The oldest continuously run race in North America has produced its share of against-all-odds tales since its establishment in 1860. This one surely ranks among them.
Tino, 74, owns more than 1,300 victories and his stable has produced almost $30 million in purse earnings since he began training in 1972, according to Equibase. He yearns to win the Queen’s Plate, a big one that has eluded him, and would relish breaking through with Keep Grinding, a $13,000 yearling purchase that represents the second horse 17-year-old Joshua has owned.
And here is the kicker. Among those standing in the way of this storybook finish is Joshua’s father, Kevin, a prominent Woodbine trainer who may send as many as four contenders into the opening leg of Canada’s Triple Crown.
Not surprisingly, all of this has Joshua’s head spinning just a bit.
“It’s pretty amazing,” he said. “At my age, I wouldn’t have thought I would have a horse of this caliber. It feels great to be in this moment.”
Joshua is the latest in a long line of Attard’s to show an affinity for horse racing and a keen eye for an inexpensive horse. Our Eyes Touched, a yearling filly that he purchased for $15,000 in 2018, won a pair of races in his first venture as an owner. Keep Grinding already is graded-stakes placed, having edged Haddassah for second in the July 11 Marine Stakes, a Grade 3 race at Woodbine. Haddassah, Woodbine Oaks-winning filly Munnyfor Ro, and allowance winner Harlan Estate are among the contenders Kevin expects to send into the Queen’s Plate.
Joshua apparently saw in Keep Grinding qualities that veteran buyers missed. He and Tino negotiated a private purchase after the Ontario-bred son of Tizway failed to sell in the auction ring.
“That horse interested me because he was a good-looking individual, a good-looking colt,” Joshua said. “He’s got a nice shoulder to him. He had a nice long walk. His personality during the sale, nothing bothered him. He was pretty calm and collected.
“He had a nice white face, four white socks. His pedigree was decent, not outstanding. I said, ‘You know what, if I’m going to buy a horse for the price I’m looking for, he’s the horse I have to buy.’ ”
His father had emphasized the need to remain disciplined and stay within a budget. “I was going to be willing to go up to $20,000,” Kevin said. “But he wasn’t going to go much more than that, that’s for sure.”
The Attard’s were not alarmed when others dismissed the yearling.
“It is what it is. Sometimes horses are not attractive to the people, I guess. His pedigree is not the flashiest,” Kevin said.
Not the flashiest? Although Tizway was an accomplished runner in his own right and is a son of Tiznow, the only two-time winner in Breeders’ Cup Classic history, he has generally failed to pass on quality to his progeny. He now serves as a stallion in Turkey.
The Attard’s were prepared to overlook that. They know that top runners come in all sizes and shapes – and at all prices.
“That’s why people come into this game. Sometimes it doesn’t cost a lot to get a decent horse and get a chance at something special,” Kevin said.
Joshua drew on his hockey experience in naming the youngster. He prides himself on his hard work as a right wing and also admires the gritty style of Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner.
“If I’m in the corners trying to get the puck off another player, I keep grinding. I try my best to get the puck out of there and into the opposite end,” Joshua said. “I also wanted a name that motivates people. It shows that whatever happens in life, you’ve got to keep grinding.”
Joshua hoped the horse would develop into a solid competitor in the claiming ranks. A race as prestigious as the Queen’s Plate never entered his thinking.
“In his training as a 2-year-old, the horse started to show promise and ability,” Kevin said. “His first race, he showed his training was going to transpire to the afternoon. It’s not all the time that happens.”
After a pair of fourth-place efforts, Keep Grinding did just that and stuck his neck in front to win a maiden special weight race last Nov. 20 at 1 1/16 miles at Woodbine to close his juvenile campaign. In his two starts this year, he took third in an allowance-optional claiming race before he was a solid second in the 1 1/16-mile Marine Stakes, boosting his career earnings to $87,982.
Tino is encouraged by what he sees each morning in training. “Every day,” he said, “better and better.”
Keep Grinding is certainly proven on Woodbine’s Tapeta surface. Joshua thinks the mile and a quarter of the Queen’s Plate will be to their advantage. “The way he runs, he’s got a lot of tactical speed. I think the distance will help him a lot,” the teenager said.
Tino is optimistic that Keep Grinding will live up to his name with so much at stake in the Queen’s Plate. “He’s honest,” he said. “He’ll give you how much he’s got.”
Whatever the outcome, Joshua looks forward to becoming the latest Attard to work in the racing industry in some capacity. He is preparing to enroll as a freshman at Humber College, a short distance from Woodbine.