Grand National winners lead tributes to man they called Mr Fontwell

Well-known figures from the racing world have been quick to pay tribute to Mr Fontwell Roger Mant.

Wednesday, 20th May 2020, 2:35 pm
Roger Mant in his younger days

Roger died last week aged 82, leaving family and friends to reflect on his lifetime's devotion to West Sussex's popular figure-of-eight jumps course.

Roger worked there full-time from 1959 to 2003 and carried on helping on racedays for another ten years after retiring.

Recently retired jockey Leighton Aspell, a Grand National winner and regular at Fontwell Park, said: “I knew Roger from years back when riding at Fontwell – and he always had the course in great condition and was very approachable and informative about the going.

Roger and his wife Maria with Fontwell colleagues in the early 2000s

“He was a very nice man who loved his job at Fontwell and took great pride in it.”

West Sussex trainer Nick Gifford, whose late trainer dad Josh also knew Roger well, said: “Roger was an unbelievable man. The kindest, most warm-hearted man. He’d do anything for you if you needed a favour.

“He was brilliant at his job. The ground at Fontwell – my dad always used to say – was as good as anywhere in the country and that was basically all down to Roger.

“He used to come over to our yard in the summer and help dad and I build our schooling fences. He didn’t want paying for it – he’d say: ‘No, I’ll give you a hand – I’ll show you how to do it.’

“Paul (Roger’s son – now Fontwell’s head groundsman) is the same – they are just a lovely, lovely family.”

Brendan Powell, who like Aspell is a former Grand National winner, said: “I’d known Roger for years and years – from when I was riding,” said Powell, now a trainer.

“He was one of the best groundsmen you’ll ever get. Fontwell was always in great nick and he passed it on to his son Paul, who is now one of the finest as well!

“A lot of people rang him because he was always 100 per cent and would tell you exactly what the ground was.”

Fontwell’s most successful present-day trainer, Sussex's Gary Moore, said: “He was an extremely nice guy and a man you could always ask about the ground and you’d get the right answer.

“The racecourse was always prepared in a first-class way – as it is now that his son has taken over. He’ll be sadly missed.”

Ed Arkell, now clerk of the course at Goodwood but who used to perform the same role at Fontwell, said: “It’s very sad about Roger – he was a great man.

“He retired by the time I got to Fontwell, but he used to come in once a week in the summer – and every raceday morning – and his job was always to cut the winning line for us. He took real pride in that.

“He also came in when we were rebuilding new fences to make sure we had everything as we should do – having it lined up and cut at the right height.

“If we ever needed to know anything – where anything was – Roger was always the man for that. If you couldn’t find a stop-cock to turn a water pipe off, he always knew exactly where it was.

“He was a hugely useful man to have around and a thoroughly nice person, one of those people you always enjoyed having a chat to.

“His life was Fontwell Racecourse – and we were all very grateful for that as he did a wonderful job.”

Sussex-based jockey Jamie Moore said: “Paul does as good a job as any groundsman in the country and it’s always in great shape. He must have learned everything from his dad.

“They’re a lovely family who live and breathe Fontwell racecourse.”