When Grant Seccombe started dating his now-wife Naomi aged 15 the course of his life changed forever. Naomi’s father is a part-time trainer and he introduced Grant to the world of racing.
Grant became hooked and after leaving school in year 12, went on to become an apprentice Jockey with Chris Hyland in Cranbourne. 6 years later, Grant and Naomi are now married and have since had a daughter Violet.
How did you find riding coming to it much later than most jockeys?
Not much interested me career-wise when it came to leaving year 12. I loved sport, was lightweight and found riding came pretty naturally to me. I came to love horses quickly and it felt like the right thing to head into an apprenticeship.
Do you think your late start was advantageous or put you at a disadvantage?
It was definitely a disadvantage to begin with as I found it difficult to get rides as an apprentice so without the contact book that others had I was further behind them. Once I got back to Gippsland and started riding in the picnics I found it a lot easier to make the contacts amongst locals.
Does the Victorian racing industry give aspiring jockeys without a background in racing the support that they need?
The authorities do encourage people that aren’t in the industry to become a jockey but down the line they often forget about the people that they tried to get interested in the first place. When a few that have always been in racing come along, they’re easier to manage as they have the contacts and know the background, how to present yourself and so on.
They could do more to make sure jockeys with less experience progress. There were ten of us in our apprentice class to begin with, all with varying backgrounds in racing, and just two of those ten are still riding at the Professionals.
Who has supported you along the way?
Chris Hyland and Doug Harrison were fantastic and taught me to ride. John and Troy Kilgower have been very supportive and are like a second family to us now. I ride track work 6 days a week with Peter Gelagotis, Darryl Blackshaw and a few other smaller Moe trainers, they are always full of advice and are a great support and encouragement.
What do you most like about being a jockey?
When you get in touch with a certain horse that’s got ability and has a great feel about it, whether you’re cantering around, doing gallops or in a race. That’s what we wake up every morning for, to ride that horse.
When Avon Country was on his winning streak and nothing could beat him, I got the ‘Black Caviar feeling’, there’s nothing better.
Is there anything that you dislike?
I don’t struggle with my weight, so that’s good. I don’t mind the early mornings either, you’re done after the sun comes up and can get on with other things. I guess I’m not as happy in winter, riding in the cold, wind and rain but other than that I enjoy riding.
What is most challenging about being a jockey?
It’s fairly high pressure, and sometimes I struggle with it a bit. For example, I didn’t want to be the one riding Avon Country when he got beat. On race day it’s hard to cop criticism, but after race day once I’ve calmed down and watched the replays, I usually snap out of it and can see where I can improve and move on. I take the picnic circuit and my form pretty seriously so it does get to me more.
Looks like the new year has got off to a good start with a win for you and the Kilgower partnership at Alexandra on Anothermasterpiece?
This season’s been a bit slow, hopefully Anothermasterpiece’s win will be the start of a good end to the season for us.
Now that this season’s well under way, which horses should we look out for in 2016?
Avon Country has been running very well. Diamondcowboy was a head in front when he came second at Balnarring then won at Benalla.
Mt Sugarloaf is racing consistently and should knock up a few wins.
What is the best advice that you have been given?
To keep my head up and appreciate that you can’t always ride winners, you’ve got to keep trying to get better and better.
Is there anything that’s surprised you about the racing industry since you’ve become involved?
The difference between trainer’s methods has been a surprise. I’ve been stabled with three big trainers now and ride for others. The way they train and feed the horses is always unique to them.
What’s been the biggest highlights of your career to date?
Helping to take care of Mourinho before he won the Group 1 Underwood Stakes at Caulfield in the Spring. I’m his main track rider and he’s the best horse down here, it’s a really big thrill to be involved.
At the picnics last season riding two Cup winners. I really wanted to win a Cup and when I won the Woolamai Cup on Lardner Lou it took a while to sink in. It was only after I pulled up and was coming back in that it twigged in my head that I’d just won a Cup!
When I won my second Cup at Hinnomunjie on Swiss Flyer a month later, it felt really good.
Riding Avon Country last season and Bemarydan the season before, both winning consistently and Bemarydan becoming Picnic Horse of the Year, along with John and Troy Kilgower winning back to back Trainers’ Premierships made me pretty proud to be involved.
What would be your ultimate achievement?
To win the Picnic Jockey’s Premiership. It would be even better to win the same year that the Kilgower’s win the training title!
What are your ambitions for the future?
This is the life for me. I’ll keep riding while I’m still young and fit. Maybe I’ll try training later, perhaps get a couple of horses with Naomi’s dad.
Many sportsmen and women have rituals before a big day. Do you do anything in particular before you ride, or have a lucky charm?
Sometimes, yes. Last season when Avon Country was on his winning streak I always had to use the same gear every time, same girth, pants, goggles and everything!
What would your advice be to aspiring jockeys, particularly those who don’t have a family background in racing?
I’d advise them to get in with a supportive trainer to help get through the grades. Someone that’ll teach them how to ride and look after them. Even if it takes time, stick with it and they’ll get to ride trials, gallops and in races. Practice makes perfect.
It must be really special to spend your weekends at the picnics with your family and enjoy your work together?
The thing about the picnics, it’s a real family day. Mum comes every weekend to look after Violet while Naomi takes photos.
Troy brings the whole family along, his mum, dad, brother and others help with the horses, his wife, son and his girlfriend all come along to support and enjoy the day.
Everyone has family there, most of the jockeys have their parents there supporting them. We’re all great mates, its great being there together and having a great day.
How would you sum up a day at the picnics to someone who hasn’t been before?
There’s a big crowd, take an esky full of food and drinks, watch the races, back some winners and have a great day!
A couple of months ago, we interviewed Grant’s wife, picnic racing photographer Naomi. If you missed our feature click here to read it now.
Photos courtesy of Naomi Seccombe Photography.