Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's all relative...

Earlier this year, Jamie Attard became the eighth member of Woodbine’s famous Maltese family to enter the training ranks, joining his father (Sid), brother (Paul), uncles (Joe, Tino, Larry) and cousins (Kevin, Steve) as part of an ongoing legacy of horsemanship.

Jamie Attard and Grace O'Malley
It was Joe who led the Attard family from Malta to Woodbine over a fence that stood between a steel factory and the Woodbine backstretch.

“My Uncle Joe worked at Canron, a steel company facing the Woodbine training track,” says Jamie. “He’d see the horses training each morning, and with his background in horses back in Malta, it was hard for him to stay away.”

Once Joe made the leap, the others soon followed.

“Joe brought Tino over and then he brought my dad and then one winter he said, ‘I’m going home to Malta and I’ll bring my youngest brother over and make him a jockey’,” grins Jamie. “And that’s when Uncle Larry came over.”

The family grew and, in time, the Attard name has become a familiar entry in the Woodbine program. 

It seems only natural that Jamie would eventually join his father at the track, though to reach a horse he needed only to crawl under a fence rather than hop over one.
 
Jamie, only just turned 25-years-old, has pretty much been pointed at his career from birth - - his memories of Woodbine stretching back as far as crawling into stalls at his father’s barn, to vivid recollections of a first Queen’s Plate, back in 1992.

“I remember exactly what I wore that day. It’s one of my earliest memories,” recalls Attard. “I was only 5-years-old, but I remember putting a little grey suit on at my grandparents' house and then watching from the grandstand as Alydeed romped by 12 or 13 lengths and just hoping that Grand Hooley, my dad’s horse, would stay on for second.”


Grand Hooley, under Daniel David, held on for second over a rallying Benburb, with Uncle Larry up. The young Attard was hooked.

By the time he reached his teens, Jamie was a regular in his father’s barn, walking hots and learning how to groom horses with his brother, Paul.

“My dad said he didn’t want there to be a day that we were out of school that we weren’t at the track because he wanted us to learn what hard work was,” he laughs.  “That, and by the time we got home, we would be too tired to go out and cause any trouble.”

Although his formal education was no doubt enlightening, he graduated from Humber College with a diploma in Media Foundation, the knowledge gleaned from his father, a winner of nearly 1,800 career races, is now invaluable.

For the past five years, Jamie has worked diligently as an assistant trainer, watching his father, a respected and decorated horseman with 84 stakes wins to his name, manage a stable of some 40 horses strong.

Simply put, Sid provided his son with the ultimate co-op program for becoming a trainer.

“He really is a perfectionist and that’s what made him so successful,” says Jamie.
Sid helps Maritimer cool off

It’s not uncommon to see Sid, a hands-on trainer, hosing down his own horse following a stakes win (a job normally taken by a groom) when he should be posing for a win photo.

“Sometimes he can’t help himself. He’ll even grab a sponge and dry their legs. He loves it so much,” laughs Jamie. “In the barn, he can be high strung to get the horses out, paying attention to every little thing. He has a hard time passing things on to people. He very much likes to do everything himself. As soon as the last horse is trained, and back in the barn healthy, he really lets down.  It’s only then that he jokes around with everybody and enjoys himself.”

*

To stand out in a strong racing family takes fortitude and plenty of support.

Jamie, emboldened by life lessons and dinner table discussions with his father and brother, went out on his own this year with a three-year-old filly named Grace O’ Malley.

“My poor mother and sister,” laughs Jamie. “Even when we sit down for dinner now with my brother, his wife and two daughters, it always ends up with Paul, dad and I talking horses. We can talk about other stuff, but it always ends up back at the horses.”

And now Attard can chime in on the discussions as a full-fledged trainer thanks to Jamie Begg and Amanda Motz (Kingstead Stables) who offered the aspiring conditioner a chance to work with Grace O’Malley, a chestnut daughter of Bob and John.

Grace O’Malley made one start in an injury-shortened juvenile campaign in 2011, but has recovered well under Jamie’s tutelage after joining his barn early in the spring to work towards a June return.

“We weren’t sure until the day we entered her how she would fare. Even with sound horses, things can do wrong,” offers Jamie. “We were just trying to focus on one day at a time.”

Sent to post at 28-1 in her three-year-old debut, Grace O’Malley raced evenly to a fifth-place finish, earning Attard his first cheque, a modest $861, as a trainer.

Attard knows well enough with his years of experience at the track that success doesn’t happen overnight.

“She just had to come into herself. She’d only run the one time last year before I got her,” starts Attard. “She was still an immature three-year-old this year and it has taken her awhile to figure out the game. There wasn’t anything specific, she just had to mature. Some are ready right away and others take a little bit longer.”

Following a strong second-place run on July 18, Attard felt confident Grace O’Malley was ready to graduate in a $12,500 maiden claimer over seven furlongs on the Woodbine ‘Poly’.

“We thought she’d win, but she’s a tough filly sometimes and very much has a mind of her own. She’s too smart,” says Attard wistfully.

At odds of 5-1, Grace O’Malley finished a well-beaten seventh.

“I don’t know what happened that day. I knew it wasn’t her. She just ran really poorly and finished last,” he recalls. “Once I got her back to the barn and realized she was okay, I was okay.”

Demonstrating a mark of experience far greater than the three starts under his belt as a conditioner, Attard suggested to his owners that Grace O’Malley take a break.

“For whatever reason, she didn’t run that day,” he says. “I thought the best thing for her was to take her back to the farm for a couple weeks and refresh her mind and that would make a big difference with her. After that, we would give her one more try and if she doesn't run well, we’ll make a decision.”

Following a two-week vacation at the farm, Attard welcomed Grace O’Malley back to the barn and the difference in the filly’s form was immediately noticeable.

“She breezed really well,” he says. “She was fresh and training like she hadn’t been training before.”

Entered in a six-furlong main-track sprint on September 29, the betting public ignored Grace O’ Malley letting her leave the gate at odds of 12-1.

There was an air of expectation to the race which added to the pressure of the event.

"It was my dad's birthday that day," he recalls. "My parents and both owners (Jamie and Amanda) were there with Amanda's parents Ron and Janet Motz (who bred multiple stakes winners Forever Grand and Dave the Knave. They live up in Hanover, so they don't come to the races very often."

Attard admits the race was a bit of a nerve-wracking experience.

“She had the 14-hole,” he says. “She broke well and was sitting fourth or fifth and there were two front runners going head to head at each other. The pace was pretty quick so I figured the speed would come back.”

With Jesse Campbell aboard for the first time, Grace O’Malley appeared to be in good position for the score following a half in :45 and change.

“She was just tugging on Jesse and when they passed the quarter pole she was really coming,” he says. “At the top of the stretch, she took the lead…but then the favourite was coming, one of Lisa Lewis’ horses, Lady Lizzy, and she was coming and coming and in the last 70 yards I remember looking up at the sky saying, ‘Please God, don’t let her get beat.”

It turns out Attard didn't need to be worried - - about the race anyway.  Grace O’Malley held on to win by half a length, but the excited young conditioner nearly ended up on the track during the stretch run.

“I started watching the race up at the owners’ boxes with my dad at the top of the grandstand,” he laughs. “By the end of the race, I was almost over the rail with everyone in the Windways box at the bottom of the grandstand screaming for her and Jesse to keep going.”


It was hugs all around following the victory as Attard wished his father a happy birthday and thanked the Begg family for their support.

“Without the owners, I wouldn’t have my license or have won my first race,” he says.

And with a bit of chagrin, he adds, “She ended up paying $27, but I didn’t want to jinx her by betting on her!”

Grace O’Malley has managed a fourth and a third in two starts since breaking her maiden and will make her final start under Attard’s care on Wednesday night. Following the race, she will be shipped to Kentucky for the Lexington horses of all ages sale.

It will make for a bittersweet moment for Attard and his filly as they both chase their second lifetime win.

“You get to know each and every horse and expect to see them in the spring, but she’s going off to the sale and I’ll likely never see her again,” he says. “I’d be really happy to see someone buy her and race her over the winter. I’ll definitely be watching for her. I hope she does well and can win a few more races.”

Jamie with Jungle Wave
Attard doesn't need to be reminded that training horses is a business though – he’s helped his father claim a number of successful thoroughbreds over the years, including stakes winners Jungle Wave, Bear’s Chill and Stunning Stag to name a few - - and he hopes to return to Woodbine in 2013 with stalls of his own.

“I’d be really happy to pick up a couple owners over the winter and have five stalls next year so I can do everything myself and be as hands on as my dad is with his horses,” says Attard.

But, first things first, he hopes to end his season in style and he thinks the filly has a chance.
“She’s back to the distance she broke her maiden at and I’m hoping it will be the same horses she ran against last time when we were beat half a length,” he offers. “She ran third in that last start and the top two horses (Turn to Shine,Golden Gilda) were dropping from Ontario-sired allowance.”

In her final Woodbine start, the filly Attard calls, 'Grace O’Monkey,' due to her affinity for bananas, will leave from post four at odds of 4-1.

“It seems the perfect race for her right now,” he says.

And training horses is the perfect career for the latest member of the Attard clan to hang his shingle at Woodbine.

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