Origin story: How Brad Grant came to be one of the sport’s top owners

Origin story: How Brad Grant came to be one of the sport’s top owners

May 3, 2020

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The third-generation horseman once completely quit the game, but now owns more than 75 horses.

by Murray Brown

I have heard that Brad Grant has something like 75 horses in training. When asked, the owner from Ontario said he wished it was only 75 and that he might be risking divorce to reveal the real number.

In all my years in the sport, I have never known of an owner who had both the number of horses and the diversity between overnight and stakes performers that Grant has. There are others such as the Burkes and the Weaver-Bruscemi team who might have more in partnerships, but Grant’s overnight horses are owned by him alone.

Claus Andersen | Owner Brad Grant.

What got him to this point you might ask?

One might say that he was born into it. He is a third generation horseman. His paternal grandfather Bernard Grant and his uncle Walter were followed by Brad’s Canadian Hall of Fame father John Grant.

Bernard raced at the fairs in the Ottawa Valley area and Walter trained some of John’s horses as well as drove the odd one, too.

John father made his mark in the sport as a builder and as an owner probably best known as the owner of superstar racehorse and stallion Bettors Delight. In the early years of the Ontario Sires Stakes program, John owned many stars, including the great mare Classic Wish. He also bred many under the Hornby name.

What most people don’t know about Brad is that he trained and even drove a few for about a decade, before he realized that he was better suited for bigger and better things.

Those who knew John Grant know he could be a tough and demanding person. He was that way perhaps more so with his son than probably anybody else. They had a love/hate — or perhaps more accurately, a you’re fired/I quit — relationship for all the years they were together.

In his own words, Brad lost his passion for the horses and started working in the other family’s trucking business. He worked with his dad on and off for six years from 1978-1983. The “off” times were when his dad fired him or Brad quit, only to be back the next day pretending that nothing had happened. The last time it happened, his father called him and asked why he wasn’t at work. Brad responded that he wasn’t coming back. He had decided that he was ready to fly with his own wings.

Ironically, it was during the glory days when his father had Bettors Delight that Brad was pretty much divorced from the horse business. In retrospect, he now says he feels sorry to have missed those times as he remembers watching the colt win the Jug on his computer at work. He said he was happy for trainer Scott McEneny and thrilled for his dad — who had done a lot for the industry and deserved a horse like Bettors Delight — but was disappointed that he wasn’t there to see it happen.

So, what brought Brad back to the game? He said the credit goes to the late Ted Huntbach.

“If you knew Ted, you knew it was darn near impossible to say no to him. He told me that I had to get back in the game, that I was missing a lot of fun not being in it,” Brad said.

“I would say the turning point in my ownership career was when I purchased Apprentice Hanover.”

He realized it was a lot more exciting to own top contending horses than it was to own ordinary ones. From that point on, Brad’s primary focus was on quality. That didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t want overnighters. Far from it. What he wanted were ones that could race and comport themselves well at our major racetracks.

Here are a few notes from our conversation.

How is this horrible pandemic affecting your primary business?

“There is no doubt that its slowed us down some, but being classed an essential business has kept us going. The regulations are understandably more stringent. Here in Canada we have what is known as a carbon tax that our government put in mid-April, that really hit us in the gut on top of everything else. Thankfully, the recent diminishment in fuel prices certainly helps. But we are doing our best. I have no doubt that we will get through it. I fear that right now it’s probably hurting the horse business more than it is the trucking industry.”

What is your favorite horse?

“That’s a very difficult question. I’ve been blessed to have many good ones. But like Dave McDuffee said last week, your first good one holds a special place in your heart. Actually there are two that I can’t separate. Apprentice Hanover. He wasn’t the best or the fastest, but his acquisition marked a significant turning point in my life in the sport. Together with him, I’d say Sandbetweenurtoes. She’s still racing and doing well. She’s become a quasi-member of our family. I’ve been fortunate to have so many good ones — Atlanta was my first special trotter and she turned out to be a Hambletonian winner and Horse of the Year; Stay Hungry, my first horse to stand at stud at the greatest farm in the business and my Saturday Night special Easy Lover Hanover. Lots to pick from.”

Let’s go back to that horrible night at Classy Lane when so many horses were lost in the stable fire including your Apprentice Hanover.

“Obviously, I was terribly shocked and just felt numb. I couldn’t even bring myself to go to the farm. But I realized that everything I was going through was being experienced tenfold by my friend (and trainer) Ben Wallace. His career had literally gone up in smoke. My first priority was to help get him back in business. Fortunately, the Meadowlands Winter Sale was coming up shortly. Although I couldn’t completely compensate him for his terrible losses, I’d try to help. From that sale came Easy Lover Hanover who has been a terrific horse for both of us and although he can’t replace those lost, he helped ease the pain.

From a personal standpoint, it was the first real interaction I had with Tony Alagna who had previously trained Easy Lover. Everything he told us about him was 100 per cent. I had watched Tony operate while racing against ‘The Captain,’ and liked what I had seen. When I started buying high-end yearlings he was an easy choice to send them to.”

What’s the smartest thing you’ve done in the business?

“Almost without exception I’ve been blessed to have been associated with good people, not only good horsemen, but just good folks. People I trust and with whom I enjoy spending time. Surround yourself with good people and good things will happen.”

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?

“Believing that I once thought I could be a top trainer/driver. Thankfully, I realized the folly of it in time and did what I was far better prepared to do.”

What’s been your greatest thrill in the business?

“I suppose that would be Atlanta winning the Hambletonian. The icing on that cake was Stay Hungry winning the Cane Pace on that same day.”

Any big mistakes that stand out?

“I was the underbidder on Tall Dark Stranger. I really wanted him badly. I obviously regret not going on.”

What was your biggest disappointment?

“Stay Hungry easily won the first heat of the Little Brown Jug and then they took him down for interference. They placed him fourth, which meant that he’d have the eight hole in the final heat. Tony Alagna wisely scratched him. The eight hole, especially going a second heat is a death knoll at Delaware, Ohio. Courtly Choice, the eventual winner, is a very good horse and proved it that day. But I feel certain that if Stay Hungry had not been disqualified, he would have won the Jug. What made it especially bad is that if he had won the Jug, he would have been a Triple Crown champion since he also won the Cane and the Messenger.”

Are you in regular touch with your trainers?

“Some more than others. But I speak with them fairly regularly. All I ask of them is to tell me the truth — good or bad. I’m a big boy. I can handle bad news.”

Do you watch all your horses races?

“I certainly try to. If not in person, then via the internet. If at all possible, I don’t want to know how they did, before watching the race. Both my wife and I enjoy going to the racetrack, but are content to just watch from the comfort of our home.”

What don’t you like about the business?

“I suppose like most people in it, I hate the fact that most of the publicity we get is negative. It’s really a great and most enjoyable sport. It’s unfortunate that the only people who realize it are already in it.”

Let’s talk about Maverick…

“When I got my Kentucky catalog, I was most impressed with his page. In terms of pedigree there was nothing lacking. He is full-brother to Greenshoe, a horse that some believe might have been the fastest trotter ever. I watched his video. It was spectacular. I spoke with Tony and he said that in his opinion he was the best colt in the entire sale. When I got to Kentucky I looked at him and fell in love. Most everybody I spoke with agreed with Tony. There was talk that he could bring a million dollars. To be quite truthful I didn’t think he’d bring quite that much. But, he checked all the boxes. There was nothing with which you could fault him. I went into the sale fairly certain that I would own him.”

What were you thinking when the bid was at a million dollars?

“I said to Tony who was sitting alongside of me, ‘I hope they stop bidding soon, because I’m running out of money.’”

Author’s note – I’ve been privileged to see Maverick at least once a week from early December until now. As Brad Grant said, “He checked all the boxes.” He continues to do so.

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