Trainer Roger Attfield made a lasting impression when he spoke during his induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. in 2012. He used the occasion to make a heartfelt plea in behalf of the sport that means everything to him.
“The best horse should be able to win,” he told those in attendance. “We’ve got to clean up some of the stuff going on out there and get rid of the rubbish. You only need two or three bad apples to spoil the basket.”
Not surprisingly, Attfield received a tremendous ovation, for this was plain talk from a conditioner who relies strictly on horsemanship to bring out the best in his trainees. In other words, he always did things the right way and asked for nothing more than a level playing field, confident that his training acumen would take care of the rest.
As Attfield sees it, the future of the industry depends on gaining the public’s confidence that victory stems from the best combined efforts of the horse, trainer, and jockey – and nothing else.
“I am conscientious about being involved with organizations that are working hard to get this done, and I think we will get this done,” Attfield said in 2015. “I really want to see this happen for the younger trainers.”
Attfield, 80, deserves to be one of the most influential voices in the sport. He is the first Canadian-based trainer to be inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame. He joined Lucien Laurin, trainer of the famed Secretariat, as the only trainers to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canada and the United States. Mark Casse will join them later this summer.
“I’m very honored to be there,” Attfield said. “I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have such a good career. We all work so hard as trainers in a business with many ups and downs, more downs than ups.”
As with all trainers, Attfield has endured his share of disappointments since he took out his trainer’s license in 1971, some of the setbacks so crushing that he said he struggled when it was time to report to the barn the next morning. But his work ethic and resilience ultimately prevailed.
He’s won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s leading trainer eight times, second only to the aforementioned Casse. He sent out three Canadian Triple Crown winners – With Approval, Izvestia, and Peteski – and his horses have won 21 Triple Crown races north of the border. His horses took the prestigious Queen’s Plate a record eight times. He saddled no less than 50 Sovereign Award winners.
When Attfield was asked about the key to his success, he responded, “Detail, detail, detail.”
“I’ve been around horses all my life,” he said. “They are all individual characters. Some you have to be sterner with than others. Some are better athletes than others. You have to manage them well.”
Attfield is closing in on 2,000 career victories; his stable has banked more than $105.8 million in earnings through June 26, 2020. He is skilled at prompting a peak performance at a critical time. There is no better example of that than Perfect Shirl, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf in 2011. She went off at 27-1 after going winless in six previous starts that year.
Attfield’s only concession to age was to consolidate what had been a far-flung operation. “I can be right on top of it all,” he said.
He climbs aboard his pony and accompanies each set of horses to the training track every morning, bringing the same enthusiasm he possessed when he opened his stable nearly five decades ago. He has no interest in retiring.
Note: This story was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated.
- Earned degree in agriculture, specializing in farm management, from Parkhurst College in England
- Briefly operated clothing boutique before turning to training full time
- Earned first graded stakes win when Selous Scout took the Grade 1 Pan American at Florida’s Gulfstream Park in 1985
- Gained popular victory when Musketier, a 9-year-old gray horse, won the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland Race Course in 2011
- Elected to Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2012