Hall of Fame conditioner Roger Attfield knows that good things, especially in the world of horse racing, come to those who wait.
“Patience is something that’s very valuable to have in this game, otherwise you’ll go insane, you know?” laughs Attfield over the phone from Payson Park in Florida.
Attfield aboard his pony Daddy Cool
The 72-year-old Englishman, in this instance, is speaking specifically about Check Your Soul, a four-year-old son of Perfect Soul-Unchecked, who was once the favourite for the Queen’s Plate.
After a series of setbacks, Check Your Soul was finally slated to make his return on New Year’s Eve at Gulfstream Park, but, much to Attfield’s chagrin, didn’t make it to the gate.
“He got colic the day before the race and we had to scratch him,” says Attfield. “While he was in the colic and rolling around the stall he hit his knee and bruised his knee. But he’s ready to go back in the entries now.”
Check Your Soul breezed an easy four furlongs over the Payson Park turf in :49.20 on February 17 and, knock on wood, will return to racing in a few weeks time.
Check Your Soul with his Woodbine groom, Keith
Patience is a virtue that Attfield has needed to have in abundance with his Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf champ, Perfect Shirl. The slight bay daughter of Perfect Soul-Lady Shirl, who will go to post as the lukewarm 3-1 morning line favourite in Saturday’s Grade 3 The Very One at Gulfstream, raced seven times in 2011 and she saved her lone victory for the biggest payday of all on November 4 at Churchill Downs.
Since the startling Breeders’ Cup score, at odds of 27-1, over a drying out turf course, Perfect Shirl was expected to start in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin and then the Group 1 Gran Premio Internacional Pellegrini in Buenos Aires, but paperwork issues grounded her eastern excursion and cancelled flights kept her from airing out to Argentina.
A playful Perfect Shirl with Teresa of Brooklyn Backstretch the morning after her BC score
There will, however, be no travel issues shipping into The Very One, which is setting up to be a very competitive 13-horse field, and something of a prep race for Perfect Shirl who is being pointed at the Dubai Sheema Classic on March 31.
“Her workouts have been very good,” says Attfield. “She’s been training very well. She’s not at her peak, for sure, but I need to get this race under her belt if we’re going to make the Dubai trip.”
However, with four workouts in the past month, including a Valentine’s Day bullet breeze of five panels in :59.20, handicappers will likely still rush to the windows on Saturday to back Attfield’s mare.
Perfect Shirl breaks her maiden at Woodbine
Attfield, not one to hype up his own horses, cautions that Perfect Shirl will carry 123lbs, two pounds more than both recent Grade 3 La Prevoyante winner Casablanca Smile and defending The Very One champ, and multiple graded winner, Keertana - - as well as six pounds to the rest of the field who will carry 117.
“She had a bit of disruption in her winter training because plans to go to Hong Kong and Argentina fell through,” says Attfield. “A little bit of disruption as far as her preparation for something like this. She’s going to give a lot of weight away.”
Perfect Shirl wins the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf
One thing Attfield isn’t concerned about, despite a smattering of rain expected in Hallandale, this time around, is if the grass will have a bit of give in it.
“Well, she did pretty well in the Breeders’ Cup, she made a liar out of me there,” laughs Attfield. “So, I’m not too concerned. I don’t think they’re calling for that much.”
While on the subject of patience, Attfield offered up some words of encouragement regarding Laertes, a strapping dark bay son of Shaekespeare-Violent Beauty, who broke his maiden at first asking over Woodbine’s E.P Taylor Turf Course last August, only to go on the shelf with a ligament issue.
“He’s coming along great,” says Attfield. “He’s right on target. I wanted to put one race into him at Gulfstream before Keeneland…or maybe just run him at Keeneland and then he’ll come up to Toronto.”
Laertes breaks his maiden at Woodbine
The Peachtree Stable colt, who has been nominated to the Queen’s Plate, has breezed three times at Payson in the past month after a long layoff.
“He just had a slight pull of a ligament in front,” explains Attfield. “He’s quite a big, straight colt and we just needed to give him a little chance to grow up.”
Attfield, who admits his barn is a little light on three-year-old colts as he chases what would be a record-breaking ninth Queen’s Plate score, will give Laertes every chance to prove himself a contender.
“He’s going to tell us,” admits Attfield. “He broke his maiden on the turf and we’ll have to proceed along and see how he goes on the Polytrack. He was working well on the Polytrack (before the injury). It’s a bit too early a time to say anything about the Queen’s Plate, but he will definitely be trained towards that until he tells us that’s not what he wants to do.”
Another ‘patient’ that tested Attfield’s patience who is now starting to come good is the five-year-old gelding Hollinger. The Black Minnalouse-Dynamite Cocktail grey was named Canada’s Champion Two-Year-Old Male in 2009 on the back of an undefeated season that included victories in the Cup & Saucer and Coronation Futurity.
Hollinger would race just twice as a three-year-old and, after significant time off, finally returned to the Woodbine winner’s circle last October. The gallant grey seems to have turned a corner following that score and has since hit the board in four-consecutive added-money events including the Labeeb (2nd), Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap (3rd), Grade 3 Ft. Lauderdale (2nd) and the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (2nd).
Hollinger gets a little attention in the Woodbine walking ring
“He had a number of setbacks as a three-year-old,” admits Attfield. “He had a bad back situation and eventually he just needed stopping on and given a lot of time to get over that. We brought him back very carefully and everything seems to have worked out okay that way. He’s developed into a very nice older horse and I’ve been very pleased with his races.”
Hollinger, who is expected to make his way back to Woodbine via Keeneland, has shown ability on the turf at a variety of distances as Attfield tries to put a finger on the grey’s best route.
“For quite a while, I thought that he was probably a miler but I’m not sure that I’m correct there,” says Attfield. “He’s run quite effectively at a mile and an eighth. He’s probably (capable of) a mile to a mile and a quarter.”
Hollinger heads to the track with Tyler Pizarro aboard
Fortunately, Hollinger shouldn’t feel too rushed to sort out his best route of ground as he develops as an older horse.
One look at his nurturing conditioner’s entries in Sunday’s Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream, which include the seven-year-old Simmard and 10-year-old Sovereign Award-nominated Musketier, is proof that Attfield knows he’d be crazy not to give his well-bred horses a chance to showcase their skill.
Musketier still firing at the age of ten