Woodbine Diaries, Day 2
My day started at a much more reasonable hour this morning when I headed over to the Woodbine backstretch at 7 a.m. to meet up with my friend and guide Keith McCalmont to try to find some of the contenders in this weekend’s stakes races. Our first stop was to the “Euro barn” where the horses shipping from across the pond are housed for the weekend. The view of the racetrack and grandstand from that spot was really beautiful in the morning light.
As we got out of the car, the first horse we saw was Hunters Bay, a locally based colt who made his last start in the Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga. He’s enjoyed four wins here at Woodbine and is a very handsome horse in person as he enjoyed a stroll on the turf course.
Next we saw the extremely flashy Cityscape, a British invader owned and bred by Juddmonte. He was coming back from schooling in the paddock and was relaxed and happy. We followed him as he got a bath and cooled out from his jaunt, and he seemed like a really mellow and relaxed guy to be around.
Dance And Dance, an Irish-bred horse who’s been running mostly in England was right there, too, and was just chilling out watching his caretakers bustling around him.
As we headed out of the Euro barn and over to the main stabling area, we had the opportunity to stop and watch some horses training in the starting gate. It’s always fascinating to watch the youngsters getting an education on such an important but intimidating part of their training, and the gate crew at Woodbine should be commended for the infinite patience they showed with the horses learning the ropes.
First off, the horse is taken into the gate without a rider on board to make the experience as stress-free as possible. The gate crew continuously kept a hand on the little guy to keep him reassured as he entered the gate.
Then the colt was allowed to stand and relax in the gate for a few minutes to get used to the environment.
This process was repeated a few times, and then the rider was given a leg up onto the horse.
And then they went back in the gate.
After that, the horse was backed out of the starting gate and allowed to go on his way. As you can see from this picture, this colt was happy and stress-free after his gate training, which will help him in the rest of his racing career.
After watching the gate training, we headed over to the barn where the Woodbine Mile Stakes (Can-G1) favorite Wise Dan had just arrived. I’m a big fan of Wise Dan, and was super impressed with his win in the Fourstardave Handicap (G2) at Saratoga last month. Needless to say, I was geeking out that I actually got to meet him. Wise Dan was demonstrably less impressed upon meeting me. (Which is fair. There are many words to describe me, but “fast” is definitely not among them.)
Me being super excited to meet Wise Dan.
Wise Dan being totally blasé about the whole experience.
Then we were off to see Irish Mission, who won the Breeders’ Stakes in her last outing and will be running in Sunday’s Northern Dancer Turf Stakes (Can-G1) on Sunday. She’s a giantess (and her father is Giant’s Causeway – whaddaya know?) but a total sweetheart of a filly.
Here she is making friends with Keith. Keith always has peppermints. He is savvy that way.
We also got to swing by the Mike Keogh barn, where we met Lambert Island. This good-looking guy is only two years old, and he’s a full brother to the great Wando, winner of the 2003 Canadian Triple Crown. Lambert Island isn’t ready to go to the races just yet, but he clearly was enjoying his time at the track and was lapping up the attention as he got a bath.
While we were at the Keogh barn, we spotted Woodbine Mile contender Artic Fern getting a bath, too. This guy has proven himself as a true Woodbine horse, having run all 16 of his lifetime starts here. He definitely seemed like the king of the manor as he surveyed his domain while getting his shower.
Up next was trainer David Cotey’s stable, where we saw his Woodbine Mile hopeful Riding the River. Cotey bought this gutsy gelding for only $3,500 and he’s gone on to win over $600,000 since then. This isn’t the trainer’s first time developing a diamond in the rough; Cotey also trained 2009 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mine That Bird as a two-year-old here.
As Riding the River grazed on the grass outside of his barn, David described the gelding as a gentleman, and the affection between trainer and horse was obvious.
Then we were off to Canadian and U.S. Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield’s barn, located right across from the dirt training track. Attfield’s star trainee Musketier (who will be running in the Northern Dancer this Sunday) is allowed to spend most of his time in a round pen facing the training track, and his constant companion is the stuffed bear that accompanies him everywhere. (You can see him in the background of the photo below.) These stuffed animals are in a ton of the stalls in the Attfield barn as a way to keep the horses happy and entertained, and I have to say that it’s just adorable to see so many of these powerful and talented racehorses cuddled up to various stuffed elephants, bears, dogs and even ponies.
We also got to meet Attfield’s Woodbine Mile contender Hollinger, a striking dapple grey who seemed to strike a pose with each click of my camera’s shutter.
I also got to meet last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl.
Think I look excited enough to meet her? She’s a total lovebug in person, too.
Thanks to Keith McCalmont for taking this photo!
Roger Attfield will also be running Are You Kidding Me (love the name!) tomorrow in the Summer Stakes (Can-G2). This adorable 2-year-old colt was as sweet as he could be, and snuggled right up to me for some scratching and face rubs. I think I’m in love, and I know who I’ll be rooting for in the race tomorrow!
Thanks to Keith again for this photo!
We also got to meet a pretty filly by the name of Double Guns Girl who was cuddling with her personal stuffed animal. She seemed affronted that I was taking a photo of her snuggle session, but it was too adorable to miss!
After that, it unfortunately started raining so we headed to the grandstand to watch the races in comfort.
That’s it for now, and I’ll be back tomorrow with more action out of Woodbine!