Racing Post logo
Search icon
Menu icon
Menu icon
  • MoreChevron down
InterviewPaddy Trainor

'I came into racing with no qualifications and dyslexia, and now I'm a qualified coach'

Andrew Dietz speaks to Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards winner Paddy Trainor

author image
Andrew DietzReporter
Paddy Trainor: "I've wanted to achieve something special and it was amazing"
Paddy Trainor: "I've wanted to achieve something special and it was amazing"Credit: Dan Abraham

Trainor by name, trainer by nature. Fear not Charlie Johnston, Kingsley Park stalwart Paddy Trainor isn't coming for your job just yet, but the 2022 employee of the year award winner is using his new-found status to nurture the next generation of stable staff.

In many ways, Trainor has become a poster boy for the annual Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards, which stages its 20th edition in February. Having left school with little more than a love of horses, he has shown a distinct dedication to racing during a quarter of a century's service to record-breaking trainer Mark Johnston, for which he was honoured with two industry awards.

Greater still, though, Trainor has developed a desire to help others, overcoming his own learning challenges to qualify as an industry coach and working tirelessly to enhance the skills and knowledge of those less experienced.

"I came into racing with no qualifications and dyslexia, and now I've qualified as a coach and have been able to go round other stables to help staff on horse management," says the 43-year-old.

"I want to show the older generation that if I've done it, they can too. A lot of experienced people are leaving the racing industry, but I want them to stay and pass on their knowledge to the younger generation to keep the industry rolling."

A few minutes in Trainor's company is all you need to see racing courses through his every vein. In the tack room at Warwick House on a grey day in Middleham, his face instantly lights up at the merest mention of the employee awards.

A year and a half might have passed since his big night when winning the rider/groom category and overall prize, but to him it seems like yesterday.

"I'm still on cloud nine now," he says. "I still can't believe I won the main award because there are so many top names on the trophy, including Jock Bennett, who's an assistant here and a mentor to me. He's someone I've worked under and he's taught me so much, and it's great to have my name up there with him."

The 2022 ceremony was conducted virtually due to the pandemic, but the Johnston stable made every effort to make the occasion special.

"Mark, Charlie and Deirdre [Johnston] put on a big spread in the boardroom, so I had a lot of staff there with me, as well as my wife and my daughter, and when I heard my name mentioned, I couldn't believe it," Trainor recalls.

"In all the years I've worked in racing, I've wanted to achieve something special and it was amazing. I was in total shock. I can talk the hind leg off a donkey but, for the first time, I was lost for words. I don't mind admitting I got emotional – my wife Sam said I cried more than I did on our wedding day.  

"I've put everything into racing, come a long way, learned from a lot of top people in the industry, and it was a real release."

Paddy Trainor receives his award from Julie Harrington at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket
Paddy Trainor receives his rider/groom award from BHA chief executive Julie HarringtonCredit: Edward Whitaker

In his formative years, Trainor had a different calling. With his mother in the women's regiment and father in the Irish Guards, he grew up between bases in London and Germany and harboured ambitions of following his parents into the military.

After a short time in his father's homeland of Northern Ireland, the family settled in his mother's native city of Glasgow, where Trainor furthered his interest in horses at a local riding school.   

Having completed basic army training, he discovered his dream of joining a cavalry regiment would be realised only a good few years after passing out. He couldn't bear to be without horses for that long, so he made the bold decision to leave the army.

He then marched down to the British Racing School in Newmarket, had a brief stint with Jonjo O'Neill in Penrith before relocating to Johnston, where he has remained since the age of 17.

He says: "With my dyslexia at primary school, I went to the pony club and the teachers found the more I did with the horses and ponies, the better my grades became. It helped me interact more and horses have always been my life. 

"The first time I had anything to do with racehorses was at the British Racing School and I loved every bit of it. It was hard work but I had a lovely lady called Sue Donnelly as my instructor, as well as Julia Feilden, who I'm still close to today – I always say to her I wouldn't be where I am without her." 

Trainor has witnessed first-hand Mark Johnston's vision become a reality, with the stable evolving from humble beginnings to a gargantuan powerbase regularly sending out 200-plus winners a year. So, what's the secret behind Britain's most prolific trainer?

"Having a good team," says Trainor in a heartbeat. "Whether it's good assistant trainers, head lads, groundstaff or estate managers, everyone has a big part to play.

"Mark's a good man who teaches us to speak up for ourselves – if we've got something to say, he'd rather we say it how it is. He makes you a better person." 

What about the new era now Charlie has taken over as the sole licence-holder?

"I've seen Charlie grow up from a boy to a man and he's inherited his father's drive and determination," says Trainor. "I can come back from racing at midnight and Charlie's there doing the boards. He does the gallops, sees to the owners and goes racing up and down the country. He has moved into Mark's role." 

A galaxy of star horses have passed through Trainor's hands but one particular occasion – due to its importance to another perennial figure at the yard – sticks out above all others.  

"I've led up a couple of Group 1 winners before, but being part of Joe Fanning's first Group 1 win on The Last Lion at Newmarket was a big moment," he says. "It was on his birthday too, and I was an emotional wreck that day."

Trainor smells like team spirit. He takes so much satisfaction from sharing in collective success. It's what makes all the cold mornings and late nights worth it.

"I get a buzz out of seeing owners, regardless of whether they're a syndicate member or a big owner, winning a race, no matter what the level," he says. "It could be an evening meeting at Wolverhampton, it doesn't matter; it's the people smiling that keeps me motivated.

"I've been all over the world travelling horses and it's amazing really – you don't have to be a jockey to get that opportunity. I'm quite lucky as I get to break the horses in as yearlings and then take them to the races, and I get a kick out of being there the whole way.

"There's been improvement for stable staff with things like accommodation and food provisions, and here we're quite lucky, as we work only one in three full weekends. I know we're a bigger yard but if they could do that at other places, it would give people more family time and probably keep them in the industry."

Paddy Trainor with two-time Royal Ascot winner Oriental Fox
Paddy Trainor with two-time Royal Ascot winner Oriental FoxCredit: Mikaelle Lebreton/Johnston Racing

A golden rule exists for the employee awards whereby the overall winner gets to join the judging panel the following year. Trainor had that privilege for the 2023 competition and, having made such an impression, he's been welcomed back again.

It's not the first time he has broken convention but if anyone has an appreciation for the importance of the awards, it is him.

"I obviously did something right to be asked again," he says with a smile. "Seriously, though, it was an honour to be on the panel alongside the likes of Mick Fitzgerald and Nick Luck, who do so much for our industry  

"It's the 20th year, so it's the biggie, and I'm looking forward to doing it again. I won £15,000 in prize-money for the two awards and it really was life-changing as we were finally able to put down the money for our first family home.

"It's amazing what our industry has done for us and hopefully it will entice people to come into racing."

As those who know him best would attest, Trainor is an inspiration to everyone in the industry. Racing has been good to him, but he's been better to racing.

"I live and breathe racing and just want the best for the sport," he says.

That just about sums him up.

Nominations are open until November 7 for the 20th running of the Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards. The awards are an opportunity for employees from across the industry in Britain, such as training yards, studs or administrative roles, to be celebrated for their hard work and dedication. Find out more here.

Read these next:

This year's winner urges trainers to nominate staff for Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards after thrilling 2023 

'I only went down to the yard in lockdown to earn a bit of money - to have achieved this much already is amazing' 

Nominations open for the 20th Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards 

Sign up to receive On The Nose, our essential daily newsletter, from the Racing Post. Your unmissable morning feed, direct to your email inbox every morning.

Published on 29 October 2023inInterviews

Last updated 18:00, 29 October 2023