The last time Justin Stein answered the call to ride Stormy Lord, who will be among the favourites in Sunday’s Labeeb Stakes at Woodbine, it took the jockey eight hours to get from home to saddle.
The race, held on September 17, 2011, was the $250,000 PTHA President’s Cup at Parx, in Philadelphia, and Stein, currently in the midst of a sparkling season, decided a road trip was in order to be re-united with a horse he last piloted two years earlier.
Justin Stein making his mark at Woodbine
“We drove down. My agent (Neal Wilson) and I went for the day,” recalls Stein. “We knew we could do it time wise and wanted to avoid the hassle of the airport. It was a change of scenery - - a change of pace. I slept a little bit in the car, and drove a little bit on the way home. It was an eight-hour drive each way.”
Sandwiched between the pair of eight-hour trips was one minute and fifty-five seconds of horse racing magic, as Stein, steering an amped up Stormy Lord,engineered a perfect trip to take the spoils .
“They’d been having a bit of rain and the turf was supposed to be really bad,” says Stein. “They kept telling me to be careful, but he handled it well. The weather was just perfect and the turf seemed fine to me…and he handled it fine!”
With wet weather keeping races off the turf at Woodbine recently, it would seem likely that the four-year-old Stormy Lord will again enjoy racing over a surface with a bit of juice in it.
“He’s such a light horse, and on that kind of turf, he just skips through it,” smiles Stein.
Stormy Lord’s trip in the President’s Cup was a vision of inevitability. It was apparent that Stein had horse to spare, it was just a matter of when the jock would push the button.
The hard part, in Stein’s estimation, was getting his charge to relax. To do so, Stein resorted to a game of call and answer with his tiny, but mighty, steed.
“He was on and off the bridle, tugging at me, wanting to run, wanting to run and then he’d relax,” starts Stein. “But if I relaxed too much, he took it as a sign to pick up the bridle and get going again. It was a game we played for three-quarters of a mile, where I’d ask him to settle, he’d relax, and then I’d relax and he’d pick up the bridle again.”
It’s evident from the race video that Stormy Lord, known as ‘Chihuahua’ around the barn, was enjoying ‘the game’, but needed to run.
“It was killing me, I wanted to let him run,” laughs Stein. “I couldn’t wait for the quarter pole, so that instead of pulling I could start pushing. That’s what he was waiting for.”
When Stein did finally ‘push’, Stormy Lord surged to the lead.
“He sprinted clear. I couldn’t believe it. There was absolutely no competition for him. It was just over,” says Stein. “I expected somebody to take a run at me, but nothing ever happened. He just kicked on. It was a great feeling.”
Reunited, and it felt so good, as Stein and Stormy Lord, who in their last pairing finished fifth in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes (September 19, 2009), found the winner’s circle with impressive ease.
Stormy Lord aka Chihuahua shows his playful side
Stein recalls his earlier moments, with a then two-year-old Stormy Lord, fondly.
“His first lifetime start was on the turf, when he broke his maiden impressively,” says Stein. “I won on him again in the prep for the Summer Stakes, and he showed that he was going to be a speed type horse in that race. It’s nice to be back on him.”
The jock knows that Stormy Lord has grown up a lot since their last outing together.
“He was a pretty green horse when I was riding him, and he was starting to learn about his career and what he was doing,” recalls Stein. “Now, he’s a lot more mature.”
A lot has changed for Stein in the two year’s since he last partnered with Stormy Lord as well. His family has grown - - Stein, and his wife Renee, are proud parents of Owen, Jeremy and Elias; just this year, his new agent has expanded his client base; and, by his own reasoning, he’s grown as a jockey finding ways to win from on and off the pace.
Stormy Lord wins the Grade 2 Connaught Cup
A modest Stein, currently fifth in the Woodbine colony with 76 wins, is already well ahead of his 58 wins in 2010 and on track to easily surpass the 80 victories he enjoyed in 2008.
“I attribute it to having a new agent. I’ve always known I could do better than I have the past few years,” explains Stein. “I was very frustrated with that. I’ve been getting my foot in the door at certain barns, and showing them that I can perform on their horses. Given those chances, that creates opportunity.”
Stein certainly appreciated the opportunities afforded to him last year by trainer Ian Black, who gave the jock the call on the immense Fifty Proof, who Stein steered to a second place finish in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer, as well as a memorable fifth-place effort in the Grade 1 Canadian International.
“When you perform, and have results, the opportunities start to come and that’s what this game is about,” says Stein. “Leading riders like Luis Contreras, Chantal (Sutherland), when she was here, and Emma (Wilson), prove that the more you win the better you do, the better quality of horses you’ll get to ride.”
Stein thrilled after another fine effort with Fifty Proof
The 31-year-old New Westminster, BC Native has propelled his new found momentum into a successful 2011 campaign. In addition to winning the Grade 3 Eclipse Stakes with Fifty Proof, earlier this meet, and his recent result with Stormy Lord, Stein has also scored stakes victories with Mike DePaulo’s Quick Code (Kenora Stakes) and Paul Buttigieg’s Gypsy Ring (Overskate Stakes).
“It’s been an extremely fulfilling year this year. Being in the top five, I feel like I’m the leading rider,” exclaims Stein. “It’s a great feeling not riding horses expected to finish last all the time, or riding horses that aren’t 20-1 or 30-1 all the time. They’re running in the money, it’s nice they’re picking up the bridle and running down the lane”
Of course, there’s more to winning races than opportunity - - there’s also hard work and dedication, something that Stein has in spades. In frigid February, I caught up with Stein at Pine Valley Training Centre where he was working a number of horses, including his eventual Queen’s Plate mount, Ojibway Signal.
The BC native isn’t shy about the snow.
“I ski and snowshoe a lot in the winter,” advises Stein about his off-season fitness routine. “I snowshoe miles and miles. I take my dog out and find the deepest snow I can find and go hike."
Stein aboard the gigantic Fifty Proof
Now with the meet in full swing, and a distinct lack of snow on the ground (for now), Stein is keeping fit, in part, in a manner in which many parents can relate.
“Just getting on as many horses as I get on keeps me fit and chasing my three young children around helps!” laughs Stein. “They keep me very busy.”
Stein, whose body is covered with more tattoos than he can count, is happy to be making his own mark on the Woodbine meet, and he’s hoping to see his name inked in the program for even more stakes races going forward.
“I’d like to start winning more stake races and keep improving the quality of horses I’ve been riding,” says Stein. “I’m pretty happy with where I’m at. I just have to remember not to get complacent and to keep working hard to move forward in my career - - and to remember to enjoy it.”
Stormy Lord with assistant trainer Skippy Bowen
And as for those tattoos…
“My whole left arm is pretty much covered,” starts Stein. “I have three pieces on my right arm. My wife’s name is just over my heart. I have my dog tattooed on my left calf, he’s a border collie. I have lots. I can’t put a number on it."
Although Stein, at four-foot-eleven, may not have the largest canvas to work with, he’s not out of room for art, just yet.
“Every once in a while I get tired of the pain of getting tattoos and I’ll take a year off, but then I’ll get hungry for one,” says Stein. “I ‘d like to get something for my boys, for my job, things that are significant to me. Maybe something for my belief and faith in Jesus.”
A banner year for the journeyman
With the weeks winding down on what has been a solid season for Stein, the jockey is taking his success in stride and holds out hope that maybe next year he’ll get a second chance at winning the Canadian International.
“It’s exciting to be in these races when people are cheering for you as a Canadian,” beams Stein. “The crowd gave so much encouragement to me and Fifty Proof as we walked from the paddock to the racetrack. It was a great feeling and I look forward to more of those moments.”
A kiss for luck!
* * *
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"I would've rather it come off. I was wrong," - - the efficiently honest Mike DePaulo reflects on Pender Harbour's victory in the Bunty Lawless, raced over a soggy Woodbine turf."
RACE CALL OF THE WEEK
"Rapid Redux runs up the tally! 19 in a row!"
Rapid Redux wins his 19th in a row
This and That
If you're not following Mike Welsch's excellent workout reports in advance of next week's Breeders' Cup, you should be: Breeders' Cup Clocker: Nothing flashy from Giant Ryan in prep for Breeders' Cup Sprint:
Giant Ryan (four furlongs in 48.7 seconds): For a horse who has won six straight races, including a Grade 1 stakes, and is prepping for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, one might have expected to see a little livelier work just 10 days out from the race. Instead, Giant Ryan breezed a relatively easy half-mile under jockey Willie Martinez, covering his opening quarter in 24.56 before coming home the final two furlongs in 24.20 without any real urging. He galloped out five-eighths in 1:02.77 in what turned out to be no more than a maintenance move. I would have liked to have seen a little more but then again this is a horse who was able to beat a solid, Grade 1 field in the Vosburgh off a four-month hiatus with just an easy three-furlong and average half-mile work under his belt.
Bill Finley advises in his ESPN column that he'd like to see the Breeders' Cup return to Woodbine: Hey, Breeders' Cup: Hit the road:
It's cold and gray here today in Toronto, but everything else about this Canadian city makes you remember that it's a perfect fit for the Breeders' Cup. You have a big city, a nice, large facility in Woodbine, enthusiastic racing fans, a more-than-capable management team and a proven record of success when it comes to hosting racing's year-end championship.
But it hasn't been here in 15 years and it's a pretty safe bet that it's never coming back. Nor is it likely to come to Monmouth, Lone Star or Arlington, three other former hosts. It's become pretty clear what the Breeders' Cup wants and doesn't want when it picks host sites and Churchill Downs, Santa Anita and, maybe, Belmont, are the only tracks that fit their criteria.
P.A. Montouri, writing for Yahoo, asks, Who is the Best “Euro Invader” Trainer of the Breeders’ Cup Era?
But the U.S. invasion by European stables didn't begin with the Coolmore operation at Ballydoyle. Horse racing lore says that it was the Washington International Stakes at Laurel Park, Maryland in the 1950s (forefather of the Breeders' Cup Turf race), and the later million-dollar bonus for any horse that swept the International, the Canadian International Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, and the Turf Classic (now the Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational) at Belmont Park that truly began the wave.
The Washington International had become so prestigious that it even drew Soviet thoroughbreds during the Cold War in the 1960s. So while O'Brien's growing list of American Grade I titles already may have assured his status as the best European-based trainer to have plied his trade in the New World, the list of Euro trainers to compete on American soil is rich with tradition.
TROT Magazine is excited about Saturday's Breeders Crown extravaganza at Woodbine and they want you to know that their Breeders Crown Fantasy Pool is Open:
Enter Trot Magazine's Breeders Crown Fantasy Pool to win one free night at the Hilton Hotel in London, Ontario, and a shot at $25,000 in cash. Three prize winners will be named.
Pick the driver, trainer and horse from each category that you think you will be the best on Saturday, October 29 at Woodbine Racetrack. The three contestants with the highest point totals win seats to the 2011 Trot Canada National Handicapping Championship on Saturday, November 12 at The Raceway at Western Fair District, in London, Ontario, which is limited to a maximum of a total 50 seats.
The contest is now open and closes on Saturday, October 29.
Still Need More?
As always, keep track of the latest goings on in the world of horse racing by clicking into TripleDeadHeat's Woodbine News page or join in on the conversation by following TripleDeadHeat on Twitter.
Sunday's card at Woodbine featured a number of races for two-year-olds, so I spent some time in the paddock with my camera to snap shots of all the up-and-coming talent. The impressive Kitty's Got Class was all class to win the Fanfreluche Stakes, but earlier races on the day featured nice Ontario-breds such as Rocky Romano and Noble Chief who, despite not winning, showed plenty of promise.
(As always, double-left click the picture to enlarge it and use your 'Back' button to return to the Photo Essay)
Quality Lass led early...
Justin Stein scooped the ride on Nikkis Bold Gelato
Memories Last Love didn't love finishing second last
Bagatelle Park and Patrick Husbands trot to the track
Picture Purr-fect - Kitty's Got Class
* Race 2 on Sunday's Card *
Never Stop Looking at this handsome horse
Noble Chief - A beautifully bred son of El Prado
Strong Defence made a strong appearance first time out
No joy for Tom Joy on this day
Exchange Can Rate wins in a blanket finish
Exchange Can Rate returns to the winner's circle
* Race 1 on Sunday's Card *
I cat tuned up for a big performance
Best in Egbert
Johnny La Rue
The Bear Vow promises to do better next time
Glowing Monarch breaks his maiden
Ken Middleton banters with Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson