital to enable punters to enjoying a day’s racing.
Mant, 45, is part of the furniture at the track. He has spent his entire life at the racecourse, his mother even giving birth to him there. He grew up seeing his dad Roger assume the role he has now taken on himself.
And being brought up against the Fontwell background meant his interest in racing and his father’s job were sparked at an early age.
“I started working at the course when I was 11 or 12 helping dad out. I got really interested and when it came to the time I was about to leave school at 15 and had to decide what I wanted to do,” said Mant.
“They offered me a job here and I snapped it up. I started off by cutting the lawns, then I went out on to the track, before working my way to groundsman in 2002, when my dad retired.”
With a natural love for the great outdoors and an easy interplay with animals, it is easy to see why this was the perfect career for Mant.
This is evidenced by his home life, where, along with his 13-year-old son, he has an array of animals comprising five rabbits, a guinea pig, a duck, five chickens, a dog and a cat.
It is this caring, environmentally-friendly character of Mant’s which helps make the course the well-oiled machine that it is.
Closing in on his 30-year anniversary of working at Fontwell in May, he works tirelessly seven days a week to ensure the ground remains in good condition and has never taken one sick day. He is in charge of everything green – grass, hurdles and everything on the track, as thousands have witnessed in recent meetings at events including the National Spirit Hurdle meeting.
“It’s a challenge. One day the racehorses will tear the track up and the next it will be back to square one. You get an end product the day before racing to be proud of, especially when the jockeys say good things about it,” he said.
“We are in from 8am to 4pm on a daily basis and we have a lot of races on weekends now. It’s not far from 365 days a year.”
It is credit to Mant’s efforts that in his time as groundsman in the past eight years only seven meetings have been called off – some feat considering that, although adverse weather conditions are predicted for him by weathermen, the forecast is out of his control.
He’s not looking to slow down, but Mant has his eyes fixed on the future. Eyeing an extension to the course, which ultimately would mean more work for him and his team, proves his love for the track.
“I’d like to see the course extended at the back of the track. I think that’s something for the future though – maybe two or three years down the line.”