|Royal Slam mugs for the camera|
Back in Doyle's barn, Royal Slam's groom has arrived to put the filly away for the afternoon. Donny Jones looks remarkably young for a man of his experience on the racetrack.
|Donny and Royal Slam|
Jones does seem pretty happy with his work.
Jones pulls at the filly's ears as the mischievous miss nips at him playfully.
"She's a pretty big girl for a two-year-old," says Jones, eyes widening. "But, you're my big girl aren't you?"
There's a history in Donny's family tree worthy of a book.
"My mother's father, he was from Barbados. He jumped boat in Quebec in 1892," starts Jones. "My father, he was from Halifax, and his father was a slave in Maryland. My brother did the family history and he went all over the place to find out where the family has lived."
And with a laugh, he adds, "I'm related to 500 people in Montreal, and I don't know a single one of them."
He shares a story about his maternal grandfather, who worked on the docks, that offers, with brutal honesty, how tough one had to be survive in a burgeoning new country.
"Back then they were fisherman and lumberjacks, living off the land more or less," begins Jones. "My mother told a story about a man who didn't like her father. The guy took a swing at him and my mum's father hit him in the jaw and the guy died. They put a law against him, that he couldn't fight unless he fought seven men."
It could be legend, or a family story grown over time, but Jones comes from a long line of survivors and it's fitting that he's now the caretaker of a filly who has overcome her own tragic moment.
"One thing about me, I'll never give up on a horse," says Jones. "Never."
Jones, who groomed horses for the late Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Meyer, quickly worked out a routine with Royal Slam upon her arrival at Woodbine.
"I would always talk to her and let her know where I'm at," he explains.
Those first few moments in the barn, it was important for Jones to convince 'One Eye' that her stall was a safe home. As he worked his brush and applied her wraps, Jones would talk his way around the young filly so, even if she couldn't see him, she could hear his voice.
His patience has paid off. After each race, as he circles the filly putting on bandages, Royal Slam will move in tandem with him.
"I just turn to other side and say, 'Over', and she moves over, just like that," he laughs. "Like she knew it all the time. Now, I take her and rub her just like any other horse."
About the only thing the barn does differently to accommodate 'One Eye' is to hang a water bucket on the left-hand side of the shed row (as opposed to the backstretch norm of hanging buckets on the right) so that the filly doesn't have to search for a drink to quench her thirst while being cooled out after training.
Royal Slam will make her next start in Friday's fourth race - a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for $25,000 claimers. It will be the one-eyed filly’s first start against winners and Doyle believes she's well spotted.
"She seems to have found a level where she's competitive," says Doyle.
Jones, on the other hand, has loftier goals for the filly he's grown to love.
"I will say, she will win a stake race," nods Jones, who also rubbed Doyle's multiple stakes winner Dancing Raven. "She can go a lot further, she's bred for that. And not only that, she has the ability to do the job and do it right."
And while the modestly-bred filly might need to summon up some of the toughness that helped Jones' grandfather survive life on the docks to pick up a win on Friday, the veteran groom isn’t too concerned.
"I don't worry about bloodlines," he starts, while patting his chest with a calloused right hand. "As long as they've got a ticker."