Fred Grant on a lifetime of working with the greats
One of the few living people who worked for both Stanley Dancer and Billy Haughton, Grant carved out a successful career with the likes of Cambest, Handle With Care, Silent Majority and many human legends of the game.
by Murray Brown
If you asked Fred Grant what the greatest thrill of his life was, you’d probably be surprised at the answer.
One might think it was Cambest’s time trial record of 1:46.1 which lasted almost 25 years; being the leading trainer at The Meadowlands in its heyday in 1984; being one of the few trainers who won over 500 races at The Meadowlands, winning a $500,000 race and several ones for $300,000 and numerous other horse exploits. You would be wrong. It has nothing to do with horses.
Grant has been friends with Eddie Johnson (EJ), former NHL goalkeeper, Pittsburgh Penguins coach and general manager and now an advisor for the Pens for many years. EJ has been one of Grant’s closest and dearest friends for over 30 years.
One day in 1990 when the Pens were in town to play the Devils, Johnson called Grant the evening before and invited him to dinner and to watch a hockey game at the Red Robin. Grant gladly accepted, but said that he’d be late because he had two in the Daily Double and was going to win with both. He did and the boys bet on them.
At dinner, EJ invited Grant to the Penguins’ practice the next morning and told him to bring his skates.
Through the years, Grant had befriended quite a few NHLers and it wasn’t unusual for him to participate in skate arounds on the mornings of hockey games.
He did so this morning. At the end of the session. Ron Francis, came to him and asked if he was up for a three on three match, the losers would pay for lunch. Grant could pick the teams. Grant chose Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr as his linemates to go against Francis, Martin Straka and a rookie who’s name escapes him. Tom Bourasso was the goaltender. Francis said Grant was in the wrong profession. He should have been an NHL general manager.
Needless to say, Grant’s line didn’t pay for lunch.
Frederick Charles Grant was born in North Sydney, NS 70 years ago.
He didn’t have much of a harness racing background, although his uncle had a $1,000 horse that he trained and raced at Tartan Downs. Hockey was his real passion in his youth. To some lesser degree, it still remains so. His uncle, John Coleman, Grant’s mom’s brother, was probably the greatest influence on both his horse and hockey careers.
At the age of 18, together with his mom, who was training to become a teacher, Fred moved to Truro to play junior hockey and so his mom could attend school.
In Truro, Fred became acquainted with harness personality Gus Ratchford for whom he groomed horses while playing junior hockey for the Truro Bearcats.
While working for Ratchford, he also got his USTA driver’s license after passing the test administered by Glen Scargil. Back then, one did not need anything other than to pass the written test to get a driver’s license. That was the first time he had met Scargil. They have been friends ever since. Scargil, in later years, worked with Fred as a second trainer.
Fred won the first race in which he participated, with a horse called Sleepless Knight in 2.11.1h. It was the very first time he had been behind a starting gate.
After two years in Truro, his junior eligibility ran out. He had several hockey scholarship offers but made the decision to pursue a career in harness racing rather than to continue with his schooling. He had been injured fairly badly in his last year of hockey and decided that a career in racing held greater promise for him than one in hockey.
The best place to begin was at the top, so he went to Pompano Park in November of 1971, where at the time most of the top Grand Circuit Stables were in training.
Several Maritimers were working for Stanley Dancer, so Fred decided to approach Dancer for a job. He was hired and was given two Overtrick fillies owned by Taney Rainbow Farms to take care of. His plan was to gain the needed experience, stay with Dancer until it was time to ship north and then return to Nova Scotia and pursue his ambition to become a great trainer/driver.
Two weeks before the stable was to ship north, Fred gave two weeks’ notice to Stanley’s assistant Peewee Welch.
“I’ll tell the boss,” said Welch.
Fred was told that Dancer wanted to see him at feed time that afternoon.
Fred thought to himself, “He’s pissed off. He’s going to fire me right now.”
Fred presented himself at Dancer’s office that afternoon expecting the worst. Instead, Dancer told him. “Joe Wideman (Stanley’s best groom and one of the most renowned grooms ever) is taking care of Albatross and Silent Majority. When we go North, Joe is going on the road with Albatross. I’d like you to do the same with Silent Majority.”
Fred asked Dancer for a few days to think it over. Dancer complied. Fred was told by many that he’d be crazy to turn that offer down. Silent Majority, together with Strike Out, were going to be the top 3-year-old pacing colts that year. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fred said yes.
Silent Majority was as advertised. He was one of the top 3 year olds of that season.
In mid-season, Silent Majority was moved from Dancer’s stable to that of Billy Haughton and Fred went with him. Fred thinks he knows the reason for the move, but isn’t about to discuss it.
A significant rivalry, occasionally bordering on vicious, developed between the Canadian camps of Silent Majority and Strike Out. Much of the fuel was poured on the fire by publicist, Albert Trottier, a dedicated member of the Silent Majority camp.
Both colts were wonderful and raced to expectations.
The plan was to race Silent Majority at 4. Fred went to winter training at Pompano with him together with a cheap Meadow Skipper filly that Haughton had purchased for the Livermans. As well intended plans are sometimes wont to do, this evaporated when Silent Majority came up dead lame one day. He had broken a coffin bone. His racing career was over.
The “cheap filly” that Fred was left with was Handle With Care. She went 17-for-17 as a 2-year-old. Fred took her on the road, mostly racing in Canada, and often training her when Haughton was not in proximity or available.
The next winter, Fred was elevated to second trainer status in the Haughton operation with the understanding that come race time, he would take Handle With Care on the road again, this time mostly as her trainer in addition to being her groom.
He did that and even raced her once — her only defeat that season, Fred said, ruefully.
My remembrance of the young Fred Grant was of a rather cocky young fella. Weren’t we all? But, as opposed to many, he had significant reasons to be so.
In my mind’s eye, my abiding memory of Freddy was the evening of Handle With Care’s world record at The Red Mile. He was nattily dressed in a white suit with a red handkerchief in his pocket strutting the pavilion at Tattersalls that evening as though he owned the world. I guess he did.
Encouraged by the Livermans and several other Canadian owners, Fred decided to go on his own that fall.
He stayed in Canada training at Blue Bonnets for a couple of years, with decent, but not overwhelming success.
The turning point came when he decided to winter in Florida at Spring Garden Ranch.
He had several good horses there including Señor Skipper a near free-for-aller and several really good pacing fillies.
He recalls taking four fillies to Greenwood Raceway that summer and racing each in a filly division of the Canadian Juvenile Circuit. Three of them were winners with Freddy driving. A newspaper man came around the paddock asking, “Who’s this Fred Grant?”. He was told, “You’ll find him in the winner’s circle.”
Before going any further, I need to say that in addition to Fred and I being good friends for decades, I’ve owned small pieces of horses in his stable for the last several years. We speak often. Unfortunately, the several conversations that we had leading to this column were done while Fred was in the midst of recovering from a fairly severe case of COVID-19.
Let’s start there, Fred. How are you feeling?
“Much better than I was. On Wednesday, February 3, I was so sick that I was afraid I wasn’t going to live. Anybody that trivializes this sickness is crazy. By Thursday, I was feeling slightly better. On Friday, I was feeling worse. My doctor told me to meet him at the hospital the next morning. They treated me with Regeneron, the same treatment they used on Trump. This treatment normally costs $12,000. Fortunately it was covered by Medicare. I was allowed to get it because of a serious pre-existing condition. Each day since then, I’ve been feeling slightly better. I’m scheduled to get a COVID test by the end of the week. If it’s negative, I’ll be released from quarantine. After that, it’s one day at a time without rushing. Fortunately for me, the owners and the horses, Meegan and my dear friend Tommy Jackson, are running the show. The horses are in good hands while I’m not there.”
Fred, you are one of the few living people, maybe the only one who has worked for any extended time for two of the sport’s greatest legends Stanley Dancer and Billy Haughton. Tell us about them and your experience with them.
“They were both great, but in different ways. Stanley was probably more intense and set in his ways than Billy. If a horse wasn’t up to his standards, Stanley would generally find it a new home or stop with it. Billy would rarely give up on one. He liked to fiddle and change things. Sometimes, he found the solution, other times he didn’t. They were both great people and great horsemen. It was a privilege to have worked for them.”
You’ve been involved with many drivers through the years. How would you rate them?
“Maybe O’Donnell by a hair over Campbell at their best. It’s really hard to distinguish between those two. You could put their names in a hat and draw one or the other’s name and you wouldn’t lose anything. Right behind them in numerical order I’d put Keith Waples, Michel Lachance and Walter Case, Jr. There have been and are many great drivers since, but those were the ones I grew up with and knew the best.”
How about trainers?
“1. Billy Haughton. 2. Chuck Sylvester. 3. Jimmy Takter. 4. Ray and Larry Remmen. 5. Jimmy Campbell.
“Maybe Sylvester and Campbell wouldn’t be on everybody’s list, but they sure are on mine. In addition to being great horsemen who have come up with top horses year after year, they are both wonderful guys and good friends. Even today, when I run into a problem with a horse, I will call Chuck to get his opinion.”
You’ve trained horses for a bunch of terrific owners. Let’s talk about some of them.
Irving and Herb Liverman
“They put me on the map. They were wonderful people who had a great deal of confidence in a young kid who maybe didn’t know as much as he thought he did. They did well and made money, but they put most of the money they made right back into the game. Irving is gone, but his son Herbie stills maintains a strong position in both breeding and racing horses. Both of them were excellent businessmen.”
“I don’t know exactly how many years I’ve trained horses for Alan, but it’s been a long time. As bright a person as has ever been in the business. There was a time when he was way ahead of everyone else. He has been very kind to me through the years. Any horses that he sent to me were raised right and looked the part. He could accept both good and the bad.”
“I consider him to be the most loyal guy that ever owned horses. Through the years he and I have become exceptionally good friends. He has great confidence in me and my judgment. He has told me that if I ever want to geld one of his, to discuss it with him after the operation has been performed. Someday, I hope to get him the great horse that he truly deserves.”
“He has been a godsend to me. He came to me through his friendship with another great guy Stave Katz. He buys a couple of top-bred trotters for me to train each year. We’ve had some luck, but not enough, commensurate with how good a person he is.”
“Another great guy for whom I’ve had horses a long time. Seth is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever been associated with. When one of his horses races, he knows all about it even before I’ve had a chance to call him. Seth can watch and analyze a horse race as well as anybody ever. We had a lot of fun with a Florida-bred 2-year-old who made us some money this year.”
Let’s talk about some of the better horses you’ve had.
“As wonderful a horse as ever lived. When you interviewed Bill O’Donnell some time ago, he said that for a given distance Cambest had more speed than any horse that ever lived. He was right. If he had good feet, Lord only knows how great he would have been. His record of 1:46.1 stood for almost 25 years. When we went to buy him at Harrisburg, one of his owners David Cytrynbaum, who many people know as Mister C, told me to buy him. I asked him how high we should go. Mister C said, ‘Didn’t I tell you to buy him?’”
“He was my first top horse and I was lucky to be entrusted with him. He was a perfect racehorse, but off the track he could be a handful. He had somewhat of a nasty streak, and you had to be careful around him. I’m not one to speak of breeding, but I was kind of surprised that he turned out to be as good a sire and had such a profound influence on the breed through Abercrombie and Artsplace.”
Handle With Care
“How lucky was I to first get Silent Majority and then have him immediately followed by Handle With Care? She was, for sure, the greatest filly I’ve ever been around. But as good as she was on the racetrack, she could be somewhat cranky off of it. One day I was adjusting her blanket. She turned around, grabbed me and picked me up and lifted me off the ground. She did cause some damage. I had scars on my back from that episode for over 10 years. When she was 3, WRH sent me on the road with her. I was pretty much in charge. I entered her to race, arranged her shipping, trained her most of the time and oversaw her shoeing and vet care. Of course, I was in contact with Billy who was still the boss and showed up to drive her. Here’s a story that shows how great a person Billy Haughton was. In December, after her 3-year-old season, Billy asked me if I was going home to Nova Scotia for Christmas. I told him I was. ‘Be sure to stop by and see me before you leave,’ he said. I did and he wrote me a check for five per cent of her earnings for the year. ‘All I did was show up to drive her,’ he said. ‘You were her trainer. You deserve to be paid the five per cent a trainer gets.’”
“Here’s a funny story. The horse was involved in a partnership dispute. It went to court. One afternoon I was taking a nap and the phone rang. A guy said he was the judge adjudicating the Guts matter. He said that the court’s decision was that the horse was to be trained by me until such time as he could be sold at public auction. I knew when I was being taken for a ride and I said, ‘Which one of you F—-s is this? Campbell or O’Donnell?’ It turned out that it was neither. It was really the judge. Our conversation was being heard in the courtroom. The judge took it all in good humor. I got the horse and prepped him for the sale. Before the sale, Billy O said, ‘Buy him.’ I asked him how much to go he said, ‘Just buy him.’ We bought him for $205,000. Before I left the sale, I had at least 10 people who wanted to buy a part of him. He was well named. He was a big, strong horse who always wanted to win. He couldn’t leave too well, but he always managed to be near or at the finish line when the race was over.”
“He was undoubtedly one of the better horses with which I was ever associated. He was a real freak. He didn’t have much pedigree, but could he ever go fast. Jean Paul Charron was his trainer and Mel Hartman was his owner. They would send him to me to race in the winter and they’d race him in Canada the warmer part of the year. He won the Presidential Final two years in a row. He got me into real trouble with John Campbell one year. In the leg prior to the final he had the 11-hole and got boxed in from beginning to end. I felt the competition did a real job on him. But that’s racing. The next week was the final. A reporter from Sports Eye called me and asked me what I thought of his chances in the final. I said that if he drew decently he’d be tough to beat. The next day the headline in Sports Eye said, ‘Grant says Boomer Drummond can’t lose.’ Was John ever hot. ‘You can’t say things like that,’ he said. I tried to tell him that wasn’t what I said, but he wouldn’t buy it. In the winner’s circle I told John, ‘I guess I was right.’ I won’t repeat what he answered.
Are there any other ones that you trained that you’d care to mention?
“Mark Ford bought Gallo Blue Chip from Chris Oakes after his 2-year-old season, he sent him to me to prep for his coming year. The rest is history. I had Shamballa at 2 and 3 and sent him to Rick Zeron to race in Canada where he became a pretty consistent free-for-aller.
“I had Tejano before Russell Williams gave him to Per Eriksson to race. He ended up winning the World Trotting Derby at DuQuoin. He was as nice a horse as I ever trained.”
What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
“I was doing alright, far from great, but alright. I had about a dozen horses. Billy O asked me what my plans were for that winter. I told him that I intended to go to Florida like I’d been doing, spend the winter down there and race up north in the spring. Billy told me to get rid of all but my five best horses and stay up north and race at The Meadowlands. Surprisingly, this hardhead took his advice and stayed. That five head grew to 15, then to 35, 30 and as much as 55, until, at one time, I had the most powerful stable on the grounds.”
What does the future hold for Frederick Charles Grant?
“I’m obviously not as young nor as physically adept as I once was. But I still have the fire within me. I’m up early and at the stable every day. I’m still looking for the next great horse. I work as hard as I ever did. I expect to be the same until I draw my last breath.”
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