Fact: Huntingdon Racecourse groundsman Shaun Reilly is the best in the country

SHAUN Reilly is a busy man at the moment. With two big meetings coming up, the head groundsman at Huntingdon Racecourse is working hard to make sure the ground is good-to-go in time for Thursday’s Peterborough Chase Day.

But Shaun is definitely the right man for the job. The best, infact, because last week he was named the Institute of Groundsmen John Deere Professional Horse Racing Groundsman of the Year.

“It was like an Oscar’s style ceremony at York Racecourse,” said the 30-year-old, who moved from Sandown Park to Huntingdon five years ago after beginning his career at Epsom Downs.

“I was very, very nervous and I didn’t think I had won it to be perfectly honest. I had psyched myself up to believe I had lost it so I could have a nice night out.

“And then they called my name and I was a bit flustered really.

“They had put me quite close to the stage so I should have had an inkling – but then everyone who was winning the other awards – for cricket and football etc – were walking right from the back of the room. So I gave up hope.”

Reilly started off as a casual at Epsom, and worked his way up through the ranks, learning the ropes as a tractor driver, main machine operator, charge hand, and deputy groundsman. His move to Sandown meant he also had national hunt course experience when the head groundsman job at Huntingdon came up.

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Reilly manages a team of three full-time staff and one casual employee at the 210-acre course, which currently hosts 18 race meetings a year.

In addition to ensuring the racetrack itself is maintained to a high standard, and liaising with the clerk of the course and the inspector of courses, he is also responsible for budgeting, and for the management of his team, and their training and development.

Right now the racetrack is covered to protect it from the sub-zero temperatures ahead of the Thursday’s showpiece Betfred Peterborough Chase �55,000 Grade 2 race. It has been a busy couple of days for Reilly and co.

“We covered the whole track on Sunday just to give ourselves every chance of getting the meeting on,” said Reilly. “The covers help keep the cold air separated from the ground. That will hopefully keep the frost out of the surface.

“We are faced with two challenges. In the summertime you are watering for the going, keeping the ground as good as possible to produce nice racing, and in the winter you are at the mercy of the weather. It’s either raining or it’s freezing cold.

“But we’re quite lucky here because we have a decent drainage system and a nice racing surface.”

Gates open at 10.30am on Thursday with the first race at 2.30pm. The next meeting after that is on Boxing Day with the first race off at 12.45am and the gates opening at 10.45am.