Friday, August 10, 2012

Catching up with Maritimer & Roger Attfield at Saratoga

On Friday morning, I caught up with trainer Seth Benzel at a gloomy Saratoga Race Course to talk about Canada's reigning two-year-old champion, Maritimer. 

Maritimer jogs into the fog...
The dark bay son of Stormy Atlantic-Highland Mood captured the Coronation Futurity and Display Stakes at Woodbine as a juvenile for then trainer Sid Attard and owner/breeder Howard Walton.

Martimer was expected to be amongst the favourites for the Queen's Plate, but has raced only once as a three-year-old, since being sold privately in January to Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov.

His lone start came at the Meydan Racecourse in Dubai when a lacklustre 11th in the UAE Derby, on March 31. He was saddled that day by Herman Brown.

Since the Dubai start, Maritimer has been off the public radar with no recorded works to his name.

Benzel, who has five wins in 38 starts in 2012, was very forthcoming about Maritimer's progress. As we talked along the rail of the Oklahoma Training Track, Maritimer was busy with his morning gallop.

"We gave him a lot of time off," said Benzel. "The Dubai trip totally wiped him out."

As difficult as the UAE Derby was, Benzel believes the circumstances of travelling back and forth to Dubai took its toll on Maritimer.

The weather was for the birds...

"After Dubai, he had to spend 30 days in quarantine, on top of the stress of going over there - the trip and the race," said Benzel. "Staying over there that long just didn't agree with him."

Since Maritimer's return to North America, Benzel has been slowly building Maritimer back into condition.

"I've had him up here for about two months and we just walked him until he looked better, tack walked him until he had some more energy and then jogged him," explained Benzel "We've gone real slowly with him."

Ideally, Benzel is pointing Maritimer at a November return at Woodbine.

"We still hope to bring him up there for the end of the year," said Benzel. "There's a stake on November 10 (Grade 2 Autumn Stakes) and December 10. I'm going to be pretty conservative with him and make sure that he's 100 percent when we come up there. If it works out so that he makes it to the November race great, if not we'll wait until the December race."

And then, as Maritimer emerged out of the fog, Benzel added, "He's doing really well, he looks fabulous. He loves it (here). Like most horses, he loves Saratoga."


On Friday afternoon, legendary Woodbine trainer Roger Attfield was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Earlier this week, I wrote a preview of the event for the Woodbine website which featured stories of Attfield's success from trainers Ian Black, David Bell and Mike Keogh.

Ian Black, David Willmot, Roger Attfield and Bill Werner
Keogh, who was once Attfield's shipping assistant, had many stories to share about his time travelling with a plethora of Kinghaven Farms greats such as With Approval, Izvestia, Play the King, Alydeed, Alywow and Poetically. While an anecdote about the intelligence of Play the King made the final cut, this little snippet on top turfer Carotene did not, so I'll share it here.

In July of 1987, Keogh travelled to an unbearably hot Atlantic City with Carotene for the Matchmaker Stakes.
"It was night racing and it had to be 100 degrees," recalled Keogh. "But, Carotene was great. A consummate professional."

Keogh, upon arriving at Atlantic City discovered that barn had only one fan available. Always one to put the horse first, Keogh found a workable solution.

"It was so hot, I slept in the stall with her and we shared the fan," laughed Keogh. "I had a tack room right next to her stall. But, I had only one fan and that was for her...I’ve never been so hot."

Fortunately, it was a worthwhile adventure for Keogh as Carotene, under jockey Don Seymour, won by three-quarters of a length over Spruce Fir.


Attfield signing autographs...
If you missed the live video stream of Attfield's induction into the Hall of Fame, you can read my recap on the Woodbine site. David Willmot presented the Hall of Fame plaque to Attfield with a heartfelt speech, and the trainer brought down the house with the following story (liberally edited and modified for print) about a young jockey taking instruction from a trainer.

A very young steeple chase rider in England was waiting for his first ride. So, the old trainer said to the boy, "I'll give you your first ride, but you have to ride to instructions."

"Yes sir, I certainly will sir," said the boy.

So, the trainer gave the young boy the opportunity and gave him a leg up in the paddock.

“Listen, every jump you come to the jump, you say 'one, two, three HUP!'” instructed the trainer.

And the boy said, “Yes sir!”

But, the boy, amongst all the professional riders, thought to himself, 'I feel a little foolish saying one, two three HUP!'

So he didn't say anything and the horse hit the first fence and landed on his knees on the other side.

Scrambling around on the floor, he finally gathers himself together and stands up. He's a mile behind the other horses. But, the boy starts riding him, 'One, two, three HUP! One, two, three HUP! One, two, three HUP!'

He’s running right through the pack of horses and gets to the wire third.

He rides back, pleased with himself and the trainer says, “Son, you don't ride to instructions. You didn't say, 'One, two, three HUP' at that first fence.”

"Oh yes sir, I did sir," said the boy. "The thing is, I think that horse is deaf."

But the trainer knew better. "Son,” he said. “He's not deaf - -he's blind!!"

Congratulations Roger Attfield!!  Keep the winners coming!

1 comment:

Alex said...

Watching his speech, I really enjoyed that story he told about the steeplechase jockey. You could tell he was genuinely moved by the moment too. Awesome to watch.

Thanks for the write-up Keith and the update on Maritimer.