Coffs Harbour trainers couldn’t believe their luck six weeks ago when Jon Grisedale joined the ranks of trackwork riders at the popular North Coast track.
It’s not often country trainers have access to the services of a jockey who has almost 1300 winners to his credit, with a CV that includes working relationships with trainers like John Hawkes, Jack Denham, Brian Mayfield-Smith and Chris Waller.
Jon was one of the first jockeys to offer his services when Waller commenced operations at Rosehill around thirteen years ago. “I rode a lot of work for Chris and several race winners”, recalled the veteran jockey.
Sure Jon Grisedale is 55, the same age as Brisbane’s Michael Cahill but significantly younger than Jeff Lloyd and Robert Thompson. His enthusiasm levels are high, he’s as fit as many jockeys half his age and can ride at 52.5 kgs without resorting to the sweat box. “For the right horse in the right race, I could manage 51.5”, enthused Grisedale.
Obviously Jon has to give wife Donna priority on his trackwork services, but as soon as those horses are worked, he jumps on as many as he can handle for other trainers. “Some mornings I do 14 or 15 horses all up, but I’m being rewarded with frequent race rides”, said the eminently experienced horseman.
Just lately he’s been bobbing up at tracks like Armidale, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Ballina, Port Macquarie, Taree and only last Saturday he booted home a winning double at Kempsey - Roman Senator for good supporter Joanne Hardy, and Dollson for his wife Donna.
What brought the Grisedales to Coffs Harbour? “Donna has had a healthy strike rate over eight years at Kembla Grange, but increased country and provincial prize money is bringing more city horses to our regular venues”, explained the jockey. “The majority of our horses were finding it tough at places like Sapphire Coast, Moruya, Nowra and Goulburn, so we had to make a decision”, explained the jockey.
The Grisedales started negotiations a year ago on stables at Coffs Harbour racecourse previously occupied by Colleen Underhill. “We’ve actually leased the ground from the Coffs Harbour Race Club, but we own the stables and have completed a thorough refurbishment”, said Jon. “We pulled the old ones down and started again. We have sixteen large new boxes to house the team”.
Jon and Donna are very happy with the facilities on offer, which comprise restricted use of the course proper, two sand tracks, a good trotting track and an excellent swimming pool. “We are blessed to have beach facilities only minutes away” enthused Jon. “We can fast work on the beach at low tide and then walk them up to their chests in salt water if we choose. It’s better than any water walker”.
Donna Grisedale spent a decade as stable foreperson for Jack Denham. That iconic trainer wasn’t one to be giving away trade secrets, but you only had to look, listen and observe to learn something about training racehorses. “Donna still follows many of the things she learned from one of the smartest trainers Sydney racing ever saw”, said Jon.
It’s not widely known that Jon Grisedale is a full blown “pom”. He was born at Barrow-In-Furness in Cumbria (GB) in 1964 and was four years old when he travelled to Australia by ship with his late father Les, mother Barbara and two siblings.
His small frame led him to an apprenticeship with Rosehill trainer Bede Horan in 1979. He’d never been on a horse in his life, but learned quickly under the tutelage of the astute trainer. “Bede often took horses to the bush in those days and I actually cut my teeth on country tracks”, recalled Jon.
Young Grisedale enjoyed a very productive apprenticeship, and in one season finished second to Darren Beadman in the junior premiership. On one memorable Wednesday he booted home four winners on a Canterbury card.
Some years later he was number three jockey for the powerful Nebo Lodge operation at Rosehill, founded by Millie Fox, Bob La Pointe and Robert Sangster. Brian Mayfield-Smith has always been lavish in his praise of Jon Grisedale, whom he described as thoroughly reliable, professional and talented.
Mayfield-Smith thought enough of his number 3 to put him on a very green and very talented colt called Marauding in the 1986 Silver Slipper Stakes. He had to be content with a second to Maizcay, but the trainer was happy with Grisedale’s effort.
Group 1 success has eluded the hard working jockey, but he has won several stakes races, and any number of country cups. The early days spent at bush meetings with his master Bede Horan has left him with an ingrained love of country racing.
He’s had enough setbacks in the last five years to dim the enthusiasm of a much younger jockey. Doctors thought he’d escaped with a badly sprained ankle when a horse reared over on top of him in the Kembla Grange mounting yard in 2013. They’d missed a hairline fracture of the fibula and a couple of mornings later the affected bone snapped like a carrot as the jockey jumped onto the back of a horse.
He announced his retirement from race riding, but a year later opted to begin riding work for his wife again. The leg felt fine, the weight started to fall off him and before long he was back at the races. He thoroughly enjoyed the next two and a half years, but again fate dealt him a cruel blow.
A horse reared in the gates at the Warwick Farm jump outs last October, jamming his right leg against an upright - resulting in a fracture of the tibia, but nowhere near as serious as his previous injury.
He was back in around ten weeks and hasn’t drawn breath since. His last two injuries pale into insignificance alongside a debilitating illness he suffered thirty years ago. He contracted a condition called endocarditis - an infection of the inner lining of the heart which stopped him in his tracks.
It took his specialists a long time to assess and diagnose his condition and sadly he lost a kidney in the process. It was a full year before he was back in the saddle, but happily the trauma hasn’t affected his subsequent health.
Jon and Donna Grisedale are about to embark on a whole new adventure in beautiful Coffs Harbour. They make a great combination, with individual talents that will see them make their mark in the Northern region of NSW.
Donna’s obviously hoping for a few horses as tough as her husband.
(Banner image courtesy Trackside Photography - A different angle of Dollson winning at Kempsey 27/04/2019.)