Monday, May 25, 2009

Path To The Queen's Plate: Team Southdale Rallying Around Rahy's Attorney

What follows is the third installment of my ongoing diary detailing the preparation and hard work that goes into training a contender for the Queen's Plate. While many racing fans only see the two minutes of action that occurs on the track, trainer Ian Black has graciously provided Triple Dead Heat with access to his barn as he conditions Southdale for North America's oldest thoroughbred graded stakes race. Over the coming weeks I will introduce you to the people behind the scenes, provide footage from workouts, and inside access to race day events. I'm thankful to Ian Black and his team for this opportunity and hope the resulting diary will be as much fun to read as it has been for me to experience.

May 9, 2009 Diary Entry An Introduction including a Cast of Characters.
May 13, 2009 Diary Entry A Workout Day For Southdale.

Monday May 25, 2009

For all the hard work that goes into conditioning a horse for the Queen's Plate, the most difficult task of late for trainer Ian Black has been finding a race for Southdale. The Woodbine calendar includes a 1 1/8M Allowance race for three year-olds that has carried over on consecutive days without filling. The buzz on the backstretch is that fellow Plate contenders Keino West and Bucephalus would entertain the planned allowance race but other prospective challengers have yet to step up. Should the race fail to fill this week Woodbine fans would be rewarded with a full, highly competitive, field in the Plate Trial on Sunday.

While I was away for a week in New York, Southdale added another bullet work to his resume breezing four furlongs in 0:48 flat. I was in attendance at Woodbine this morning to watch Southdale stretch again, this time easily working five furlongs in 1:00.40 with Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard. Southie is sharp and ready to take his shot at a two-turn race.

The barn was in good spirits for a Monday morning, seemingly spurred on by the efforts of barn boss Rahy's Attorney. On Sunday afternoon, Rahy's Attorney finished a spirited second in a photo finish to Sterwins in the G3 Connaught Cup. This was a particularly intriguing race due to the Queen's Plate connections in the field.

1. Society's Chairman - Trained by eight-time Queen's Plate winner Roger Attfield.

2. Ice Bear - Trained by Mac Benson who conditioned one of my favourite Plate winners, La Lorgnette.

3. Rahy's Attorney - Trained by Mr. Black, who won the 2007 Plate with Mike Fox.

4. French Beret - Trained by Mark Frostad for Sam-Son Farms, a pairing that has combined for multiple Plate victories.

5. Artic Cry - This shipper arrived from GP to take on the locals.

6. Mike Fox - The Queen's Plate winner for Ian Black, piloted by Emma-Jayne Wilson.

7. Sterwins - Trained by Malcolm Pierce who worked for many years with Sam-Son Farms and looks after current Queen's Plate favourite, El Brujo. Leading jockey Patrick Husbands had the mount.

It was quite literally a who's who of Canadian racing history congregated in the paddock before the race and a real buzz about the track for this event. As post-time approached, the fans pushed up to the rail by the finish line and roared in unison as the starting gate opened and Rahy rushed to the lead.

Despite it being Rahy's first race of the 2009 campaign and carrying high weight of 126lbs, the Woodbine Mile champion romped through early fractions of 24.34, 46.94, 1:10.28 leaving French Beret and Artic Cry in his tracks. Turning for home, the Woodbine fans were on their feet cheering Rahy through the stretch which seemed to spur the five year-old on as he engaged in battle with Sterwins. With the wire approaching, Rahy made one last lunge and nearly bobbed in front of Sterwins stopping the clock in a track record time of 1:38.99 for 1 1/6M. A fantastic effort for a horse that hasn't raced since November 23rd. The previous track record of 1:39.20, set by Jet Freighter in 1995, was Woodbine's longest standing track record. Jet Freighter was trained by the late Tony Mattine who passed away Friday at the age of 74.

This incredible race was a demonstration of sheer, stubborn, will-to-win by Rahy's Attorney. On reflection this morning, Black said, "I'm very proud of him, he ran his eyeballs out."

You can listen to the fans screaming for Rahy's Attorney in the video below.

Perhaps it's an effort like this that provides some extra bit of meaning to the 3AM wake-up calls and hours of work involved in providing us fans with a two-minute thrill. Based on the warm reception from Tyler, Aline, Jeff and Ian in the video below, you would have thought Rahy had won the event. No doubt all involved are proud of his efforts.

You can watch the full video of the Connaught Cup by clicking here.

Back to the task at hand, Southdale's work this morning was fluid as the big colt enjoyed his work out and looked buoyant walking back to the barn afterwards. Emma-Jayne was happy with Southdale's work and took time to say hello and feed a few mints to Wollemi Pine and Rahy's Attorney before heading off to her next task. Just before Emma-Jayne could walk out, exercise rider Tyler Gaskin strode by and made a point of asking how the workout went and if Southie made any mistakes. I love little details like this. Gaskin may not see his name in the paper when Southdale wins, but the extra effort to ask about a workout and maybe find a way to help correct an issue in upcoming gallops shows just how well the team works together.

Southdale poses with exercise rider Tyler Gaskin

I had a moment to speak with Gaskin on Sunday morning.

TDH: How did you first get involved in riding?
TG: I've been riding since I was 14. I started galloping 15 years ago and rode my first race when I was 16 in the Barbados.

TDH: What was it like riding as a professional?
TG: I did the apprentice thing for a little while but i couldn't get that light and stay that light. So in 2001 I went to Fort Erie and did it without my apprentice licence and rode there for a few years.

TDH: What do you try to accomplish in gallops with Southdale.
TG: I'm just trying to get him to his race, going nice and easy. He's doing well. It's a good wrestling match every day. He's gotten a lot better in just a little while switching his leads.

TDH: Can you compare him to other horses you gallop?
TG: He's different than Rahy's Attorney...different as Rahy will relax and not be as much of a wrestling match. He's (Southdale) still learning, but for as good as he is he'll learn.

Gaskin's expertise does not go unnoticed. In speaking with assistant trainer Bowen about the rider's work, Bowen commented, "Tyler is a very good rider. Tyler started working Rahy's Attorney last year for us and this year he is a full-time rider for us. Tyler and I have been working together for ten years at various locations and we trust each other. Trust is huge. They (the riders) are the only ones who can tell you how the horse is feeling when you ride them. I can't."
Bowen went on to explain his expectations of Gaskin while galloping Southdale stating, "We expect him to stand on him, stay on him and go at the pace that we want and to teach them to get their leads. Everything you do with these horses is a learning experience for them."

Southdale is just one horse of many in Ian Black's barn, but in the moments I've spent observing the action, you can feel Black's influence pulling the strings in the lineup of handlers engaged each day with the Queen's Plate hopeful. Like any athlete, Southdale needs to be challenged to grow and learn. It's safe to say that Southdale is in capable hands. Who knew that horse racing was such a team sport?

Up next for Southdale will most likely be the Plate Trial on Sunday May 31st.

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