THE expert head groundsman from Cartmel Racecourse is bound for Aintree this weekend where he will play a crucial role in the 2019 Grand National.
Gary Sharp, 40, has worked at the south Cumbria course since 2002, ensuring the track is in peak condition for each of its nine race days every year.
But tomorrow he will join eight fellow head groundsmen from across the country to take charge of fences in Liverpool as 40 runners and riders line up to contest ‘the most famous horse race in the world’.
While there, Gary will use his years of experience to quickly decide whether his assigned Grand National fences are safe to jump, need to be replaced or should be left out altogether on the second pass.
Gary said: “I’ve done this role at Aintree for 17 years now. It’s a big responsibility but it’s always exciting to play a part in such an important race.
“We’re stationed by the fence so we’re first on the scene.
“It’s my job to assess whether it’s safe to jump after the first lap or whether it should be bypassed if someone has fallen.
“I’m always guided by the medics on site. Safety is absolutely the priority.
“If the fence is damaged, it can also mean replacing the hurdle altogether before the horses come round again.
“You have to be quick, but there’s enough time to do it between laps,” he added.
The Grand National is run over four miles and 514 yards. It includes 30 fences, many of which are made from spruce from the Lake District.
Gary will arrive for the start of the three day festival on Thursday with three other members of Cartmel Racecourse’s grounds team; Brad Thompson, Tony Hadwin and Ceri Eccles.
Gary, who won the Groundstaff of the Year title at the Racecourse Association Showcase and Awards in 2016, said: “This is a great experience for everyone to be involved in.
“Going to the Grand National also marks a turning point in the calendar for my team because it means our first race at Cartmel is getting closer.
“A lot of work goes on here over the winter to look after the ground, build fences and prepare the course for the racing season.
“Now we’re all looking forward to seeing the horses and crowds arrive back on track on May 25.”