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David Grant in the Woodbine Racetrack colours room (Michael Burns Photo)

MAY 15, 2024

It is a room defined by its unmistakable sights and sounds, home to a kaleidoscope of colours and the constant whirring of washers and dryers.

Every live racing day at Woodbine, David Grant is a perpetual man in motion from noon until the final race is run.

For the past two years, Grant has held the reins as Woodbine’s “colours man,” a role that is tailor-made for a longtime horseman with an enduring passion for the sport.

“I love it. I have been around racing for almost 40 years, and this is a good job for me.”

Located at the end of the hall in the jockeys’ room, the colours space is home to over 13,000 silks, the designs and colour combinations ranging from traditional to bold, and everything in between.

On the same rack, fluorescent pinks and yellows mingle with muted blues and greys, and eye-catching reds, each with a story all its own.

A pair of heavy-duty washers and dryers, side by side, are put to work before and after the start of each race.

“After the race ends, the silks and saddle towels get a 25-minute wash,” said Grant. “When the rain falls, that’s when they get the dirtiest.

“The white towels the jockeys have for personal use get a 45-minute wash… and they use a lot of them,” he quipped.

The day before live racing, Grant will hang the silks for that afternoon’s card on a wooden rack that has slats divided by race and accompanying post positions. ​ ​ ​

“They are all pretty in a different way. They are people’s creations, and they are very proud of them. They are nice to look at in this room, but they are more beautiful when you see the jockeys wearing them on the racetrack.”

It is a view he knows well.

David Grant in the Woodbine Racetrack colours room (Michael Burns Photo)

Grant’s journey to the colours room started in his native Barbados.

His introduction to horses came at an early age.

“There was a horse farm close to my house. I would see these horses every day. My friends and I were always interested in them.”

Grant’s inquisitiveness eventually led to a horse-related job.

“I started working with polo horses first, which were the first type of horses that I rode. It was great. You were a kid, so you loved the speed and the thrill of riding them. I also learned to bandage them and take care of them.”

He did the same working with Thoroughbreds, not long after he started with polo horses.

Not far into his career, Grant realized he had a major life decision to ponder.

“There came a point where it was furthering my schooling or working with the horses. I thought, ‘Horses? School?’

“I knew it was horses,” he said with a laugh.

Grant had a familiar face in his corner as he dedicated more time to furthering his equine education.

“I went to school with Harold Fortune,” said Grant, of his countryman who came to Woodbine in the 1990s and is the racetrack’s Paddock Judge. “He was very likeable.”

Fortune was also well-respected in the Bajan horse racing industry.

He held the role of prefect, a magisterial title of varying definitions, but essentially referring to the leader of an administrative area.

“Harold had that badge of prefect for Thoroughbred racing. He was also my neighbour, just two houses down from me. He helped me so much over the years.”

As did high-profile racehorse owner, the late Sir Charles “Cow” Williams.

A Barbadian business magnate, Williams also ran a successful Thoroughbred operation.

“Mr. Williams had a stable of both polo horses and racehorses,” recalled Grant. “I did almost everything working at his stable. You don’t do just one job, so I rode both polo horses and racehorses.

“He had horses at the racetrack, so I would go to Garrison Savannah to gallop horses for him at the racetrack starting when I was around 17.”

Others soon took notice of Grant’s work ethic and connection to the horses.

One of those people was Steve Klugman, who worked for HBPA Ontario.

He had come to Barbados looking for people who might be interested in a horse racing career in Canada.

“Mr. Klugman thought I worked hard and took good care of the horses. One day, he said, ‘I want you to come to Canada.’ So, I signed my paperwork with him. A month or so later, he called me and told me that I could head to Canada.

“I got my passport and the next thing you know, I was here at the age of 19.

Grant fit in seamlessly into his new surroundings.

The original plan called for him to work in the barn of respected Woodbine-based trainer Laurie Silvera.

“When I first came here, I was supposed to go with Laurie. But he was full, so I worked for [trainer] Tino Attard. I was a groom for Tino for 10 years before I started working horses for him. I went to Florida with him and did the same thing.”

Grant has worked horses for other notable Woodbine trainers over the years, a list that includes dual Hall of Famer Mark Casse.

“I enjoy riding the horses – it gives me a lot of joy,” said Grant.

He remains a fixture on the Woodbine racetrack in the mornings as a freelance exercise rider.

Typically, Grant gets on 10 horses each morning before he heads to the colours room.

There is an instant familiarity the moment he steps into his office.

“As a kid coming to the races at Woodbine, I always liked the colours. And I knew which ones belonged to each owner. When I got this job, I would see all the ones that I remembered. So, it did come easy to me.”

There is one race day on the Woodbine calendar that Grant looks most forward to.

It is the most hectic day he will experience in a racing season, but also the most rewarding.

“I like King’s Plate Day the best,” he said of Canada’s iconic horse race. “It’s busy, but good busy.”

It is how Grant, who reports to Alison Read, Clerk of Scales, often describes his role.

Read has high praise for the way Grant manages the colours room.

“From the moment he walked in, I knew Dave was the right man for the job. He already knew every single set of colours. Dave can tell you exactly what silks are in on which day, who the owner, trainer and jockey are, and where the horse finished.

“His brain is a database of information.”

As for what constitutes a good day at the office, Grant never focuses on who crosses the wire first.

“It is when everything goes right for the jockeys and the horses. That’s when I go home happy.”

And when he returns the next day, there is one certainty in his job that Grant has come to appreciate.

“I know it’s going to be colourful,” he said with a laugh. “That is a guarantee.”

Chris Lomon, Woodbine

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