Little-known trainer Gaston Grant describes his journey with millionaire New Jersey-bred Green Gratto as “once in a million.” Whatever the odds attached to their success, they are long.
Grant remains in the early stages of building his credentials as a horseman as he scrambles to find time to oversee his small stable at Aqueduct Racetrack while maintaining a full-time position as a driver for United Parcel Service in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Green Gratto entered his life in a most unusual way. Grant did not acquire him at auction or in a private sale or via the claiming box. Incredibly, the horse was a gift from Peter Chin, a trainer who provided Grant with his start as a hotwalker in 2004. They became good friends.
Green Gratto, known for a grinding style that matches Grant's work ethic, is a gift that keeps on giving. The modestly-bred son of Here's Zealous notched the first Grade 1 victory of his career at the unlikely age of 7 when he shocked heavily-favored Unified by a neck to win the $400,000 Carter Handicap for jockey Christopher DeCarlo last Saturday at Aqueduct. The $240,000 he banked in his 53rd career start pushed his earnings to $1,100,872.
“It was sweet,” Grant said of the Carter upset at 54-1. “I've been with him since he got on the racetrack at 2, so it's good when you see that your work pays off.”
Grant, 53, typically arrives at Aqueduct's Barn 4 at 4:30 a.m. By the time his U.P.S. route is completed, he said he often does not arrive at his Brooklyn home until 9 p.m. or so. He regrets that he cannot spend more time with his wife, Audrey, or with Ariel, their 20-year-old daughter.
Otherwise, he is a picture of contentment as he uses a hose to splash soothing cold water onto Green Gratto's front legs.
“This is not like work for me,” said Grant. “I like it here.”
The native of Kingston, Jamaica essentially maintains a seven-horse stable by himself, mucking stalls and walking horses after their morning exercise. He does not employ any assistants and receives only occasional help. Five of his seven horses are maidens; four horses are owned by outside interests. He co-owns Green Gratto with his brother, Anthony.
Grant never forgets his indebtedness to Chin for a gift that reaped unimagined rewards. He said of Green Gratto, “His doing what he's doing is helping me tremendously.”
The dark bay or brown horse stands more than 17 hands. He owns nine wins, nine runner-up finishes and eight third-place showings. His 7-year-old campaign is off to an extremely encouraging start. He began the year with a head victory in the Grade 3 Toboggan in mid-January before faltering in seventh in the G3 Tom Fool Handicap. Grant said Green Gratto bled in the Tom Fool but rebounded to work “like a freight train” for the Carter.
“He shows no sign of slowing down,” said Grant, who became a trainer three years ago. “Look at him. He kept his weight. He kept his form. I love this horse. I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize him. He is just one amazing horse. I'm blessed.”
Grant's brother, Anthony, said they were overcome by emotion when Green Gratto valiantly fought off Unified in deep stretch.
“We hugged each other and shed tears,” Anthony said, “because he wanted to win a Grade 1 so bad.”
Green Gratto ran as hard as Grant had worked to prepare him. According to Anthony, his brother has been a relentless worker since he was young.
“He always had energy to keep going,” Anthony said. “He's not the type of person to lay back and think things will fall into his lap. He'll go get it. That's just his nature.”
Anthony marvels at the bond that exists between his brother and Green Gratto, the New Jersey-bred Horse of the Year in 2015.
“He talks to the horse a lot,” Anthony said. “Sometimes the horse will listen to him. Sometimes he don't.”
Green Gratto was extremely responsive to DeCarlo in the Carter. He benefitted from an unpressured lead and refused to yield to heavy pressure from Unified in returning $110 for a $2 win wager.
“He looked great and warmed up great,” DeCarlo said. “He had him ready, obviously. You don't win Grade 1s by not having him ready, that's for sure.”
DeCarlo thinks Green Gratto's size offers a significant advantage.
“If he opens a couple of lengths on the field, he's doing it easy whereas the other horses are taking two or three strides to keep up with his one stride,” he said.
Chin attributes the Grade 1 breakthrough to Grant's meticulous care.
“As a trainer of Green Gratto and other horses, he's very attentive, very diligent,” he said.
Despite Green Gratto's hefty earnings, Grant intends to retain his U.P.S. position because of the certainty of that income. He hopes the attention he is receiving might influence other minority members to embark on training careers.
“Anything you can do to affect somebody's life in a positive way, you would relish that,” he said. “But I don't really think about the black-white issue so much as putting out a good product. If you have a good product, color really doesn't matter.”
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