Going the Extra Yard

1st July 2009:

Extract from “Going the Extra Yard”

Published in OS (Office Secretary) magazine, Apr/May 09 issue


PA Profile: Nicky McGrath, Senior Racing Secretary, Mark Johnston Racing Ltd

7am on a Monday morning. Whilst most of us are still asleep, Nicky McGrath is already at her desk. As Senior Racing Secretary to trainer Mark Johnston, one of the top names in flat racing, Nicky is among the earliest of early risers.


“In the summer, we start at 6am but in winter, out of the main flat racing season, it’s 7am. The core hours are 6am – 1pm or 7am – 2pm.   We also work every other weekend meaning we work twelve consecutive days to get a weekend off. In this industry, long hours and early starts are the norm and … well, no-one goes into racing expecting to have their Saturdays free!”


Mark Johnston Racing Ltd is based in Middleham, North Yorkshire, a part of the country that has been home to racing for more than 200 years. The yard looks after around 230 horses (the exact number changes frequently with horses going to or coming from the sales) for some 80 owners and employs approximately 120 staff. The stables boast excellent training facilities including an equine swimming pool, an all-weather gallop and grass gallops up on the beautiful North Yorkshire moors.


It is one of the busiest and most high-profile yards in the country with a remarkable winning record both here and abroad. Nicky is the first point of contact in the organisation, for stable staff, jockeys, owners and the media, and faces quite a challenge.


Despite having no previous experience as a Racing Secretary, Nicky didn’t go into the job with her eyes closed. Married to a successful jump jockey (Richard McGrath) and with a strong background in the sport, she understands its pressures and demands. In fact, her family is steeped in racing history.  Her mother, Kate Walton, was a lady amateur jockey and is now a well-known trainer with a small, flourishing yard also in Middleham. Her grandfather, Sam Hall, a legend in racing, also trained his many winners in the same village during the 1960s and 70s.


“With the family being so heavily involved in racing, I grew up around horses and rode from being very young – the Pony Club, that sort of thing – and started riding out (exercising the horses) when I was about 14.”


She happily admits that her racing hero is a horse – the famous Desert Orchid. “When I was a lot younger, I was totally obsessed with him. I even wrote to ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ to ask if I could ride him. Surprisingly, I never got a response.”



Many thanks to Nicky McGrath and Kim McAllister, Editor of OS (Office Secretary) Magazine


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