Sunday, December 12, 2010

Memories of Mack

American racing suffered a great loss on December 10 with the death of Hall of Fame trainer Mack Miller.

Best known as the conditioner of 1993 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Sea Hero, Miller also trained top class runners like Java Gold, Assagai, Hawaii, Halo, Mr. Leader, Tentam, and Fit to Fight. Miller, who was living in retirement in Versailles, Kentucky, suffered a stroke December 5 and passed six days later.

Although Miller had been retired almost ten years before I became involved with Thoroughbreds, I am fortunate to say that I have my own memory of him. While interning with The Blood-Horse earlier this year, I wrote a feature story on the popular horse town of Aiken, South Carolina. Upon learning that I was writing this story, Evan Hammonds (one of my editors) immediately pulled me into his office and suggested I speak with Mack Miller. Miller winter trained in Aiken for many years, and most of his best horses had at one time been stabled at the Aiken Training Track. So I called up the 89-year-old Miller, who spent a good amount of time filling me with information and wonderful stories about his time in Aiken.

While it is not much, this is my memory of Mack. While he finished in racing long before I started, I was fortunate enough to get to speak with him. Our lively conversation will forever serve as a reminder of Mack, and how people from very different generations of the Thoroughbred industry still share common interests and goals.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ontario-breds Finish 1-2 in Florida Stakes

Ontario, Canada lit up the board in the Dec. 4 Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. III) at Calder Racecourse, with Ontario-breds Twilight Meteor and Rahy's Attorney taking the top two positions in the $100,000 turf event.

Twilight Meteor led at every call under jockey Luis Saez, holding off a fast-closing Rahy's Attorney by a neck.

Twilight Meteor was bred by Kinghaven Farm in King City, Ontario. The son of Smart Strike - One Over Prime (by With Approval) has raced twiced in Canada, his most significant effort being a placing in the 2007 Breeders' Stakes

Rahy's Attorney has been a Woodbine favourite for several years. Canada's champion turf horse in 2008, Rahy's Attorney has notched victories in nine stakes events, with his most significant win coming in the 2008 Woodbine Mile (gr. I). Rahy's Attorney was bred by his owner, Ellie Boje Farm.

For more race information and a video replay, check out The Blood-Horse

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Life Updates

First of all, let me apologize for my absence over the last few weeks. A lot has been happening in the time since my last post, including but not limited to a major presentation in Ireland, a visit with the world’s greatest racehorse, the move to England, and a heartbreaking loss. Let’s break it down:

Accentuating the Positive

The 12 Flying Start trainees wrapped up our stint in Ireland with a conference where we each gave a speech highlighting a positive industry trend. A lot of work went into these presentations, and overall the event was a success. My topic was racing movies and documentaries, and how they can promote racing to a wide audience. I was a little nervous beforehand, but once I got in front of the audience, I had a great time giving the speech. I look forward to another chance at it later on in America.

Seeing Stars

On one of our final days in Ireland, we received a curious e-mail from Clodagh:

“Please meet in the boardroom tomorrow at 3 p.m. Wear your Flying Start jackets and your jodhpurs.”

Yes, this was very curious indeed. After having gone through the past ten weeks with our every move planned out and scheduled, this mysterious request caused a whirlwind among the trainees. What could possibly be happening? We put all of our little future leader noggins together to make an educated guess, and it turns out we were right: Clodagh had arranged a surprise visit for us to view Sea The Stars at High Highness the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud.

We looked at the horse for less than ten minutes, but it was an incredibly captivating ten minutes. As far as perfection comes, Sea the Stars is about as close as it gets. With his unbeaten 2009 championship season aside, Sea the Stars is a physical masterpiece. He stepped from the barn as if he owned it, and each time he moved past us flicked his tail carelessly in our direction as if to suggest we were wasting his time.

I don’t believe Sea the Stars is as well known or appreciated outside of Ireland as he should be. So for those who don’t know about his historic campaign, Google it. This race should also help get you excited:

“Perfection in equine form; a horse of a lifetime”

Hello, Newmarket

Our final few days in Ireland were a whirlwind of preparing for our presentations, finishing up in the yards, and packing for the move to England. After arriving home late from the conference, we were up before the sun the next day to catch our flight to England.

Those who have visited Newmarket would likely describe it as a small town, but on our first few days it may as well have been London or Paris. While I enjoyed my time in Ireland, the town of Kildangan did not offer enough to keep me amused, and I’m very pleased to be back in a somewhat urban setting.

While the town is small, our accommodations certainly are not. We have been fortunate enough to score a four-storey palace in the heart of the town. The 12 of us living together has created our own re-enactment of Big Brother. While the guys (six of whom are sharing rooms) struggle to adjust to one another’s sleeping habits, all of us have had to rise to the challenge of sharing a kitchen, sharing food, sharing a shower (not literally...I don’t think), and having a very finite amount of personal space. I’m proud to say there has been no “storming” thus far, and we even collaborated one night to cook a big meal for 12.

The girls have created some drama of our own in the town of Newmarket. To make a long story short, I would simply suggest that all drivers proceed with caution over the next month as the North Americans continue to adjust to driving stick, and on the “wrong” side of the road. While the guys can sometimes tease us for our lack of driving skills, all I have to say is that it is seriously trippy driving into what should be oncoming traffic!

Personal lives aside, we’ve had some great experiences thus far in Newmarket. We arrived to a tour of the mind-blowing Dalham studs and office, and a very pleasant day of racing at the Rowley Mile. On Monday morning we received our first Newmarket lecture from racing reporter James Willoughby. Many of us considered this the best lecture we have had so far on the Flying Start, and an exciting indication of what Newmarket might hold.

And it has certainly lived up to the bar that James set on our first day. We’ve had some great discussions with Olly Tait, Sam Bullard, Barney Curly, Lisa Hancock, James Crowhurst, and Geoff Lane. We have experienced great tours of the vast miles of Newmarket gallops, various trainers’ yards, and an exceptionally nice visit to Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Farm with Johnnie Peter-Hoblyn.

Newmarket has been a blast so far, and it’s a bit sad to think that we’re only here another four weeks. But with so much to look forward to in that time (especially the Tattersalls breeding stock sales), it’s hard to feel sad about time passing!

Breeders’ Cup Blues

In the ensuing days since the Breeders’ Cup, I have on numerous occasions opened my computer to begin a passionate blog entry about this year’s events, but on each occasion I have failed. As a writer, my first impulse is to pour out my emotions in words, but for once I don’t really know what to say.

Zenyatta’s loss was a disappointment, but at the same time, a success in its own right. For the first time, the mighty mare gave it her all, and proved to the world that she has always deserved to be ranked among top company.

This success is darkened by the fact that for the most part, the world doesn’t care. I think I have authority to speak about this, as I’m currently living with young racing enthusiasts from six different countries. Rather than celebrate her accomplishments and the fact that she gave racing in America incredible mainstream exposure, some people would prefer to cut her down, or argue why their own country’s heroes are better.

This frustrates me to no end. Athletes like Zenyatta do a lot for racing both within the industry and mainstream, and when we keep arguing about it, we eventually begin to undermine the accomplishments of the horse. In constantly arguing Zenyatta vs. (insert name here), eventually we just find ourselves bashing great horses for no fair or good reason, no matter what side we fall on. Why can’t we simply appreciate the accomplishments of all the great horses of the world?

Looking Ahead

Over the next few months I will be working on some ideas to improve Turf Beat. I have been spending some time thinking to myself and talking with others about what I want my purpose in the media to be, and what I need to be doing in the meantime to expose myself and put myself in a position for success. I would like for Turf Beat to have a focused identity that both plays to my strengths and offers reader what they want. I am hoping to have a specific plan by January, but in the meantime I will continue to update as much as possible.

Thanks again as always for reading,


Monday, October 25, 2010

It's Been Two Years Since I Said Goodbye

This weekend marked two years since the passing of a dear friend of mine, Ruth Young. On October 24, 2008, Ruth lost a 21-year battle with liver disease. Ruth, a single mother of an eight-year-old daughter, was 39.

I of course will never forget the moment I heard about Ruth's death, and in the ensuing two years, it has tormented me. People will say everything happens for a reason, but there is no reason why a young woman, so kind, compassionate, and full of life, should be taken from her loved ones way before her time. And there is no reason why a sweet little girl should be left without a mother.

I met Ruth when I was 15; she gave me my first job with Thoroughbreds. I have been thinking about her a lot in the past month leading up this anniversary, because she always believed in me. Hardly a day would pass without Ruth telling me I was going to do great things, and thinking about where I am now, I know I always had her support.

Ruth didn't tell anyone but her boyfriend Jimmy how ill she actually was in the final few months of her life. She didn't want anyone to worry; she was just that type of person. The last time I saw Ruth was in September at the yearling sale at Woodbine. After her death, Jimmy told me Ruth had returned home that night and said to him, "I saw Kelsey today. That will be the last time I see her."

Below is an obituary I wrote for Ruth that ran in The Game, a local Toronto racing newspaper:

Ruth Anne Young

February 8, 1969-October 24, 2008

On October 24, horse racing in Ontario suffered a great loss. Ruth Young, a lifelong horse enthusiast and supporter of horse racing, lost her battle with liver disease at age 39.

Being an eternal optimist, Ruth would want to be remembered for the wonderful things she accomplished in her life. Ruth harboured a boundless belief that things work out the way they should. This belief took her to many places to do great things. Ruth overcame many challenges, including a liver transplant at age 18 and a lymphoma diagnosis three months later.

In 1989 Ruth graduated first in her class from Humber College with honours in Equine Studies and Level One Coaching. That fall Ruth traveled to Singapore to compete at the World Transplant Games, finishing fourth in swimming. She returned to the event two years later in Hungary where she won a silver in track and two bronze medals in swimming.

Ruth had a great interest in and outstanding knowledge of horse conformation and nutrition. After working for a year with Dr. Darryl Bonder, Ruth studied animal sciences part time at the University of Guelph for three years.

Ruth’s love of horses knew no boundaries. After being told she should not be around animals during her illness, Ruth would return home and head straight to the stables. When Ruth broke her wrist in a riding fall, doctors were quick to guess the cause of the injury. Their exasperation with Ruth caused them to further explore the affects of animals on their patients. Their search came up empty, and the restrictions were dropped.
After working at various farms coaching and riding, Ruth started Castleview Farm near Ancaster, Ontario in 1999. A breaking, training and layup facility for thoroughbreds, Castleview was the starting point for many winners, including 2003 Canadian Champion two-year-old filly My Vintage Port. Castleview was also where my special friendship with Ruth began.

As a 15-year-old racing enthusiast, I would do anything the creative mind could conjure just to be around Thoroughbreds. So naturally, when I learned racehorses were being trained at a farm a mere 10 minutes from my home, it was all I talked about until my parents dropped me off at Ruth’s doorstep on October 25, 2003.

In my two years working at Castleview and the time following, I grew to appreciate the special type of person Ruth was. She treated her staff like family. In taking me under her wing Ruth gave me my first job with racehorses; the start to my career with thoroughbreds. For that I know she was always an angel.

When I remember Ruth there are two qualities that stand out: her beautiful smile and her compassionate character. Ruth could talk for hours. She never failed to share stories, advice or simple words of encouragement. In the words of her companion Jimmy McLaren, Ruth “always had that smile on her face.”

Perhaps the only thing Ruth loved more than horses was her daughter Ainsley. Three years old when I began working at Castleview, Ainsley was the epitome of a horse lover in training: bold, determined and impossible to keep clean. I have no doubt that Ainsley will embody and carry on all the wonderful qualities that define her mother.

Ruth strongly believed Jesus Christ helped her overcome adversity, and she encouraged faith in those around her. She wanted everyone to be aware of organ donation, the importance of signing a donor card and informing family of one’s wishes. After living for almost 21 years with the gift of another’s donation, Ruth herself is now an organ donor.

Ruth was so fittingly described at her funeral with the following words inspired by William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one (woman) in (her) time plays many parts. To her colleagues and business associates, Ruth was a devoted and hard working rider, coach, trainer, business owner and mentor. To her family, a loving daughter, mother, sister, niece and companion. To every life she touched, a friend. To Ruth I say thank you. Thank you for making me your colleague, family member and friend. Thanks for the start. I will miss you, my friend

Friday, October 15, 2010

Turf Stars Descend on Woodbine

For one day each year, the racing world turns its collective eyes to Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Canada to realize the promise of a day of rich, world-class racing.

Year after year, Woodbine delivers.

This special day is Canadian International Day, which this year falls on Saturday, Oct. 16. International Day is the richest day of racing on the Canadian racing calendar, boasting three grade I stakes for total purses of $3.5 million, excluding bonuses. The feature event is the 1 ½ mile Pattison Canadian International, which is preceded by the 1 ¼ mile E.P Taylor Stakes for fillies and mares, and the six furlong Nearctic for sprinters. All three races are on the turf, and are Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series races.

International critics will question the quality of these races, so allow me to take a moment to list some of the past winners, who speak for themselves:

-Bunty Lawless
-Bull Page
-All Along
-Sky Classic
-Chief Bearhart
-Royal Anthem

-And finally, the great Secretariat, who travelled to Canada to make his final start in the Canadian International. The race was also to a be a homecoming for Secretariat’s Canadian-born trainer and jockey, Lucien Laurin and Ron Turcotte, respectively; However, Turcotte had to sit out the race on a riding suspension, and was replaced by American rider Eddie Maple (who I will crown an honourary Canadian on the merits of his surname; it doesn’t get much more Canadian than that!)

Having lost that battle, these critics will next attack the quality of the local Canadian horses. I will encounter that argument in two ways. First, I will discuss the merits of some of the local entrants:

Field Commission: Won this race last year.

Grand Adventure: Won the Connaught Cup (gr. IIIT) and King Edward Stakes (gr. IIT) over the Woodbine course earlier this year. I personally think this is the best turf horse at Woodbine.

Signature Red: Won the Highlander Stakes (gr. IIT) over the course earlier this year.

Fatal Bullet: Million-dollar earner, Canadian Horse of the Year, second in the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).

Woodbourne: A shocking third at 52-1 in the Woodbine Mile.

E.P. Taylor:
Mekong Melody: Winner of two stakes events at Woodbine this year, including the Dance Smartly (gr. IIT).

Miss Keller: Won the Canadian Stakes (gr. IIT), third in the Ballston Spa (gr. IIT) at Saratoga after winning the De La Rose at that track. Third in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (gr. IIT). Has three wins and is yet to be out of the money this year.

Simmard: Third last out in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. II). Won last year’s Chief Bearhart Stakes. Trained by perennial leading Canadian trainer Roger Attfield.

Fifty Proof: Second to Redwood last out in the Northern Dancer (gr. I) in his stakes debut. Off the board just once in eight career starts. Trained by red-hot Woodbine conditioner Ian Black.

I would then argue that while Canada has a small but competitive local contingent, keeping all the prize money at home is not what this weekend is all about. I would be thrilled to see the home team win or hit the board in any of these events, and will be rooting for them to do so, but success for the International players will be what makes them come back. This is evidenced by the fact that Juddmonte Farms is going for its fourth International win with favoured Redwood. Woodbine offers a product that is truly appealing across the globe, and that is competitive races with rich purses over a high quality track at a top class racing facility for horses, horse people, and fans. These races are staged at Woodbine all year long, but are highlighted on International Day. So while we take pride in seeing our local horses keep the pace with top class international fields, the ship-ins must experience some success as well so that they want to come back. And if these owners and trainers can go back to their home countries and spread the word about Woodbine, we have hardly lost.

So wherever you are in the world, sit back, relax, and enjoy a great evening of racing on North America’s best turf course.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Truth About Kentucky

I would like to bring to everyone's attention a recent article written by The Blood-Horse news editor Tom LaMarra:

This article, featured on Tom's blog "At Large" on, is a commentary on the current state of the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. The backdrop of the article is northern Kentucky's Turfway Park, and Tom cleverly uses Turfway stalwart Brass Hat as a "poster boy" for Kentucky racing.

This article is excellent, and in true Tom style, tells it like it is. I worked with Tom for four months earlier this year as an intern at The Blood-Horse, and I can tell you the man knows what he's talking about when it comes to racing, and more importantly, the major issues that are affecting those who work in our industry. Tom boldly targets these issues and publicizes them, and to me, that is the ultimate goal, and duty, of a turf writer: to inform the public about what is really happening with an eye towards implementing change for the better and making good things happen within the industry. This is my ultimate career goal, and I hope someday I can do it as well as Tom can.

France in Photos

On the weekend of Oct. 2 and 3, I spent a whirlwind two days in Paris, France with my Flying Start classmates. After rising at the crack of dawn to catch a plane to Paris on Saturday morning, we spent the day exploring beautiful Paris, hitting hot spots like the Louvre, the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower. The evening was spent enjoying French nightlife, an atmosphere both relaxing and exciting in one breath.

After catching a few winks of sleep we treked over to Longchamp Racecourse for a spectacular card of racing highlighted by total Workforce domination in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The showcase race barely overshadowed stellar performances earlier on the card by Group 1 winners Gentoo, Gilt Edge Girl, Misty For Me, Wootton Bassett, and Goldikova, the super mare who recorded her 11th Group 1 win (a European record) in the Prix de la Foret (G1). The card was closed with the running of the Prix de l'Opera (G1), which was claimed by the Galileo filly Lily of the Valley.

The atmosphere at Longchamp Oct. 3 was spectacular. The Arc meeting certainly rallied the Breeders' Cup for best individual day of racing I have attended. In fact, I would give Arc day the advantage based on the unprecedented high quality of racing all rolled into one compact card, which was supercharged by a fan-friendly atmosphere that was focused on the horse and the love of the sport. The enthusiasm of those on hand created an electric feel that gave me the feeling that I was in the presence of racing at its finest.

Without further ado, here are some photos from my unforgettable weekend in France

The Louvre

The Champs Elysees

Beautiful sitting spot in Paris

The Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower from afar

Eiffel Tower from beneath

Super mare Goldikova returns victorious in the Prix de la Foret

Cape Blanco parading before the Arc

Godolphin's Cavalryman

The Arc finish line

Workforce enjoys Arc glory

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Little Bird Told Me...

For followers of this blog (thank you, thank you, thank you!), you may also like to check out my Twitter page. I am posting more regular updates there, and jumping over here when I have time.

While Tweeting is the topic, a quick word on social media: In a nutshell, I think it's awesome. For my university thesis I studied the effects of social media in marketing horse racing, but today I find it incredibly useful to maintain my contacts from all over the world. Right now, its most important use for me is staying in contact with my friends and family back home. With a simple upload of photos, status updates, or a tweet, I can share what I'm doing with hundreds of people.

Thank you Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, YouTube, Picasa, etc. etc. etc...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

One Month Down

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Ireland for a month, but at the same time I have the feeling I’ve been here all my life. I have made some incredible friends and learned so much in such a short amount of time. Every day is a fairytale that I get to spend with people who are much like me, all with the desire to learn and help one another along. What more could one want?

Being just one month into two years, I have so much time ahead on Darley Flying Start, and I feel like I’ve already accomplished so much. Talks with people like Joe Osborne, Olly Tait, Jimmy Hyland, Charles Spiller, and veterinarians from UCD have helped me grow academically and intellectually. Visits’ to the Curragh, Leopardstown, Laytown, and various studs have opened my eyes to worlds that before only existed in dreams. Nights at Cross Keys, Cunninghams, and Tiger Lillies have been just plain fun!

I have learned a lot from my course mates, and I feel that I bring a lot to the group. I have already been able to put to use so much of what I learned in Canada, particularly from my days at Schonberg Farm.

Here are some of the interesting things we have done so far:

• Racing at the Curragh (Futurity Stakes, Moyglare Stud Stakes, National Stakes and Irish St. Leger)
• Racing at Leopardstown in the Kildangan Suite for the Irish Champion and Matron Stakes
• Beach racing at Laytown
• Courses at the Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE)
• Very interesting anatomy and physiology lectures, including musculoskeletal anatomy and equine reproduction
• Working with regally-bred yearlings in the Kildangan yards
• Vet rounds and rotations in the stallion yard
• Visiting Sheikh Mohammed’s various other Irish studs
• Pedigree discussions with Charles Spiller, who has been the brainchild of Darley pedigrees for 27 years
• Spending the afternoon in Dublin on our first weekend in Ireland
• Horse production assignments that have helped me learn a lot about horse selection and valuation.

And what to expect in the coming weeks:

• Attending the Goffs Orby sales with an agent
• Meeting John Ferguson
• Continuing anatomy and physiology courses at UCD
• Visiting Coolmore Stud and trainer John Oxx’s yard
• Spending a day in Galway as a tourist
• Weekend trip to France for the Arc
• And in just over a month, moving on to Newmarket. Hard to believe!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Canadian Goldmine, This Weekend at Woodbine

To anyone doubting the quality of Canadian racing, I ask you to please turn your attention to this weekend’s race cards at Woodbine.

On September 18 and 19, Woodbine will play host to five graded stakes, headlined by the $1 million Woodbine Mile (G1).

On Saturday, the two-year-olds will take the spotlight in the $200,000 Natalma Stakes (G3) for fillies, and the $250,000 Summer Stakes (G3), open to males and females. The next day, older females will face off in the Canadian (G2); turf-routers will take the stage in the $750,000 Northern Dancer (G1), and the program will wrap up with the Woodbine Mile (G1), which has drawn some of the best milers from Canada, the U.S., and Europe.

This weekend’s stakes program is worth $2.5 million excluding state-bred and Breeders’ Cup bonuses, which tack on another $590,000. All five stakes will be contested over Woodbine’s elite E.P. Taylor turf course, which I constantly contend is the best grass course in North America.

This year’s Mile weekend program has attracted star runners from Canada, the U.S., and Europe, including Grade 1 winners Marsh Side, Victor’s Cry, and Court Vision. World-renowned trainers like Neil Drysdale, Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, Eoin Harty, Rick Dutrow, and Dermot Weld, all of whom have become regular Woodbine shippers, will go for pieces of the purse pie.

While I would love to give you some tips for this weekend’s stakes, my handicapping skills are admittedly abysmal. For more on the dimensions of each of these races, I give you to my Blood-Horse buddies Jason Shandler and Jack Shinar:

Natalma and Summer Stakes

Canadian Stakes

Northern Dancer

Woodbine Mile

Woodbine was also the feature of this week's That Handicapping Show on For the picks of Blood-Horse writers Jason Shandler and Tom LaMarra as well as Tim Holland, click here.
As for personal preference, I will be most looking forward to the Northern Dancer Stakes this weekend. The Northern Dancer is part of Woodbine’s excellent summer turf route program, which each year brings back the top older runners in Canada, as well as some regular ship ins, like Marsh Side. These are the types of runners (distance on the turf) least desired at stud in North America, which is fine by the racing fan in me, because that means we get to watch them do battle year after year rather than head to the breeding shed; the true definition of competitive sport. Stalwarts of this program that will compete Sunday include Marsh Side, Windward Islands, and Spice Route.

As a quick aside, I would ask you to take a glance at the purses of the undercard races this weekend at Woodbine. We have maiden races for almost $70,000, allowances races for over $70,000, and some claiming events worth almost double their tag. Almost anyone can host a few expensive stakes, but this is the type of purse structure that keeps horsemen going day in and day out. These high purses contribute to attracting the leading runners from around the world, who come to Woodbine with their connections and inject more money into our industry. All of this creates a cyclical effect that results in high quality Canadian racing year after year.

For full entries, visit For more information about Woodbine, visit

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Irish National Stud

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Irish National Stud. In addition to being a stalwart at the top of the Irish (and global) Thoroughbred industry, the National Stud is a tourism hallmark in Ireland. I was surprised (and thoroughly impressed) to learn that the National Stud accomodates over 140,000 tourists per year.

The Flying Start tour began with a visit to the stallion yard, where we saw Art Connoisseur, Indian Haven, Jeremy, Verglas, and last but definitely not least, Invincible Spirit. Already a champion sire, Invincible Spirit certainly looked the part. He is an incredibly powerful and well-balanced horse, with no apparent flaw to my learning eye.

Invincible Spirit at Irish National Stud

We then headed off to see some mares and foals, but not before detouring through some beautiful woodlands complete with lakes, waterfalls, and stone huts:

After viewing some broodmares and foals, we got a great surprise: the entire Flying Start class was allowed to go into the paddock with Vintage Crop, the 1993 Melbourne Cup winner who now resides at the National Stud. This was a great treat, especially for our three Australian trainees. Vintage Crop was an absolute sweetheart, and between that and the beautiful shining sun, I'm sure we all would have been content to stay with him all day.

Nick, Leah, and Lindsay with Vintage Crop

Australian trainees Adrian, Nick, and Michael with Vintage Crop

Yours truly with Vintage Crop
Spoiling the Champ
After a stop by the National Stud museum, we were kindly treated to tea and desserts by the staff.

My visit to the Irish National Stud was very memorable, and I was very impressed by what the Stud is doing to promote horses and racing to the public. I hope to return again soon, and for everyone traveling to Ireland, it is a must see.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fun in the Sun at the Beach

Last week, I was fortunate to attend the once-yearly race meeting held in Laytown, Ireland. While the Emerald Isle is well equipped with exciting race meetings and festivals, Laytown is unique for one reason: the races are held on the beach.

Laytown racing emerged 140 years ago when it was held in conjunction with a rowing competition. Today, the races are organized when the tide is low, allowing a wide expanse of sandy beach to be converted to a makeshift racecourse. I, along with the rest of the Flying Starters, quickly learned that the Laytown meeting is a popular social event for Irish racing enthusiasts.

When we arrived at Laytown, we were met by a jovial atmosphere that included a large crowd, numerous food and beverage tents, and Irish music. When the rain cleared after the second race we were allowed to walk right on to the beach, and it was certainly something spectacular.

While the boys preferred to stay close to the action, us girls walked as far as could toward the water. We enjoyed taking photos and collecting Irish seashells. When a rainbow appeared in the sky above, we knew for sure we had struck gold.

The highlight of the day was watching a race trackside at the furlong pole. The compact sand made for a hoof-rattling surface, and I felt excitement race through my body as the horses charged past, close enough to reach out and touch.

I think it’s safe to say that a great day was had by all. My day at Laytown was certainly a day I’ll cherish for a long time. Check out these photos to understand why:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beautiful Curragh

Driving from Kildangan Stud into County Kildare, there comes a point where the tall brush bordering the side roads recedes, offering a spectacular view of the Irish countryside. Nestled within the beautiful scenery is the Curragh Racecourse, the premier Thoroughbred track of Ireland.

Well accustomed to neat oval tracks in bustling cities, I was not prepared for my first glimpse of the Curragh. Spreading farther than the eye can see, the Curragh consists of numerous racing paths and training surfaces, from turf to synthetic and woodchip. In the distance, herds of sheep can be seen grazing lush Emerald pastures.

The Darley Flying Start students have now been fortunate enough to visit the Curragh on three occasions: once to watch training and twice for racing. Most recently, we were treated to a great card of racing on August 29, featuring the Group I Moyglare Stud Stakes. Misty For Me, a Coolmore-owned daughter of Galileo, won the feature race with favourites Memory and Laughing Lashes in her wake. Misty For Me put herself amongst the leaders for next year’s classics with the win.

On the undercard, another daughter of Galileo caught our attention. Lush Lashes, a Jim Bolger-trained three time group I winner, was making her first start in more than a year in the Dance Design Stakes. Unfortunately she could only manage fourth behind the Danehill Dancer filly Obama Rule. With that winner in mind I suggested that my American friends back Barack in the sixth race. The American president angle proved empty, with Barack finishing up the field. We were also pleased to see Astrophysical Jet, a daughter of Darley stallion Dubawi, win the Group 3 Goffs Flying Five Stakes.

Here are some photos from my visits to the Curragh:

The Flying Starters take in morning training at the Curragh

Beautiful paddock area

View from the stands

A large set heads to the gallops

Another training shot

The Home Team

During my travels to America and Ireland, it has become apparent that many people are unaware of the major influence of Canadian bloodlines on the Thoroughbred breed. Everyone knows about Northern Dancer, but many are surprised to hear that other influential Thoroughbreds like Smart Strike and Awesome Again were born, bred, raised, raced, or all of the above, in Canada.

I have decided to compile a list of some of the most influential Canadian-bred Thoroughbreds that would be recognized worldwide. If I have overlooked anyone significant please let me know. Thanks, and enjoy.

Awesome Again
Chief Bearhart
Dance Smartly
Deputy Minister
Glorious Song
La Lorgnette
La Voyageuse
Medaille D’Or
Northern Dancer
Runaway Groom
Saint Ballado
Silver Deputy
Sky Classic
Smart Strike
Sunny’s Halo
The Minstrel
Victoria Park
Victory Gallop
Vice Regent
With Approval

Monday, August 30, 2010

New Ontario-bred Grade I Winner

El Brujo, a 4-year-old son of Candy Ride, added his name to a growing list of prominent Canadian-bred racehorses when he won the grade I Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar in California on August 28.

Bred in Ontario, Canada by the prominent Windways Farm, El Brujo is out of the Devil's Bag mare Enchanted Spell.

Click here to read about El Brujo's win, and to watch a replay of the race.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Off to a Flying Start

Prior to my arrival in Ireland, I was offered two general pieces of useful knowledge by countless friends, family, and casual bystanders:

1. It’s always raining.

2. It’s very green.

So naturally, when my plane arrived at 7 a.m. on August 16 to bright beams of sunshine, I was cautiously optimistic. Throughout my first week in the Emerald Isle I have found that the previous statement is in fact true (it has rained every day), but the amazing experiences I have already had the wonderful people I have already met far outshine the dreary clouds that often hover overhead.

Last week was my first week on the Darley Flying Start programme. If it was any indication of the two years that lie ahead, I think we’re in for the experience of a lifetime.

On the morning of August 15, the 12 trainees from the United States, Ireland, England, Australia, South Africa, and Canada (myself) all arrived at Kildangan Stud in good order, albeit Kate was short a bag when one of her suitcases decided it wasn’t quite ready to leave America (the luggage was quickly retained and immediately reunited with its owner). After settling in to our various new homes, we met up for a beautiful lunch at Kildangan House, where we were lucky enough to meet some of the personnel of Darley Ireland.

After spending the first few days sorting out administrative needs like computers, bank accounts, clothing, and bikes, we were treated to a stallion show and farm tour of Kildangan as well as three of Sheikh Mohammed’s other local properties: Ragusa, Old Connell, and Blackhall Studs. Here we saw mares, foals and yearlings with royal pedigrees, with yearlings by Street Cry, Invincible Spirit, and Pivotal among the lots, as well as mares that are sisters to Elusive Quality, Dubawi, Mozart, Goldikova, and Shamardal. The Americans were especially pleased to meet Bedazzle, the dam of Street Sense, and we were all intrigued by a gorgeous Street Cry colt out of a daughter of the great Miesque.

Our local tours were followed up by a Saturday of racing at The Curragh. For many of us, including myself, it was our first trip to the historic Irish track. Thankfully, we have our Irish representatives Barry and Michael to help us along, and they certainly have been helpful. After spending the day learning to read the Irish form and studying the horses in the paddock, we watched Pathfork roll to victory in the Futurity Stakes, a race historically known for turning out champions and top runners like New Approach and Giant’s Causeway. I’m pleased to say I picked another winner on the day: the Coolmore charge Meow, an American-bred daughter of Storm Cat.

The week was wrapped up with a trip to Dublin on Sunday, and I’m convinced the day could not have been better. For the first time since our arrival, the rain managed to stay in check all day, and we explored breathtaking cobblestone streets, historic buildings, and perfectly manicured parks beneath the beaming sun.

Our first week is over with a few minor observations on my part: first, it feels like we’ve been here far longer than a week, for two reasons:

1. The 12 of us seem to get along so well that it feels like we’ve known each other for a long time, and...

2. Kildangan has been made to feel like our home, and the wonderful people here have treated us like one of them since our arrival.

With much of the dirty work over, our coursework looks to pick up in the near future. I think we’re all eager to get started with the amazing learning and growing experiences that lie ahead.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Paths to Victory

On August 21, I had the pleasure of watching two particularly thrilling races on two continents. On my first trip to the Curragh racecourse in Ireland, I was treated to an exciting Futurity Stakes win by Pathfork, who has been labelled one of the early favourites for next year's 2000 Guineas. The American-bred son of Distorted Humor - Visions of Clarity (Sadler's Wells) remained unbeaten in two career starts with the Futurity win.

Later that night, some of my Darley Flying Start classmates and I stayed up to watch the Arlington Million from Chicago. We were treated to an exciting finish by Debussy, who edged our reining American turf champion Gio Ponti with a late kick up the rail. It seemed rather fitting that after our first week with Darley Flying Start that we should witness this win by a horse who was bred by Darley and is now owned by Princess Haya, the wife of Sheikh Mohammed. (Props to my buddy Jason Shandler for this one)

Canada-Bound Euros

The connections of Darley Prix Jean Romanet (gr. I) top two finishers Stacelita and Antara have both indicated that stops in Canada could be on the radar for their fillies after the August 22 contest at Deauville in France. Both fillies are reported by the Racing Post as being considered for the October 16 E.P. Taylor (gr. I) at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, Ontario. The E.P. Taylor, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" series race, will be contested at 1 1/4 miles on Woodbine's E.P. Taylor turf course.

Read more about Stacelita and Antara HERE.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Places to Go

For those interested, here is my itinerary for the next two years:

Sweet Flying Dreams

Thinking back over the last few years, and of what is coming next, it’s hard not to feel emotional. I remember clearly Christmas Day in 2005, flipping through the Canadian Thoroughbred magazine and landing on a story about Carolyn Costigan, a young Canadian who was enrolled in the Darley Flying Start programme. My interest immediately piqued, I jumped online to learn more. That’s where the dream began.

Now, I’m just days away from beginning my own Flying Start journey. In the five years that have elapsed since that Christmas Day, I’ve met many of my goals in my quest to becoming a Thoroughbred industry leader. I’ve worked with broodmares and in foaling units, with yearlings doing sales prep, breaking, and training, at the racetrack as a groom and hotwalker, as an office assistant and an editorial intern. All of these were wonderful accomplishments, and important stepping stones along the path to Flying Start, which was the most important target.

Like in any journey, there have been important people to help me along the way. There are a few special ones I’d like to point out:

My parents: My parents ingrained in me many valuable principles from a young age. Three things in particular I have always known are to work hard, have proper manners, and most importantly, to always go after your dream. I think once my parents realized it was inevitable that I would have a career with Thoroughbreds, they pushed me to reach the very top; mediocrity was never an option. For that I will be forever grateful.

My parents are also the type of people that did everything to help me succeed. They gave up their days off to take me to the races to see my favourite horses, including nationwide treks to Kentucky, New York, and California. They ensured that I met the most influential people in the business at a young age, whether that meant bullying our way into paddocks or sneaking onto backstretches. They made me realize that it takes more than just a name to succeed. It takes heart and resilience and a little faith, and today I’m realizing the results of all of those things.

Lauri Kenny: The day I started working at Schonberg Farm (July 4, 2005), I believe was also the day Lauri took me in as another daughter. Over the last five years I have been closer to Lauri than anyone else, and there are times I swear we are telepathically connected. We basically finish one another’s sentences, and it still amazes me how Lauri always seems to know what’s best for me. He can tell me something I hate hearing at the time, but it won’t take me long to realize he knew what he was doing. Lauri understands me better than anyone else does, he is unconditionally there for me, and I don’t know what I would ever do without him.

Liz Pathak: I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and when I met Liz in September 2008, I knew this was good news. Liz had just returned to Ontario fresh from Flying Start, and I was never more eager to meet someone than when I met up with Liz to inspect yearlings at Woodbine. From the day we met Liz began helping me with my flying start quest, and I believe having her as a reference had a great impact on my being selected for the programme.

So here I go, on to the next great chapter of my life. I cannot imagine the wonderful happenings the next two years will hold, but I can promise to cherish each one and do myself and those who believe in me proud. I hope you will follow my journey, every step along the way.     

Monday, August 9, 2010

Big Weekend for Canadian Sires

While interning at The Blood-Horse earlier this year, I wrote this feature on the improving market for Canadian sires. This weekend, the status of that market was confirmed, as three young sires with Canadian connections made headlines.

The most notable development was the rise of first year sire Old Forester to the top of the North American freshman sire list after his daughters Tree Pose and Shadowsinthenight finished 1-2 in the August 8 Nandi Stakes at Woodbine. The son of Forestry, who stood in 2010 at T.C. Westmeath Stud in Ontario for a $4,000 fee, now has four winners from 10 runners with earnings of $349,678. That puts him atop Congrats (2010 stud fee $4,500) and Bluegrass Cat ($25,000) on the freshman sire list.

The previous day, Sam-Son Farm stallion Strut the Stage earned his first winner as a sire when Born to Boogie won in his initial start at Woodbine. Strut the Stage, a grade II winner and multiple stakes winner, stands at Sam-Son’s Milton, Ontario farm. The son of Theatrical’s 2010 fee was $2,500.

Finally, Added Edge, a son of Smart Strike who stands in Iowa, earned his first winner when his daughter Ginger Added scored at Prairie Meadows on August 7. Added Edge was not bred or based in Canada and does not stand there. He was, however, Canada’s champion 2-year-old of 2002.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Camera Shy

I've been trying to gather the courage for a few months now to start video blogging (vlogging?). My source of inspiration is Rick Mercer, a Canadian television personality who enjoys reporting on trends and politics in this country. His show each week features a rant, such as the following:

Can I pull it off? Do you see a "Riley Report" in my future?

Wando Wanders Home

While I’ve let Turf Beat go quiet recently as I prepare for Darley Flying Start, I couldn’t go without mentioning the homecoming of Wando.

On July 17, Wando returned to Schonberg Farm from Lane’s End in Versailles, Kentucky, where he stood his first five seasons at stud. For those who don’t know Wando (you’ve obviously had your head buried in the sand…er, Polytrack? but nonetheless…) he is owned and bred by Gus Schickedanz, and is the last winner of the Canadian Triple Crown, a hat trick he achieved in 2003 for trainer Mike Keogh.

For me, there is no other horse (or human), like Wando. I won’t go through the tiresome story about how as a 15-year-old fan I gained the friendship of Wando’s human connections and went on to work for both Schickedanz and Keogh. That’s not the real story here. The real story is the feeling I experience each and every time I see Wando.

It’s not something that words can do justice, and it can only be really understood by someone who has felt the same thing. It’s the lump in my throat as I take in his spectacular aura, and the butterflies that flutter about in my stomach when I touch him. As I let my fingers caress his coppery coat, I sometimes have to fight back tears as I attempt to understand how such a fantastic animal can be so serene and loving. Something in me jumps to life when I see my Wando. I can recall once being particularly sad and visiting him. While nothing made any more sense, everything somehow seemed to be ok.

Just last week while spending the night at the farm, I wandered to the stallion barn to visit Wando. I found him snoozing near the door. Slipping inside, I wrapped my arms around his withers and pressed my cheek against his neck, staying this way for at least 10 minutes. Wando didn’t so much as twitch a muscle.

It’s hard for me to write about my horse without gushing and ranting on, so I’ll wrap this up. I just want to say, I’m glad Wando is home, and I hope I get to spend many more special moments with him.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mainstream Mayhem

In the Thoroughbred industry, the media has a key role to play in bridging the gap between newsmakers and fans. It is a journalist’s duty to report the facts so as to keep audiences well informed. With well-informed audiences, we will maintain interest and grow fans, which spawn industry participants and people that inject money into our sport.

Informing of fans is largely achieved through trade publications, but when the opportunity arises to promote the industry and the sport in the mainstream media, it is the journalist’s duty to take full advantage of that opportunity.

With the 151st running of the Queen’s Plate on July 4, we had the perfect chance. The presence of Queen Elizabeth II for the first time since 1997 seemed to provide Woodbine a much needed revival, bringing fans out in throngs. These fans wagered the second largest daily amount in Woodbine history. The grandstand, apron, and paddock areas on July 4 were much more crowded that this blogger has ever seen in eight years of attending races at the Toronto track.

The Queen offered a bridge between racing circles and the general public, an opportunity that should have been seized by sports writers to publicize the hell out of horse racing. While there were some solid articles written for mainstream publications, it was the following article that caught my attention, and must be addressed:

Bill Lankhof is a columnist for Sun Media. In a column, a certain amount of opinion and ridicule is acceptable (although spelling and grammatical errors are never acceptable). This article, however, appeared in numerous local newspapers around Ontario as the only post race coverage of the Queen’s Plate. This is not a news article.  

The focus from the lead is on attendance issues at Woodbine, and when the focus finally turns to where it belongs (on Big Red Mike), Lankhof delves into a discussion of the gelding’s attitude and antics, most of which occurred before his win in the Plate Trial Stakes three weeks ago (Big Red Mike was considerably well behaved on Plate day). No where in his story does Lankhof mention that Big Red Mike has never been off the board in six starts, including two stakes wins, and that he is an incredibly gutsy gelding who campaigns for wonderful, hardworking connections who all more than deserved this win.

It is obvious that racing is facing issues regarding track attendance, and I am in full support of exploiting and dissecting those issues; it is the only way to reach a resolution. But I also believe there is a time and a place, such as within industry circles and trade publications. When we have the opportunity to promote our sport and product in the mainstream media (a chance that is increasingly rare), it is vital that we report the aspects of our sport that will interest the public. And there are plenty of opportunities for this. Racing has no shortage of colourful personalities, human or equine, with charming stories that will generate interest. If we are interested in seeing our industry survive, one of the most basic ways to do so is to create fans. Because without fans there are no bettors or industry participants, and without these people, there is no money. You do the math.

Friday, July 2, 2010

More Carolyn

So you may have noticed I'm writing a lot about Carolyn Costigan this week. Yes, I'm a journalist and I'm supposed to be unbiased, but what can I say, I think she's awesome! Earlier this week, I posted part of an interview I did with Carolyn where we discussed the future of racing and social media. Below is the part of the interview where she talks about her experience with horses, Roan Inish, and her training techniques. Enjoy!

KNR: Can you tell me a little more about the training you did with Roan Inish leading up to the Oaks? A lot of people were concerned that she only had one seven furlong prep this year leading up to this race, but you didn’t seem concerned at all.

CC: No, because when I was in Ireland I was experiencing that firsthand. You’ll see horses that are trained into classic races and that’s because the trainer is doing the training, they’re not relying on races to put fitness into a horse, but they say that a race is the equivalent of having four or five fast works, so you’re getting to that fitness level quicker. I had had her out in California, so I’d started a base on her already. The Fury was too short for her, seven furlongs is too short. When she came out of it I was able to get a grasp on the level of fitness that it gave her, and if it didn’t give her enough fitness for what I needed her to be for the Oaks, then I would have run in the La Lorgnette. Horses are fragile creatures. A friend of mine that worked for me in California, she said that one of Wayne Lukas’s quotes is, “horses are like strawberries, they go bad overnight.” So when you have a good horse, you have to pick and choose your races. There’s no point in wasting a race on a race that was $150,000, when I wanted her to win a $500,000 race. And then it comes down to the confidence that you can do that, and that you aren’t worried about what other people are saying. I was given the confidence and the not worrying about other people by working for Jim (Bolger). He doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks. He does his own thing. When you work for somebody like that, it rubs off. So I was confident in my ability, and confident that I didn’t care what other people thought.

KNR: And she’s obviously come through on the two most important days, the Princess Elizabeth and the Oaks. It probably made a huge difference too with you being able to get on her everyday and be able to feel how fit she was and where she was at.

CC: Exactly. You don’t know that if you’re not on them, and you’re relying on the communication of your rider. I don’t have the numbers or the need for a top quality exercise rider at the moment, because I’m able to do that myself. But someday I’m going to need a good top quality exercise riders that’s able to communicate in a way that the two of us understand what we’re talking about. And that’s just finding the right person and paying them enough.

KNR: I remember you saying to Bill Tallon yesterday about how getting on your own horses was one of the most important lessons that you took away from Jim Bolger as well.

CC: Yes. He rode his horses up until a couple years ago. I mean, he’s 68 or 67 right now.

KNR: Can you tell me a little bit about why Roan Inish began her career in Ireland? I know you were over there at the time, but just exactly what the thought process behind that was?

CC: I knew that I would be coming to Canada to write my trainers exam, and that I would be having my first full season this year, and it wouldn’t do any harm to have one of my horses in the stable that I knew everything about, that wasn’t in training with a different trainer, and the filly was a yearling turning two, and my dad just said to me over the phone, “where do you think I should send this horse, to which trainer?” And I said quite honest, the only trainer that I think is worth any salt, worth their weight, in the world, is Jim (Bolger). He said, “alright, I’ll send her there, then you’ll know everything about her when you start training her.”

KNR: Of the horses that you currently have, did you have just her over there?

CC: Yes, just her. And she’s got lovely breeding, we own the dam, and we just thought if we could add something a little bit exotic to the mare’s page, ie. the horse wins some races in Ireland or Europe, you’re just doing something a bit more proactive for the broodmare’s pedigree.

KNR: Going back a bit, I wonder if you could explain to me a little about when you started getting involved with horses, at a young age, and then when you got into Thoroughbreds?

CC: I always loved horses, and I went to school with the idea that I would do pre med courses and become a vet, but my physics grades weren’t high enough. You probably know that becoming a veterinarian in Canada is probably the hardest course to get into.

CC: We got our first racehorse when I was probably 13. It was four years before we saw the inside of the winner’s circle. We’d go to the races at Hastings Park and we were the best dressed people there. But the horses were useless. So we learned the right way, because when you have the winners right away you think it’s easy, and it’s not an easy game. The lows can be long and painful, so you’ve gotta enjoy the wins. My parents are enjoying the Oaks win so much. We know what it’s like to be in a lull.

KNR: Who was the first really good horse that you worked around?

CC: I was with Arravale when she was being broken. I learned how to break yearlings at Windfields Farm in Oshawa. And she was one of the yearlings being broken at the time. The guy that was in charge of the yearlings there, his name was John Neville. He was an older Englishman. He broke the yearlings in a format that I would see again later when I was on Darley’s course, because he did it the English way, which is also the Irish way, and in some places in the world they like to do it a little quicker, and they take some shortcuts, and it doesn’t always work out. And I’m thankful that I learned the right way.

KNR: What age was it that you came to Windfields?

CC: Probably 2004.

KNR: How long did you work at Windfields before you did the National Stud?

CC: I went to Windfields, and I really hadn’t done too much hands on work with horses at that stage. I was kind of thrown into the deep end. They were one week away from the yearling sales here at Woodbine, and I was given a pitchfork and told, “muck out those six boxes, and keep up with us while we muck out.” I had a very rude awakening. And the following weekend we were at the sales, and my feet were covered in blisters after the first day. I remember I climbed into bed after the first day at the sales, and I was in tears. I thought, “I don’t know how I’m going to work the rest of the week at this sale.” But I did. Then I spent the winter at Windfields, and I had a great time. Because once you start working that hard and doing physical labour, then you have a new appreciation for the people who do that job, and you know how much work is involved, and a level of pride comes into it. And you understand what it is to show a yearling that the work has gone into that yearling, and what it is for the groom to lead up their horses to the races. This is their horse. This horse looks good because of me. I think it’s so important that you experience that first hand and know what those people go through when you’re employing them, and that they really care about their horses, they get attached to them, you know. You want the horses to do well for them, because they go through the highs and lows as well. 

Artic Fern Injury Still Unclear

Gustav Schickedanz's Artic Fern, the early favourite for the July 4 Queen's Plate after winning three consecutive races in 2010, is undergoing tests to determine the cause of the lameness that resulted in him being withdrawn from consideration for the Plate earlier this week.

Artic Fern, a three-year-old son of Langfuhr - Wood Fern, by Woodman, came up sore in his left foreleg the morning after his final work in advance of the Queen's Plate on June 27. He was declared out of the $1 million Plate the following morning by trainer Mike Keogh.

According to Lauri Kenny, the farm manager for Schickedanz's Schonberg Farm, Artic Fern left Woodbine Racetrack on June 29 for the Toronto Equine Hospital, where he underwent a nuclear scintigraphy the next day. During a scintigraphy, the animal is injected with radioactive isotopes which light up hot spots on the bones. Two hot spots were found on the lame leg of Artic Fern: one on the shin, and other on the pastern.

It is unclear at this point what exactly the injury is. Artic Fern was vanned back to Woodbine Racetrack the morning of July 2, and will undergo a blocking process in the next few days. During blocking, nerves are injected with a blocking agent that will mask pain. If the lameness disappears after a specific nerve is injected, that will determine the area of the injury.

Plate on the Brain

I've been typing hard this week turning out stories for, and here are the results!

Sam-Son Trying to Win 6th Queen's Plate

It's been a great week back in the press box writing, interviewing, and researching. Thanks to The Blood-Horse for publishing my work!

Happy Canada Day!

Meet Emile Ramsammy. In addition to being one of the leading riders at Woodbine Racetrack, Emile is also one of the Toronto oval's most colourful personalities. Ever festive, Emile rides in costume each Halloween, and he is well known for dying his hair for the silks of his Queen's Plate mount each year. In 2006, Emile won the Queen's Plate aboard Edenwold while sporting orange hair.

Not surprisingly, Emile showed up to this year's Queen's Plate draw on July 1 dressed for the occasion (Canada Day).

Emile rides Mobthewarrior in the July 4 Queen's Plate. Can we expect to see his hair a hue of green for the silks of owner Andrew Fredericks, or will he break tradition and instead celebrate the corresponding American holiday? We will find out.

Thanks for playing, Emile!

Queen's Plate Interviews: Rick Balaz

As the president of Sam-Son Farm since 2008, Rick Balaz has engineered many changes to the Sam-Son program while maintaining the tradition of the strong Sam-Son turf families. I sat down yesterday with Balaz at the Queen's Plate post position draw to discuss Sam-Son Farm and its three Plate entries, and here's what he had to say:

KNR: The success that you’ve experienced since you’ve been managing the operation, how does that feel to you both professionally and personally?

RB: It’s awful. No, it feels great. But really, what I get a lot of gratification from I think is, the success is fantastic, but we’ve made a lot of changes in our management style and I think seeing that that has worked, and bringing a lot of other people into the decision making has made a big difference for us.

KNR: Can you tell me a bit about those changes you’re talking about?

RB: Yeah. Mark Frostad has always been a big part of our operation, and he still is. We do have some horses with a couple of other trainers, but Mark is still the key guy for Sam-Son. The big difference is really, the training of the horses before they get to the track. We’ve involved a lot more people who have been at the farm for a long time. We take a lot more time to prepare the horses before we send them to the track, and I think it’s made a big difference as far as the resilience of the horses when they get here, they seem to be lasting a lot longer, we’re not having the kinds of breakdowns or issues we had in the past, although, you know, it’s horse racing. But I think that’s made a big difference getting the horses to the races, they have a better chance to win. We also involve Dave Whitford who runs our Milton farm with a lot of that decision making process of sort of when we’re going to ship the horses, are they ready. You know, ultimately Mark makes the decisions once they get here, but it’s just all that stuff that happens behind the scenes that’s working a lot better for us now.

KNR: Who are the other trainers you have now?

RB: Malcolm Pierce has some horses for us, and we have one with Neil Howard down in the States.

KNR: The horses you have here for the Plate, they all come from strong Sam-Son families, and it’s obviously the fact that they’ve all been able to get here, it’s a testament to how strong those families are and how strong they’ve remained over the years.

RB: Absolutely. It’s a great legacy. We started with my late wife Tammy’s death, and we focused on breeding the best to the best, and this is what we ended up with.

KNR: With your breeding program, what type of horse are you trying to breed? What traits do you look for in your racehorses?

RB: Well, you know, typically if you look at a lot of our horses, they end up being very good turf horses, and that’s just kind of from our families, but you know, now we’re looking to become a little more commercial going forward, we’d like to have good horses, dirt horses. If we can’t run them ourselves we’d like to have horses that people would be interested in commercially. So we’re looking at changing our focus that way a little bit, you know, ultimately if you can breed an Eye of the Sphynx to an A.P. Indy, how much better can you be?

KNR: And that’s obviously working.

RB: That’s working so far, yep.

KNR: You guys have the chance to have back-to-back siblings winning the Queen’s Plate for the second time in 10 years.

RB: That would be nice. Yeah, that would be like winning the lottery.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Plate Posts Are In

Beneath a bright sun July 1 at Woodbine Racetrack, the connections of the 13 horses entered for the 151st running of the Queen's Plate gathered in the paddock to select their post positions for the July 4 race. The event was emceed by track announcer Dan Loiselle, with Canadian olympic medallist Alexandre Bilodeau serving as the guest drawmaster.

The first draw was for the selection sequence, which turned out as follows:

1. Smart Sky
2. Ghost Fleet
3. Big Red Mike
4. Roan Inish
5. Dark Cloud Dancer
6. Mobilizer
7. Giant's Tomb
8. Hotep
9. Mobthewarrior
10. Moment of Majesty
11. D's Wando
12. Who We Gunna Call
13. Vicar Street

After a two minute consultation period, the connections selected their positions:

1. Vicar Street, 30-1
2. Who We Gunna Call, 30-1
3. D's Wando, 20-1
4. Dark Cloud Dancer, 15-1
5. Big Red Mike, 6-1
6. Smart Sky, 30-1
7. Ghost Fleet, 20-1
8. Giant's Tomb, 12-1
9. Mobilizer, 7-2
10. Roan Inish, 9-2
11. Hotep, 3-1
12. Mobthewarrior, 10-1
13. Moment of Majesty, 12-1

I will spend the next few days tangling with my choices, but at this junction I have two sentimental choices and two logic choices. My sentimental picks are D's Wando and Mobthewarrior, both of which I helped raise and sale prep two years ago. My logic choices are Mobilizer and Roan Inish. Roan Inish trainer Carolyn Costigan has proven that she and her star filly can never be ignored, and I believe it would be foolish to overlook them now. Mobilizer is a horse that struck me from the beginning, and I believe he would have gotten a lot out of his Plate Trial runner-up effort. Attfield adds blinkers for this race.

Here are some photos from the July 1 draw:

Robert Costigan silks.

Emcee Dan Loiselle with guest drawmaster Alexandre Bilodeau.

Our beautiful racetrack.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Queen's Plate Interviews: Carolyn Costigan

It's an obvious fact: the media digs feel-good stories. That story surrounding this year's Queen's Plate is of Carolyn Costigan and Roan Inish. In less than a year as a licensed trainer, Costigan has parlayed a wealth of international experience into wins in two of Canada's most important races with the filly owned by her parents. Carolyn goes about her job with a focus on the horse, a refreshing air of confidence and a not-to-be-denied attitude.

For this reporter, however, the most intriguing tidbit about Carolyn is her obvious passion for racing, and her desire to innovate the sport in an effort to generate new fans. I was fortunate this morning to spend some time with Carolyn this morning as part of an upcoming feature for The Blood-Horse, and I was able to ask her about her ideas in detail. Here is what she said:

*"Editor's Note": As Carolyn is determined that the focus should be on the horse, she may not be pleased about this. But I find it so interesting, I couldn't help it!

KNR: One of the things that I’m really interested in talking to you about is that you seem to be really interested in getting more people involved, new fans and that kind of thing, in the industry, and I wonder if you can tell me what you think are the most important things that need to happen within the industry to grow the fan base and to make the sport thrive?

CC: Money needs to be invested in advertising and giving access to the horses online. Digital media formats like YouTube. Woodbine is only now beginning to show horses doing fast works on their website. Keeneland had been doing it before, and they’re still not doing a good enough job. All the horses that worked this morning, you should be able to go on the Woodbine website, punch in their name, and watch their work. And they need to invest more in IT.

KNR: You use Twitter…

CC: That’s really easy. I didn’t know what it was. My brother was like, you’ve got to start Twittering. My brother is 25. I was asking him, what do I need to do with my website? Because he’s young, he’s seeing the new websites that are being created, and he’s online all the time so he knows what the new things are. He said you’ve got to Twitter, that’s where you need to be.

And then, I’m always reading Inc Magazine, and Wired Magazine, and all these magazines that talk about what people are doing that’s new. So I try to read them and see if there’s something I can apply, like the webcam that’s being set up. We’ve just run into so many closed doors. We’re getting there. It’s the smallest thing now that’s holding it up. But what I read about Twitter is that Twitter is supposed to bring people to your site. So like Ray Paulick is doing now, he’ll Twitter, this is the news that I posted today, and this is today’s topic, and then you bring them to your website, then they read your blog. I’m careful with the blog that it’s about the horses, and what the horses did, and I’m trying to make the blog so that it’s not just for horsemen, it’s for people that don’t know why we do certain things, or don’t know why two-year-olds need to gallop together, or that they need company, or different little things like that, like the horses had their teeth floated today, and just being able to give little tibits that someone would say, ‘oh, I had no idea that horses had to deal with that.’

Like Darley has their Darley For Kids. It’s set up for five-year-olds, but I mean, even five-year-olds are probably bored with the Darley For Kids sites. How they’re doing a diary of the foal. Well, the foal is changing every week, and that’s where the industry has to change, it has to be proactive, and it has to realize that these things are important. And that means kids want updates all the time. I don’t want to wait until next week to see a new photo of the foal. The foal is changing every day.

KNR: Well with the nature of the media now, people have become accustomed to having up to the second updates, and that’s how the industry really needs to grow to realize that.

CC: I think one of the issues that the industry faces worldwide is that the people that are in places of control and are in charge of things like the status quo, and it’s easy to keep things the same, and it’s easier to deal with the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t know, type of philosophy. Change is hard, especially for older people. I think in some respects the industry all over the world needs to work as a team, like I think marketing people in North America should go to Australia, and see how the Australians market, because they do a fantastic job there. They just need to be proactive and talk to more people who are under 25, and see what interests them, and work at it so we can keep their interest.       

There’s a famous quote out of the movie Let It Ride where the main character’s wife is with him in the Turf Club, and she says to him, “I don’t understand why everybody has to gamble, why can’t you just watch the horse race?” And he says, “there’s no racing without betting.”

There’s no racing without betting. And there’s no betting without bettors…

KNR: And there’s no bettors without fans.

CC: Exactly. And there’s no owners without fans. It all comes from the general population. If you can reach for the general population by making them fans, then you have access to them.

KNR: Can you tell me a little more about, it sounds like you’re having difficulties with the webcam thing, but what your goal with that is? Would it be online for people to see?

CC: Yeah. I have to be careful with the grooms and the guys that are working there. There are privacy issues, so if there’s nothing going on in the barn, then yes I would like the webcams to be on in the afternoon, you can go online and check out the horse. We would only do it with horses like, she’s the star of the stable right now, so it’s interesting for people to see her, even if she’s just standing in the box. It’s such a simple concept, but people are attracted to that.

KNR: Like they did with Mine That Bird last year at Santa Anita leading up to the Breeders’ Cup, he had the stall cam. It was called Bird Watching or something, it was really interesting even just to see him standing there.

CC: I actually just purchased a new helmet camera. It’s a bit more advanced than the one I had used previously. I didn’t publish anything I had used previously because the quality wasn’t good enough. Hopefully I’ll get that up and going and get some more video footage.

KNR: Aside from the marketing and publicity of the industry, do you have any great concerns regarding the health of the industry?

CC: Definitely. If you watch the Oaks race replay, and then the camera pans the grandstand, well it’s almost empty. And that just makes my heart deflate. It’s Canada’s premier race for fillies, and the grandstand has every right to be full. That’s just fan base, and that’s advertising, and that’s young people wanting to come. They have to have something they want to come for. If they don’t know about it, like here’s a filly that’s running against the boys in Canada’s biggest race. Well that’s a perfect opportunity for people that know very little about racing to say, “cool, the filly’s taking on the boys.” That should be, you know, I’m going to root for her, because she’s going to be the underdog.

KNR: Especially with fillies doing so well recently, having so many fillies beating the boys around the world recently, it should be a big topic.

CC: It should be. Like Zenyatta is hugely popular. And if the connections of Zenyatta never shared anything about her she wouldn’t have as big a fan base. She’d have the racing fan base, but she wouldn’t have an attraction from the general public, which she has because they share information about her. It’s just advertising, in a blunt format, it’s just telling people and making the information readily available.

I was asked by a couple of reporters yesterday at the BBQ, “so this horse raced in Ireland, how did she end up in Ireland?”, “Well, I was there.” “Oh, you were in Ireland?” All the information is online.

KNR: They didn’t do their research.

CC: Exactly. If they were online, they would know, because it’s been quite clearly stated. If you Google Carolyn Costigan, my website is, I’m paying Google to put the name of my website right there. If you Google Roan Inish, the same thing. If you Google David Moran, the same thing. Arravale Racing will pop up. So these people obviously aren’t online. So they’re already behind the eight ball. And I had to laugh, this one reporters said to me, “what time will you be working Roan Inish on Sunday?” I said, “oh, I’ll Twitter it on Saturday night.” “Oh, so where will I get that?” “It will be available on my website.” “Oh right, ok, so I have to go online.” “Yeah, you do have to go online.”

KNR: Oh my gosh, that’s unbelievable.

CC: Yeah, to you. How old are you?

KNR: 21.

CC: There you go. So we should be talking to people under 25 and saying “how do I get information to you?

That was my final assignment in Dubai, how to attract the next generation to racing.

KNR: What did that project entail?

CC: The website I’m doing right now. At the moment I don’t have anything other clients, I only have my dad, but when I do, the website is set up in a way, as I had done in the project, that you log in, as a client, and then you have your own virtual stable. There’s your webcam and you can see your horses, there’s your horses that you own with Arravale Racing, there’s a little comment about what your horse did today. And you can log on to the website anywhere in the world.