Friday April 2nd will mark the return the return of thoroughbred racing to Woodbine - and there are plenty of changes in store.
Welcome Back To Beautiful Woodbine
There will be several new names on the trainer index in your program that have travelled to Woodbine from south of the border. Bill Tallon reported on some of the changes for the Daily Racing Form.
Floridians Mike McDonald and Jim Hatchett have been assigned ten and fifteen stalls, respectively. Gulfstream-based conditioner Wesley Ward has stalls for five horses.
Larry Rivelli arrives from Illinois to fill 10 stalls.
Barry Abrams, who leaves California in search of gold at Woodbine, will have 12 stalls.
Don't worry warm weather newcomers...this photo was taken in February
Bill Mott will have 12 stalls to be overseen by Rachel Halden as Mott's local assistant.
In addition to the folks you will be seeing, there are a few folks you won't.
Jockeys Justin Stein, Chantal Sutherland and Martin Ramirez will be sitting out the first three days of the meeting due to suspensions.
Chantal will be back...eventually.
High percentage trainer Terry Jordan is serving a thirty day suspension through May 1, due to Hollywood Hit's positive test for the Class 3 drug acepromazine following his victory in the King Corrie Stakes. Jordan's twenty horses are under the care of trainer Danny O'Callaghan during that time so mark your program accordingly.
This track is now IN session
If the odds on your program look different, it's due to the fact that Woodbine has replaced Jennifer Morrison, who held the position of Woodbine's morning-line maker for the past 12 years, with Ernie Peri.
Morrison is now the Managing Editor of Canadian Thoroughbred and continues to maintain her popular Thoroughblog.
There'll be plenty of catching up to do as Woodbine opens on Friday
Peri had been working at Woodbine as a clocker and entry clerk for the past four years. It will be interesting to see what affect this has on the wagering...if any.
There are also plenty of structural changes at Woodbine for 2010 which were outlined in an extremely thorough piece by Bill Tallon in the DRF. Of note to those regulars looking for their favourite seat:
Minor downsizing of the Favorites restaurant and Finish Line bar areas on the second floor are necessary in order to accommodate a new escalator. Woodbine is aiming to complete the escalator project in time for the Queen's Plate, which will be run July 4.
Hoofbeats Lounge, the bar area and patio with a trackside view that had been the only bastion for the horseplayer since the opening of the slots area in March 2000, closed its wagering area last December.
Still, change is often a good thing. New people, new horses, perhaps a new place to sit. And for handicappers, a clean slate to work with. For those opening day handicappers, take note that trainer Nick Gonzalez is often a fast starter and that jockey Emile Ramsammy can run very hot in the early going.
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The first day of spring arrived on March 20th. It is a time for renewal as nature begins to replenish and bloom. For those who make their living at the racetrack, it’s a chance for a fresh start.
The hard working folks on the backstretch have been preparing on the dirt training track since the middle of February. The main track opened for business on March 17th and I hit the backstretch last week to catch up with the local talent.
Tom Cosgrove, director of thoroughbred racing, has been kept very busy with a horde of thundering hooves.
“We’ve got almost 1600 horses here now and we’re trying to take care of all the trainers needs as they ship in,” said Cosgrove. “The condition book is ready and the stakes schedule is out. We’re just waiting for the season to begin. Entries will be taken next week.”
Tom Cosgrove is looking forward to the first race of 2010
Each year brings new challenges for Cosgrove and his staff.
“This place is 53 years old and each year it changes and evolves,” smiled Cosgrove. “For example, the Queen’s Plate has been moved to July 4th (to accommodate a possible visit by The Queen) and as a result of that a lot of preparatory races for the Plate are affected. This year, the Plate Trial and Woodbine Oaks will be held on June 13th.”
As always, the goal is excellence.
“We want to duplicate what we had last year in 2010 which was a very successful season for us and continue to build on that.”
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It’s a well known fact that bears hibernate in the winter time and Reade Baker’s assistant trainer Leroy Trotman has been busy waking a stable full of ‘Bears’ from their slumber.
Baker’s successful operation includes a large number of powerful Bear Stables runners with cheeky names such as It’s Time Bear and Fastin Bear but their most famous ‘Bear’ is 2009 Horse of the Year Fatal Bullet.
“Fatal Bullet is the number one Bear but there’s a few Bear horses that should be out there in 2010,” laughed Trotman. “Bears Hard Ten showed a lot of promise in the Display Stakes last year. Bear Tough Guy (winner of the Grey Stakes) has been training really impressive.”
You have to click quick to get a photo of Fatal Bullet
Was there time for Trotman to hibernate while Woodbine was dark?
“Nooo, I was at Palm Meadows with Reade,” grinned the conditioner. “I can came home for Christmas then straight back down to Florida.”
Is it hard to raise a bear from its slumber?
“It’s a good thing that they had the winter off and had a good rest,” explained Trotman. “I just listen to my horses and see how they react to everyday training and then go from there.”
Leroy Trotman couldn't 'bear' to be away from Woodbine
The old saying goes that you catch more flies with honey. At Reade Baker’s barn it’s possible you might catch a bear.
One of the great things about the backstretch is the vast array of people you meet from all over the world.
Exercise rider Shawn Alford embodies the typical well-traveled horseman.
“I’ve been riding for 25 years and I’ve been traveling all around the world,” said Alford. “I’m from India but I’ve been to Dubai and Australia all the time race riding and getting experience in different countries but I really enjoy Canada.”
Alford requested a photo in front of his favourite tree - a view into his visual side.
“ I am an artist. I do oil paintings and I’m also an engineer,” stated the talented rider. “The racing here is great and the Canadian people are very nice.”
Shawn Ashmore thinks racing at Woodbine is a tree-t
Although it was a cold morning when I caught up with Alford aboard Mike Mattine’s three-year-old Serena’s Tiger, the rider wasn’t complaining.
“If you’ve been living here it’s not so bad,” laughed Alford. “But if you’re a newcomer you really do feel the cold.”
One person who hasn’t been feeling the cold is 2009 Queen’s Plate winning jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva.
“I went to Brazil for a couple months,” grinned the friendly jock. “It was very nice. I went to the rain forest for almost two weeks and that was good. No computer, no cell phone, nothing. Just myself, the birds and the animals.”
Eurico Rosa da Silva left the rainforests of Brazil for the rain of Rexdale
The ebullient Brazilian is looking forward to a busy 2010 campaign having already taken sprinter Fatal Bullet out for a spin.
“I’m so excited to see Fatal Bullet back,” smiled da Silva. “And I’m very happy with the way he worked.”
The jockey has been traveling wide and far to work some serious horses for the upcoming campaign.
“I have a very promising year ahead with some nice horses coming up,” said da Silva. “I went to Florida to work Biofuel and she is doing so good.”
Biofuel, Canada’s Co-Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, was headed for Breeders' Cup glory in the Juvenile Fillies, but encountered some tough racing luck when bumped in the stretch ultimately finishing fourth, just 1-1/2 lengths behind She Be Wild.
I hope that in da Silva’s 2010 campaign there will be 'good luck for everybody'.
The return to the backstretch also means the return of familiar faces.
Trainer David Bell has been conditioning horses for more than 22 years and you’ll rarely see him on the main track without his pony Radar.
“I’d say Radar’s fifteen, but he’s been fifteen for a while now,” laughed Bell. “I’ve had him about six or seven years. He belonged to Robbie King, and at the time I had a pony who was getting to be too old to work anymore, so I ended up retiring him and getting Radar. At the time I said, when this one is ready to retire, I’m retiring too.”
Radar and David Bell keeping a watchful eye
Those who spend a bit of time on the rail will notice a routine Radar has with trainer Steve Attard.
As Bell surveys the workouts on the main track aboard his trusty pony, Attard - watching from the rail - will shake his pocket ever so slightly. Like a magnet, Radar hones in on the treat-giving trainer and bends his muzzle into Attard for a mint.
But it’s not all fun and games. Bell does have a big goal for 2010.
“To win some races,” laughed Bell. “I have a bunch of nice horses that really haven’t proven themselves yet but I think it could be a really good group.”
The veteran conditioner hardly needs any help finding the winner’s circle having won Stakes races with a bounty of memorable horses including Kissin Kris, Woolloomooloo and more recently with Roses N’ Wine and Shadowless.
Click on this link to view David Bell's official website.
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As racing fans prepare to hear Dan Loiselle boom out his first race call of 2010, my backstretch visit serves to remind that the workout lines on the bottom of the racing form are more than just lines on a page - they’re the culmination of a lot of hard work by a talented group of horsepeople.
They’re at the post!
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Please note, the latest edition of Down The Stretch is at the track and looking better than ever!