Prince Raphael, a leggy son of Shakespeare, seems to enjoy a bit of playtime. I visited the Deborah England trainee earlier this week and found the conditioner to be in good spirits and more than willing to hop into the stall with her big, and still growing, two-year-old.
Prince Raphael plays court jester for Deborah England
“He’s 16.3 hands anyway, pretty close to 17,” says England staring up at the bay behemoth. “He’s pretty big.”
As I snap photos from a comfortable distance, England tries to manoeuvre her colt’s head in the direction of the camera. Prince Raphael, playing a game of his own, is trying to get his head into England’s jacket where a treat or two might be stashed.
“Hello handsome,” coos England, upwards, at her ‘Prince’. “You’re such a handsome boy. We’re friends, aren’t we, boo boo.”
Prince Raphael, who takes some offence at the tease, whinnies defiantly.
A passing groom, Lisa Knight, advises that the colt has a girlish whinny. “His voice hasn’t changed yet,” she laughs.
The game continues, and when I finally manage to snap the photos accompanying this blog, England, with some gentle assistance from her cane, leaves the stall to talk about her big horse.
Prince Raphael finished third in his debut
But, first, the cane - - England suffered a serious injury in a fall earlier this year when coming back from training one of her top thoroughbreds.
“I was on Riley Ripasso and the stirrup leather came out and slipped off the saddle and it swung under and hit the horse under the belly,” explains England. “I just had the one stirrup and he went running and bucking and I came off. I broke my pelvis in three places and had a couple fractures in my back. But I’m better now. I’m just about healed up.”
We're going to need a pretty big crown for this 'Prince'
The injury hasn’t slowed the veteran conditioner down. She’s enjoying a solid 2011 meet with six wins from 28 starts, including a stakes victory with the aforementioned Riley Ripasso.
Her modest stable runs on quality, not quantity, with Woolly Bear and Stormy Illusion having notched allowance wins. However, the horse the barn is excited about is Prince Raphael. The two-year-old broke his maiden in his second lifetime start by six and three-quarter lengths.
“I liked him right away but he was a big, tough horse,” admits England. “He’s come a long way.”
He debuted on August 28 in a six furlong turf maiden finishing third behind Shakespeare’s Brew - - another son of Shakespeare, whose first crop has provided some notable winners including Shkspeare Shaliyah, Quantum of Solange and Woodbine-based Laertes.
“He got in a little bit of trouble coming down the stretch in the first race and he was just a little green,” says England.
Put your head on my shoulder
Richard Dos Ramos, a respected journeyman of the Woodbine jockey colony, recalls Prince Raphael’s first race as quite the learning experience.
“It was a little too short for him and we just wanted to give him a start because he was training for so long, we just wanted to get him going,” states Dos Ramos. “So, basically that was an educational race for him.”
Dos Ramos has spent a great deal of time educating the up-and-coming fellow.
“I’ve been working him a lot in the mornings,” says Dos Ramos. “He’s still a little on the green side. He has a lot to learn still, but he’s just a horse that will take a little bit of time to come around and every race he goes, he’ll learn a little bit more.”
Prince Raphael took his lessons to heart in his second lifetime start, an off-the-turf Maiden Special Weight over a distance of seven furlongs. The added distance seemed to help and the young colt lengthened at will down the lane.
“Yeah he did,” recalls Dos Ramos, with a laugh. “When I asked him for run he just took off underneath me.”
The six and three-quarter length score, timed in 1:23.81, was impressive enough that England entered Prince Raphael in last weekend’s Cup and Saucer Stakes. Unfortunately, the turf came up soft and a cautious England scratched her young horse and will instead point to the Coronation Futurity, to be held on Sunday, November 6.
“It was pretty soft,” admits England, who walked the course the morning of the race. “I was concerned that he wouldn’t like the track.”
Prince Raphael and his friend Lisa
While Hard Not to Like ran away from the field to win the Cup and Saucer, England’s young charge took to the track the next morning and breezed five furlongs in 1:00.20, the second best time of 72 workouts at the distance on the day.
Prince Raphael romps to a maiden score
Dos Ramos is excited at the opportunity for his young protégé to stretch out in the nine-furlong distance of the Coronation Futurity.
“I think the distance won’t be a problem for him,” says Dos Ramos. “If there is a problem it would be more racing experience. I wish he could have run in the Cup and Saucer as that would have given him a lot more experience. So, I think the greenness might hurt him more than anything else.”
However, if the young horse has a mind to take that next step, Dos Ramos envisions a rallying trip.
Woolly Bear pokes her head out for a little attention
“He’s not a real speed horse, but he’s one I think will come from the middle of the pack,” starts Dos Ramos. “He’s got such a big long stride that you just got to get him into his gallops and then he’ll be alright from there.”
England concurs with her rider of choice.
“I don’t think the distance will be a problem,” says England. “He acts like he’ll go long. You don’t know until you run ‘em, but he sure acts like it and he trains like it.”
Should England’s ‘Prince’ be crowned in the Coronation Futurity, many experts will proclaim the lanky lad a likely favourite for the Queen’s Plate - - a race England has never entered.
“I’ve never run in the Plate,” admits England. “We were talking about Marlang for the Plate, but we skipped it and went to the Breeders’ instead.”
Marlang, under a sharp ride by Dos Ramos, comfortably wired the 2008 Breeders’ field, and followed that success with another front-running effort at Saratoga to win the Grade 3 Saranac.
England, who is patient with her two-year-olds, is cautiously optimistic about pointing Prince Raphael towards the Plate at this early stage.
“I’ve had a lot of two-year-old winners” shares England. “But you need to get some racing into them at two. It’s almost impossible to get them ready from scratch to go a mile and a quarter.”
Shakespeare wins the 2007 Woodbine Mile
It would seem that Dos Ramos and England are on the same page when it comes to Prince Raphael’s patient education.
“She won’t rush them and that’s a big thing with babies. That helps them,” says Dos Ramos. “It all depends on the Coronation. That will help us decide on where he’ll go. I don’t think the distance will bother him and when the smoke clears, I think he’ll run all day long. That race (the Plate) is always at the backburner.”
And while there’s much to be written yet regarding the future of Prince Raphael, it certainly seems that Shakespeare, whose career ended with a glorious victory in the 2007 Woodbine Mile, is well on his way to staging a successful sequel in Canada - - and Dos Ramos and England might well be major players in the story with their not-so-little Prince.
Psst...Wanna buy a watch?
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, quoted by Peter King in his “Monday Morning Quarterback” column on si.com, discussing the difference between coaching in college and in the pros:
"Kind of like going from the Wood Memorial to the Kentucky Derby.''
(I strongly recommend readers revew the revitalized NTRA Notebook featuring photos, quotes and an inteview with ex-NHL'er and racing fan Keith Jones:)
RACE CALL OF THE WEEK
"Two quality horses are made to look mere mortals as Frankel remains unbeaten and wins the QE II!" - - Racing Superstar Frankel captures his ninth-consecutive win!
Frankel wins his 9th in a row
Every Wednesday and Sunday, Woodbine offers up an incredible $100K Guaranteed Pick-4. For more details, check out the selections of WEG experts on WEG's Thoroughbred Pick-4 page. More info also available on Woodbine's Facebook page.
This and That
Important Woodbine news as Bill Tallon reports that 2012 dates request would drop Thursdays from mid-July to early September:
There are a few wrinkles in Woodbine’s racing dates application for 2012, which currently is awaiting approval from the Ontario Racing Commission.
While the number of dates requested is unchanged at 167, Woodbine will not be racing on Thursdays from July 19 through Sept. 6.
“Perenially, this has been our weakest horse supply period of the year, due to a combination of factors,” said Steve Koch, vice president, Thoroughbred racing, for the Woodbine Entertainment Group.
“It’s a key time of the year to run four days of the week rather than five, to manage the horse supply and maintain the quality of the product.”
Those vacated Thursdays have essentially been tacked on to the end of the meeting, which will conclude at the unprecedented late date of Dec. 16.
HorseRacing Insider's John Pricci wrote In Appreciation of the World’s Bravest Athletes:
Jockey Eddie Castro suffered a hairline spinal fracture, the result of an ugly spill at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Eurico Rosa da Silva, multiple winner of Canada’s prestigious Queens Plate, is done for the year, the result of a broken leg.
I’ll try to remember this when I’m watching this year’s Breeders’ Cup, five stories above the danger and excitement taking place on the track.
I’ll try to remember this when I second guess split-second decisions made by 100-pound men astride 1000-pound hot-blooded animals going through narrow openings at 40 mph:
Decisions that not only determine the sport’s championships but whether all their rivals, and all the horses, make it back home safely in time for supper at the end of the work day.
The always entertaining racing history blog Colin's Ghost explored Laurel Park Opens, 1912 with photos, news clippings and the usual great storytelling:
Pimlico and Laurel ran concurrently in 1911 and the New York Sun wrote on the eve of Laurel’s first opening day: “…Maryland will be the centre of racing in this country for a month and will compel the sport in Canada to take a back seat.” However, it also stated: “It remains to be seen whether both of these Maryland tracks can survive competition, whether there will be enough patrons to cover running expenses and whether enough good horses can be secured to provide really high class racing.”
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.
I direct all photo fans to my Canadian International post from earlier this week. Please click the link for the Photo Essay: Sarah Lynx, Regally Ready and Miss Keller shine on International Day