Woodbine Diary, Day 1
My day today began with my alarm going off at 3:30 a.m., the same time that I’m sure a lot of my fellow New Yorkers were ending their nights. I was scheduled on a 6:30 plane bound for Toronto for this weekend’s Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-G1), and there was no way I was going to miss my flight! After gathering my bag and bidding farewell to my cat, I hailed a taxi to LaGuardia (another story in and of itself - the driver was a 22-year-old guy whose lifelong dream is to become a professional wrestler. He was awesome.)
After arriving at the airport and going through security, I hunkered down at the gate and nursed a cup of coffee. All of a sudden, I heard my name being called out in a familiar voice, and looked up to see Valerie Clement, wife of top trainer Christophe Clement. She was on her way to Lexington for the weekend, and her plane was taking off from the gate next to mine. What a small world! We chatted for a while, and she told me how lucky I was to be going to Woodbine. It was a great way to spend the lead-up time to my flight, and I always love seeing fellow horse racing folks, especially in unexpected places!
As soon as I got on the plane my early morning caught up with me, and I dozed off pretty much right after takeoff. I woke up to an announcement that we were making our initial descent into Toronto, and I eagerly sat up and gazed out the window. It’s my first trip to this city, and I was thrilled to see the beautiful skyline from the window of the plane.
I landed and got out of the airport quickly (one of the benefits of flying so early in the morning is that there are barely any lines!) and hopped into a taxi to go straight to the track. It was a perfectly beautiful day, and I was headed straight to the backside to meet up with one of my friends, Keith McCalmont. He’s the voice behind http://www.tripledeadheat.ca, a great blog for anyone interested in Woodbine and horse racing in general. He got me signed in to the backstretch, and we started our morning at the dirt training track, watching horses take their morning exercise.
After that, we headed out to the main track to check out horses training there. This was great, because Keith not only knows everyone at the track, but he knows everything about Woodbine, too. He pointed out that Woodbine is unique in that its turf course is positioned on the outside of the main Polytrack surface, which means that horses going to train in the morning have to walk through a tunnel that goes under the grass course to get to the main surface.
We followed the horses through the tunnel, and just spent some time watching the workouts and enjoying the calm beauty of the morning.
While we were there, we spied Canadian and U.S. Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield mounted on his stakes winner Daddy Cool, who now serves as his stable pony.
Then it was off to the stables to catch up with another Woodbine legend, the great Rahy’s Attorney. The champ has been on the farm for the past year taking a vacation and has recently returned to trainer Ian Black to serve as the stable pony. He got his old stall back, ousting last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Excaper from the stall of honor in the Black barn.
Excaper doesn’t appear to hold a grudge about giving up his stall to Rahy’s Attorney.
But he did seem very interested in making sure that I was using the ABR Instagram account correctly. (Image courtesy of Keith McCalmont. Thanks, Keith!)
We followed Rahy’s Attorney as he got an education about being a stable pony, which included a calm walk to the beautiful hacking area at Woodbine, a trot down the trail and then a meander back to the barn (with a quick stop to snack on the grass underneath a huge shade tree.) Not a bad second career for the old guy!
Rahy’s Attorney awaiting his chance to train to be the stable pony.
The champ walks in Ian Black’s shedrow with Ian Black’s assistant Skippy at his side.
Rahy’s Attorney heads off to get his exercise.
Jogging at Woodbine’s beautiful hacking trail.
Grabbing a rewarding snack in the shade.
Back at the Black stable, I made friends with an absolute giant of a horse named Fifty Proof. Seriously, this guy was huge, but he was a sucker for the peppermints I had in my pocket, so we became fast friends. He was definitely a ham, too, posing for the camera at any opportunity.
Fifty Proof was so sweet. I wish he could fit in my studio apartment! (Photo courtesy of Keith McCalmont. Thanks again, Keith!)
Then it was off to trainer Carolyn M. Costigan’s barn, where we got to meet Nancy O. This sweet filly will be running in Saturday’s Natalma Stakes (Can-G2) here, but she seemed as laid back as any saddle horse. She’s a little slip of a filly, but Carolyn told us with obvious pride that she runs huge. She should be one to watch in that race! It’s always such a pleasure to see trainers interacting with their horses, and the mutual affection between Carolyn and Nancy O couldn’t be missed.
Then it was time to wrap up our backstretch adventure and head to the frontside, since the draw for the Woodbine Mile was scheduled to begin soon. We settled in at the trackside pavilion, which was beautifully set up, and the ceremony got underway. The celebrity draw host was Rosie MacLennan, Canada’s only gold medal winner in this summer’s Olympic Games, and the standing ovation she got almost brought a tear to my eye. She was gracious, funny and relatable, and she seemed genuinely pleased to be there.
With Rosie’s help, the draw for the Woodbine Mile went smoothly, and the field of nine was set for Sunday’s races.
That’s it for today, but I’ll be back tomorrow with more from wonderful Woodbine!