Profiling 10 grooms to celebrate National Caretaker Appreciation Day in Canada.

One card, 10 caretakers

July 21, 2018

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In honor of Canada’s National Caretaker Appreciation Day, we took to Woodbine Mohawk Park to profile a groom in each of Thursday’s 10 races.

story and photos by Sandra Snyder

Race 1 — Sue Danko from Cambridge, ON

Working for Jean Guy Belliveau, caring for 3-year-old trotting filly Wiki Hanover

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

Just spending time with the horses.

And the worst part?

The winter. Being outside in the cold.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

Probably a trotter I used to have, Scrappy Wallace. He was just big and loveable. Always tried hard, did a good job.

Favorite story or memory?

When you take the horses to the races each week, especially if it’s the same horse, you really get used to all the little things that they do. I have one mare that we always bring carrots for after the race and if you rattle a plastic bag and it’s not carrots, you’ve forgotten them, it’s like she just kind of goes into a shell. Like something so small. And when she was off for a while, the first time I raced her back I forgot the carrots. And I didn’t even think about it and I was in my little bag and I rattled it and she was looking at me. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I forgot the carrots,’ so I never do that anymore. I always remember the carrots. It had been like eight months probably since she’d raced because she had a leg problem, but she remembers.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

I think… just all of the hardworking grooms, because they work so hard, day in and day out, and they don’t get a lot of credit. They just love the horse and they know all the little things about it. So, I think they are definitely the unsung heroes, right?

Race 2 — Brady MacDougall from Cape Breton (Inverness), NS

Working for Carl Jamieson, caring for 2-year-old pacing colt Wager On Me

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

No paperwork. I’ve worked in a few other industries, mainly with trades, and I’m not a big fan of the paperwork and all of the red tape and stuff that goes with some jobs, so there’s none here. But no, the best part is just the animals, the babies; training them down in the wintertime before they race, you know, they are all world champions until they get behind the gate. It’s exciting.

And the worst?

Well, being away from my family. And long hours, I guess. I work a lot. You miss a lot of things, sometimes important things, but all in all there’s not a great deal that’s bad about it.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

A trotter, a few years ago named Federal Flex, he ended up standing stud. Right from the first day I was ever around him, he was a world champion. He was a pleasure and when you saw him in the morning it made you smile. He was pretty cool.

Favorite story or memory?

Set a world record with Primetime Bobcat in 2006. I was working for Tony Montini. At the time, the track record was 1:48.1 and it had stood for a long, long time and Primetime Bobcat ended up breaking it and at that point it was a world record. The time of the mile was 1:47.2. It’s actually the fastest mile still ever raced at Woodbine Racetrack, so that was pretty cool.

And then just the big races, being in the North America Cup, being in the Little Brown Jug, Hambletonian. Big races are a lot of fun.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

Inspire? I think there are some trainers that I look up to and respect, you know, guys that have been around through all the different eras and thick and thin. They are still here training horses. The guys that prevail in the end, and have stood the test of time.

Race 3 — Lynn Cameron from New Brunswick, currently living in Guelph, ON

Working for Richard Moreau, caring for 2-year-old pacing filly Delilah Seelster

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

Oh, the horses, of course. Oh yeah, every day I get to work with the horses.

And the worst?

Worst thing? Sunday racing. The long days, I guess, long hours. It’s worth it some days, you know, some days it’s not.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

Well, right now, I take care of a mare named Sandbetweenurtoes, and she’s been a pretty good mare, and I take care of a horse named Jimmy Freight, and he’s been a nice colt. And over the years, geez there’s been so many, but Foiled Again is probably the superstar, like he’s just something else, just a freak. Seven million dollars made and 100 wins, just the longevity of him.

Favorite story or memory?

Back when I was a kid, living in New Brunswick and travelling in the back of horse trailers just to go watch races. You couldn’t get a ride unless you were going in the back of a horse trailer, riding from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia or PEI. That was probably it, just a bunch of us kids in the back of the trailer, having a great time.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

In the business, I would say, years ago, Jimmy Doherty. His brother actually got me into the horse business. We’re from the same town. Anyway, his brother Bill — who worked with the city there — they had horses on the side and that’s how I got into it, long story short, but that’s how it all started. I admire that family, the Doherty family.

Race 4 — Evelyn Harms from Kingsville, ON

Working for Ron Adams, caring for 3-year-old pacing filly Jennas Delight

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

The horses. Being able to be around the horses whenever. It’s the best thing, really. It keeps you going.

And the worst?

The lack of sleep. That’s about it.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

My favorite horse that I ever looked after was Danica Hall. She was for trainer Doug McIntosh. That’s quite a few years back now. It’s hard to pick just one. I have a couple of favorites in the barn now. The babies that won last night and the day before, Sweet Lou colt (Dancin Lou) and the Mach Three filly (Bens Jenna).

Favorite story or memory?

Well, let’s see… I haven’t travelled to the States much to race. I’m hoping to do that with this stable this year, but I was able to go to The Red Mile last year, just spectating. That was pretty interesting and it was the first time I’ve ever been there. The first time I’ve been at a track in the States besides Northville, which is small. I guess that was kind of exciting.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

I always look up to the female role models and I actually, when I first got into the business, I really admired Riina Rekila because she was such a multi-tasker and she was able to do anything, from training a horse to shoeing a horse, vet work I guess, and driving. I always looked up to her quite a bit. You’ve always got to look up to the female power (laughs) because there’s not a whole lot of it.

It is getting better now. Actually, a good friend of mine, Britt Kennedy, she just won her first driving debut so I was really proud of her.

Race 5 — Dany Milette from Trois-Rivieres, QC

Paddocking for Serge Normandin, caring for 3-year-old trotting colt Johnnys Revenge. Works for Benoit Baillargeon

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

I like the horse. The work, the weeks fly past.

And the worst?

When the horse is no good. I like to win. I like the best horse.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

I worked for Ben Baillargeon two years (ago), Etruscan Hanover, won here in the Don Mills, in 1:52.2, the record.

Favorite story or memory?

My memory? My horse, my mare, in the year 1994, 1995, a free-legged mare, won 12 or 13 times each year, start 42, 43, 44 starts each year. I paid $4,000 and collected $15,000, $16,000 each day. I had her three years and a guy claimed her for $6,000.

Race 6 — Drew Smyth from Ottawa, ON

Working for Tony O’Sullivan, caring for 2-year-old pacing filly Carbon Capture

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

Oh, watching the horses race after you look after them all week and to see them race at the end of the week, it’s a rush. And just enjoying the animals themselves, too.

And the worst?

Cleaning the stalls. Yeah, that’s the worst. Other than that, the rest is all fine.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

I look after a preferred horse, Ellis Park, and he’s probably the best horse I’ve looked after ever. It’s just so much fun racing him. It’s very awesome.

Favorite story or memory?

Probably before I came up here to Toronto, I got my first training win a couple of years back. That’s probably the coolest memory for myself, personally. Other than that, I’m up here racing other horses, this is where to be, right, in Ontario.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

Yeah, the guy that taught me everything was Robbie Robinson. I’m inspired to be kind of like him, have my own stable, have babies, do everything.

Race 7 — Bill Windsor from Guelph, ON

Working for Tony O’Sullivan, caring for 3-year-old pacing gelding Thunder Some Where

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

The horses, obviously. You do it for the love of the horse.

And the worst?

Late nights, early mornings. Like, that’s about as bad as it gets.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

The best horse I ever looked after would be a pacing mare by the name of Mach You And Me, when I worked for Ron O’Neill. She holds a special place in my heart. She made us a lot of money in one season and she was a little difficult to look after, but that’s part of the game and that was part of her.

Favorite story or memory?

Going back to Mach You And Me, she won the final of the SBOA and the Gold Super Final at Woodbine. The night that she won the Super Final, she had no business winning it, but she was the type of mare… she was a gritty mare and when the driver spoke to her, she dug in, and she dug in enough to beat them, which was the best race, for myself.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

The guys that I have worked for, I have the most upstanding respect for. One guy that I have a lot of respect for is Duane Marfisi. I trained for him five years, great horseman. And my idol of all time in this business is obviously, John Campbell, because his hometown is 20 minutes away from where I come from, so that’s my idol. Always has been, and always will be.

Race 8 — Riley Simpson from Petrolia, ON

Paddocking for Tyler Borth, caring for 3-year-old trotting gelding Master Switch

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

I like it all. I just like spending time with the horses.

I’m a massage therapist and just do this for fun. I worked for Ainsworths full-time for a bit, before I went to school. I got into it at the OHHA Youth Camp. I fell in love with it there. Now, I just paddock for whoever.

And the worst?

Nothing.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

My favorite horse is probably Modern Exhibit. Ainsworths had him. He was pretty nice and we had a lot of fun with him.

Favorite story or memory?

I don’t know. I’ve seen a lot of horses race and do well. Getting to do this all the time is pretty cool. Not many people get to work a full-time job and then go to the races afterwards.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

I look up to female drivers and trainers and stuff. It seems to be a very male dominant industry.

Race 9 — Katie Dinner from Woodstock, ON

Paddocking for Carmen Auciello, caring for 5-year-old trotting mare The Power Of Many

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

Just being with the horses themselves. I don’t consider it a job, per se, because I love the animals so much that it’s kind of fun to do the whole thing.

I don’t work for him (Carmen) during the day… during the day I’m a nursing student.

I worked with thoroughbreds for a while and riding horses, and then met Carmen. I would work for Carmen full time, but he lives an hour and a half away, he’s not close. I’ve been with him for five years doing this.

And the worst?

I tell everybody that the only thing I hate about racing is racing in the mud. Everything else I’m good with, but racing in the mud… it takes at least double the time, makes for a long night.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

Obviously, my riding horses would be my favorites, but if I was to pick one of Carmen’s…. I’ve had a couple that have been my absolute favourite. I was a part of Bugger Bruiser winning the OSS Final, so that was exciting. That was one of my first years working with him. And then, Thorn In Your Side has just always just had a piece of my heart. We don’t have him now, somebody else has him actually. But yeah, being a part of Bugger Bruiser for that was pretty exciting; he’s a nice horse to be around too.

And Camaes Fellow, he’s retired now, Carmen still has him. One of the best horses I think I’ve ever paddocked. His willingness to race and his spirit and his fight was pretty incredible to watch. Actually, I think he would be my number one. I told Carmen that if I got a farm in the next couple of years that I would take him off his hands. He’s a pretty cool dude.

Favorite story or memory?

I think the Bugger Bruiser thing…. and Camae, just because he was so great. I think any big race that we are a part of is a really cool experience just because you get the whole adrenaline rush and your horse is in a big race and that’s kind of exciting. I think those are really the best nights to be a part of it.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

I would have to say… I went to the University of Guelph and we had a teacher, Doug Nash, who was a standardbred man and he was a pretty incredible guy. He taught me a lot. I wasn’t interested in standardbreds at all until I met him. So I would say that he was the one who inspired me to widen my horizon past riding horses and give it a chance. He had a big impact on where I ended up.

Race 10 — Jamie Litt from Rockwood, ON

Working for Mark Steacy, caring for 3-year-old pacing filly Parisian Blue Chip

What’s the best part about being a caretaker?

The horses, it’s all about the horses. You have to have a passion for the horses. It’s pretty much as simple as that. It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of hard work, it’s long hours, but to the people that enjoy the horses, it’s rewarding.

And the worst?

For me, it’s the getting up in the morning. I’m terrible at getting up in the morning. Yeah, there’s not really any part of it that’s bad. The long days are hard, but it’s the nature of the business. There’s not really any part that you hate the most.

Favorite horse that you’ve cared for or admired from afar?

There’s been a few that I’ve looked after that I’ve enjoyed. I won’t name names, because there’s been more than one, so it’s unfair to some of them that I did look after, but there’s been a few that have got to the heart a little more than others, for sure.

Favorite story or memory?

I guess a moment that would stand out for me is we were here racing a number of years ago when Somebeachsomewhere was racing, and we watched him here on the TV in The Meadowlands Pace. It happened to be the night he got beat, but the crowd, the atmosphere, it was just harness horse racing that I remember when I was a kid, you know, the crowds and the excitement. That was the best of times for harness racing, for sure.

Is there anybody either inside or outside the business that inspires you?

No, not really. Just a little bit from everybody. You see a little bit in different people that you like. I wouldn’t say there’s any one in particular. You learn from many. You never stop learning in this business, that’s for sure.

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