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