A son who followed in the footsteps of his dad by becoming head groundsman at Fontwell Park Racecourse is celebrating his 400th race meeting at the racecourse this weekend.
Paul Mant, who took over the role from dad Roger 16 years ago after learning the ropes and working alongside him for more than 20 years, has earned plaudits from leading jockeys including Richard Johnson for his work in making Fontwell one of the country’s most popular courses among jump jockeys.
Paul, 54, first started working with his dad on the course as a schoolboy during the summer holidays - he even learned to drive a tractor at the age of 11 - and then as his assistant after leaving school in 1981.
However, it wasn’t until 2003 that he took over the reins from his dad, now 81, who retired after 44 years in the job. Between them they have now clocked up 60 years in charge of the famous figure-of-eight course.
Paul was born in one of only two houses built on the racecourse in 1959 where he still lives with son Aiden. He said: “I’ve been lucky enough to have been part of Fontwell Park all of my life and fortunate to have learned the ropes from my dad.
"I guess I picked up lots of tips and hints on how to do things over the years from just following him around but I’ve developed my own way of doing it. I worked with him for over 22 years so I picked up quite a bit in that time.”
"I’ve only ever missed two race meetings since I became head groundsman. The first was when I was sent on a groundsman’s course and the second one was when Fontwell was given an extra race day during the season and I had already booked a holiday to Spain. I managed to find a bar that was showing it on the TV though!"
His preparations for this Friday and Saturday's Oktoberfest meeting, one of the highlights of the racing calendar at Fontwell, include mowing the course every two days, which takes him up to four hours, and making sure all of the fences across course are in the best possible condition for jockeys, who he has developed friendships with over the years.
He added: “I always go into the weighing room after every race to and chat to the jockeys and I’ll be doing it this weekend. They will tell me if anything is wrong and what could be improved. They are the ones who put their bodies on the line so it’s important part of my job.”
The Oktoberfest meeting takes place on Friday (Oct 4) and Saturday (Oct 5) and will see some top racing and Bavarian-themed entertainment including a resident oompah band along with a live DJ and sax set after races on Friday. A Madness tribute band will provide the soundtrack to Saturday’s post-race festivities.
Tickets start from £20 and under-18s go free, as they do to all Fontwell meetings. Get your tickets while you can at www.fontwellpark.co.uk
Sports editor Steve Bone's Friday Fontwell picks: 225 Our Reward, 300 Botox Has, 335 Tommy Rapper, 410 Flying Tiger, 445 Mellow Ben, 515 Bally Longford.