Wednesday, 4 November 2015

An interview with...Grant Cullen

Where do I start with this one?!  I suppose I should start with the facts, which are remarkable when you take into consideration that Grant is only 22 years of age.  In the 2015 season, he has driven 45 winners, including at Tir Prince, Aberystwyth, Tregaron and Appleby, as well as at his home track of Corbiewood, where he amassed a total of 38 wins to secure him the SHRC Leading Driver title for the second year in a row.

I could write essays about the achievements of this intelligent, ambitious, funny, hard-working, young man but having read his responses to my questions when I received them, I don't need to do the 'hard sell'.  He speaks for himself.  For any readers who do not attend Corbiewood as their regular race track, pay close attention to this one; you'll see a lot more of him in the coming years.

For anybody who doesn’t know you, how long have you been involved in the sport and where did it all start?
I've been involved right from when I was born so I've been going racing all my life although I had no interest in actually driving the horses until I was about 15/16! 

Which is the best horse you’ve driven in your career?
Hard to say. I've been lucky enough to drive some really good horses so far but I'd have to go with Another Man.  He's not the best ability-wise but he taught me how to drive and gave me a lot of wins.

Which horse, past or present that you haven’t driven, would you like to drive and why?
I think everybody will say the same to this question: Stoneriggs Mystery.  He stays, he sprints, he constantly goes under 2 minutes no matter what the must be unreal to have that amount of class in front of you.  He's the boss! 

Who did, or do, you admire as a driver?
Being from Scotland I always watched Willie Drysdale and Willie Greenhorn. WD drove our horses before me and he was great for the little bits of information that nobody really thinks about; how to improve them, how to recoginse where horses are sore etc. when running. WG has the cool, calm, collected driving style I like to try and adopt and he's also been great to me with advice over the years.

Which is your favourite track in the UK and Ireland?
Tir Prince is the best track. It's a fantastic facility and driving under the floodlights is something else but my favourite is good old Corbiewood.  It's my home track and it has the best atmosphere.

Have you driven outside of the UK and Ireland? If not, where in the world would you choose to have one drive?
No not yet. I would love to go and drive in America. Places like the Meadowlands are where anybody with ambition should want to go and drive.

Have you ever considered moving abroad to become a professional driver?
I have yes, who wouldn't want this as a job? ! Personal circumstances haven't allowed it yet but I would love to go over one winter and see if I could make it or not.  Hopefully one day.

If you could change one thing about the sport in the UK, what would it be?
The new handicap is due out shortly I believe and it will be interesting reading.  When entering your horse I think it's only fair you're entering with a chance so something needs to be done to help keep horses racing for as long as possible as the numbers are low enough as they are without losing more because owners get fed up of running with no chance. (Note: Grant answered these questions prior to the publication of the new 2016 handicap system).

Which is your favourite meeting in the UK racing calendar?
Aberystwyth. Really good track, nine times out of ten it gets the good weather and the night life happens to be very good as well! 

How much do you consider information from a trainer when you drive?
It's important to listen to the trainers. They are the people who sit behind the horse every day and they know more about the horse than I do so if they have something that can help me win the race then I'm all ears.

Out of all the races you have won, which has been the most memorable? Which race would you like to win that you haven’t already?
There have been a few good ones this year but I will go with Y-Not-Wait-N-C's win at Aberystwyth. He is our first homebred and he's had his problems so to get him back racing then win his first start in two years at one of the big meetings was a great day not just for me but the whole family.  I want to win the Famous Musselburgh Pace.  Dad won it as a trainer and I need to win it so I can finally shut him up!

How would you describe your driving style? i.e. pace setter, strong closer, rail hugger?
I dont think I have a certain style. As I said earlier I just try to keep calm and drive the horse the way it likes to be driven. They're all different so you have to change your style everytime you sit behind each horse.

Where do you see yourself in the sport 10 years from now?
Hopefully somewhere near the top.  We've had a good year this season and the plan is just to keep on getting better.

You came close to winning the Champion Driver title this year at 22; how long has this been an ambition of yours and do you think it is possible to achieve it before you turn 25?
It has never been an ambition to be honest. I don't really think about how many wins I have, I just want to win every race I'm involved in although now after coming so close it has to be the aim. I hope so but I've plenty of years of driving ahead of me and if I keep improving hopefully one day I'll manage to do it.

What is your opinion on a Drivers Championship Day to select a UK representative for the World Driving Championships?  The format would be based on the top 10 drivers according to number of wins in the previous season, competing across a certain number of races on one day, driving horses that they have not previously driven (in order to replicate the actual event).
It sounds like a good idea. It may be difficult to source horses that all 10 haven't driven before though! I suppose it makes it a level playing field and then they all have a fair crack at it.

Your whole family is involved in harness racing and the training of your horses – who’s the boss?!
It depends who you ask! I'd say Dad is the brains behind the training but we all get stuck in and it's definitely a team effort until it comes to a horse getting beat - then it's all my fault! 

What are your hobbies/interests outside of racing?
I love my football, I haven't played for a few years now but I still follow the results every week.  

If you could visit one place in the world, where would it be and why?
Las Vegas. I was there as a child but I'd love to go back and experience it now that I would be able to remember it.

You’re stranded on a desert island – what five things can’t you live without?
My phone, Irn Bru, shortbread, chicken soup and wifi.

You’re holding a dinner party for five famous guests (alive or dead) – who would they be and why?
Charlie Chaplin - he just seems like a really funny guy. John Campbell - who wouldn't want to pick his brains for driving tips?! Ron Burke - the guy knows how to train a horse! Elvis Presley - everybody loves a sing song and AP McCoy  - I met him at York and he was such a nice, genuine guy.

If you were invisible for a day, what would you do?
I'd definitely go around haunting people! That would be great fun to move things around and scare the life out of people!

If you won the lottery, what would be the first thing you would spend your winnings on?
A half mile track in Scotland. The horses these days are too fast for a track the size of Corbiewood plus it would benefit all Scottish horses when going to the big meets and hopefully attract more of the top horses to Scotland.

What would you name your autobiography?
So Close Yet So Far. I'm a person who constantly wants to win no matter what I'm doing and if I do win I up my expectations so once I reach my goals they change.  I never just settle for what I have, I always want more. I think that helps in this game!

Which actor would play you in a film about your life?
Brad Pitt. Nothing seems to faze the guy and that will help when it comes to filming the racing scenes!

When was the last time you got into trouble?
I got a fine at Tregaron if that counts!!? Probably every day for not doing the dishes to be fair! 

Describe yourself in three words.
Driven, happy, fun ☺

A massive thank you to Grant for spending a rare bit of time off from training the horses to answer my questions.  It is my hope, and my aim, to have this interview published in the BHRC calendar before the start of the 2016 season - this young man is a credit to his parents and also a credit to the Scottish harness racing community.  His hard work and dedication are paying off and whenever the Scottish bandwagon travels, we're all behind him!

Grant and Camden Casper winning at Tir Prince

Grant and Check On Wilma winning impressively at Corbiewood

Grant and Jacks Red, SHRC 2YO Derby and BHRC National Pacing Futurity winner
Homebred Y Not Wait N C winning at Aberystwyth
Grant keeping good company: (L-R) William Greenhorn, Rocker Laidler, Steve Lees, Grant, Jason Podmore, Richard Haythornthwaite, Patrick Kane Jr & Joss Edwards - the 2015 Welsh Classic Final drivers

Grant at Tregaron after another victory away from home

Over and out,

#1 Groom


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