Faces of Tamworth: horse trainer Sue Grills

TAMWORTH TRAINER: Sue Grills at her stables at the Tamworth Jockey Club. Photo: Peter Hardin
TAMWORTH TRAINER: Sue Grills at her stables at the Tamworth Jockey Club. Photo: Peter Hardin

When it came to a career path, there was no other option for Sue Grills, she was always going into the horse racing game.

When she finished school at the age of 16, she started working for her uncle – legendary horseman Keith Swan.

Grills rode for her uncle – both trackwork and on race day – before focusing on work behind the scenes with the horses.

Eventually, Grills followed in the footsteps of her uncle, her father Max McGrath and grandfather Arthur Gore as a trainer.

Grills has had her trainer's licence for roughly 30 years now and couldn’t imagine her life panning out any other way.

“It’s not a job, it’s your life,” Grills, who’s been based at the Tamworth track since 2004, said of the training game.

“And you’ve gotta love it to do it.”

And Grills loves it, despite it being challenging at times.

The trainer is going through one of those challenging times right now.

Grills’ last winner came on June 9 and she’s had 36 runners since.

“It’s been a bit ordinary,” Grills said of her recent run.

“The first six months [of the season] I had a really good run. The last six months has been a bit ordinary but, you know, that’s racing. There’s ups and downs.

Grills added with a smile on her face: “When you're in Sydney with Fickle Folly, it’s all lovely and then you go to bloody Moree yesterday [Thursday] and don’t get a winner.”

Having been in the game so long, Grills has learnt to just go with the flow.

“I used to try and change things, try and change feed and change this and that but it doesn't matter. When it turns around, it'll turn around and that’s the way it goes,” she said.

While Grills is going through a lean run at the moment, she’s had her fair share of success as well.

“I won the trainer's premiership for this area, I’m hopeless on dates and years, but it was a few years ago,” Grills said.

“And I had Border Rebel, he got country horse of the year one year, that’s probably my two best years.

“He [Border Rebel] won eight city races in a row, which is unbelievable for a country horse. And four of them were listed races so he was a really good horse.”

Grills counts herself as “lucky” to be where she is and to have had the horses she’s trained.

Along with Border Rebel, another horse the trainer remembers fondly is Ollie Vollie.

The old-timer’s last win came in his last race at the age of 11. It was an $100,000 race on the Gold Coast.

“He’s the oldest stakes winner in Queensland,” Grills said.

But when talking of luck, how Grills came to train Border Rebel signifies it best.

Border Rebel was one of four yearlings.

Each yearling was given to a different trainer and Grills just so happened to snag the one that went on to win 14 races from 36 starts.

“The other three were no good and mine was a champion. It was just the luck of the draw,” Grills said.

“Trevor Hardy always said ‘how did she give you Border Rebel and gave me this thing’.”

Grills’ journey has included plenty of other highlights.

She was the “the first girl to ride in this area” and also scored a winner with her first ride.

Grills said scoring that win was “very exciting” but also said it was tough being a female jockey.

“If you get beat they'd go 'go back to the kitchen, do the washing up’ and all this crap,” Grills said.

As for the future, Grills can’t see herself getting out of training anytime soon.

“I couldn't afford to retire and with this drought, that’s really making things hard,” Grills said.

“The hay's [price] gone through the roof. It’s only a matter of time and all the other feed will go up, so it’s tough.

“We’ve got cattle so we’re feeding the cattle but I’m not one to sit at home anyway.

“We’ve done a little bit of travelling and it’d be nice to do more but it’s the same deal, you've gotta have enough money to do it.”

How you can nominate someone for The Northern Daily Leader's Faces of Tamworth campaign