Tale of three caretakers as they prep for Ontario’s biggest night of racing

Tale of three caretakers as they prep for Ontario’s biggest night of racing

June 14, 2019

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Tyler Schlatman, Ashley MacDonald and Jeff Baillargeon are putting in even more work this week as they prepare their horses for Saturday’s $2.6 million Pepsi North America Cup card at Woodbine Mohawk Park.

by Sandra Snyder | Sponsored by Ontario Racing

A total of 139 horses will head out of the paddock at Woodbine Mohawk Park on Saturday night hoping to earn a share of the $2.6 million up for grabs on the Pepsi North America Cup card. They will be sent on their way by caretakers who have logged countless hours this week making sure every need was met, every detail completed in an effort to give each horse their best shot on Ontario’s biggest night of racing.

“We’re certainly putting in the hours. A lot of prep work, a lot of extra tubbing and walking and training, and all that,” said Tyler Schlatman, who will hand Casie Coleman trainee Stag Party over to driver Brian Sears for the Pepsi North America Cup Final. “We’re all putting in a little more work than we normally do, even though we work pretty hard normally, so, you know, long days.”

Stag Party will make his bid for a share of the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup purse from Post 10. The Bettors Delight—My Lady Day son finished third in the elimination won by Workin Ona Mystery last week, pacing his best mile of the 2019 season, and Schlatman says his basic routine has remained unchanged this week.

“We turn out for an hour or more every day and then we jog him lightly on a small sand track, and just grass him lots,” said the caretaker, who left the field of radio broadcasting to pursue the Performance Horse Handler program through the University of Guelph at REACH Huron in Clinton, ON.

“He’s a typical Bettors Delight, he’s very sharp. He’s nippy, he likes to bite, he’s very playful, he likes to squeal at all the horses. In the paddock last year he was very unruly, he would rear up, with no warning he would rear up, but he’s matured a lot this year. He’s actually a lot more mature and he seems to be more focussed, more locked in.”

Schlatman, who has worked for Coleman for three years and was also Stag Party’s caretaker last season, says that maturity is the most notable change about the colt this season. Taller than average at two, the colt did not grow much over the winter, simply filled out his lanky frame.

In addition to Stag Party, Schlatman also cares for McWicked, Alexis Faith and 2-year-old pacing colt Indictable Hanover for Coleman. Others have been lined up to handle McWicked and Alexis Faith on Saturday night as they compete in the Mohawk Gold Cup and Roses Are Red, but both Stag Party and Alexis Faith will enter the retention barn before 11 pm tonight and Schlatman will make sure their needs are met on Saturday.

“I will go to retention first thing and I’ll feed them. Like I’ll get up at 4 am and I’ll go over there and I’ll feed them and walk them and do the stalls, and then I’ll come back to Casie’s barn and I’ll work on a couple horses here and then I’ll go back, I’ll feed lunch and walk them some more, and then I’ll go home for a little bit, and then I’ll come back and I’ll brush them up and get them ready to go into the paddock,” said the caretaker. “So probably four or five times on Saturday I’ll go back and forth between my barn and there and my house and there, just to look after them.”

Ashley MacDonald does not have to worry about retention for trotting mare Emoticon Hanover, who will also start from Post 10 in the $256,000 Armbro Flight final. The Kadabra—Emmylou Who daughter finished third in the elimination won by Hannelore Hanover last weekend and whether she can upend the favorite this week or not, MacDonald is confident ‘Mo’ will show up ready to compete.

“Emoticon is the perfect example of a professional equine athlete. She’s super, super smart. She knows how to be looked after. She knows what her job is,” said MacDonald, who will hand the Luc Blais trainee off to driver Bob McClure Saturday. “When she gets to the racetrack, it’s all business. She doesn’t really like other horses and she really kind of doesn’t like people messing with her vibe. She just stands there, she’s got her eyes — her eyes are huge — and she’s just taking in all the scenery. She’s seen it all, she’s gone everywhere and she just knows what’s happening.”

MacDonald says whether Emoticon Hanover is prepping for an overnight or a major stakes race her daily routine never varies. After time in her paddock the winner of $1.7 million heads to the walker and then gets harnessed and goes out to the racetrack before returning to the barn for a bath, including a drink of water from the hose.

“You can give Luc all the credit in the world for this, she is probably one of the only horses we don’t mess with her schedule. She knows her schedule, she has it and it doesn’t change,” said caretaker, who learned her trade from parents Ron MacDonald and Kim Seaman. “She’s not going to do anything out of her normal routine. She’s very self-efficient, knows what she’s got to do.”

In addition to Emoticon Hanover, MacDonald cares for Dream Together, Hey Jock, Bramasole Hanover and Whose Blues, but says her job and the barn itself, revolves around Emoticon Hanover.

“The barn is built around Emoticon, she is the Queen,” said MacDonald, who came to Blais 16 months ago after film school did not yield her dream job at TSN. “I’m like a nanny and a bodyguard. She’s the celebrity that gets to just do whatever she wants and you’re kind of like, ‘Well maybe you shouldn’t do that,’ or you just kind of move the obstacles out of her way to do what she wants.

“When she’s coming off the trailer into the paddock she knows she’s the star. She’s got this strut, this powerful way of walking that I just have to pretty much run to keep up with her.

“She’s super cool. Like by far the best standardbred I’ve ever looked after in my life.”

Joining Emoticon Hanover in the Armbro Flight are a trio of mares from the Ben Baillargeon stable and his son Jeff Baillargeon is the caretaker for Kadabra daughters Royal Witch and P L Jill. The mares finished fifth and third, respectively, in the elimination won by Atlanta last weekend and will start from Posts 1 and 8 in Saturday’s final.
While Baillargeon admits both mares, along with their stablemate Top Expectations who gets Post 6, are faced with a tough task against Hannelore Hanover and Atlanta from Posts 3 and 4, he is still looking forward to the event.
“It should be a really fun night and I’ll definitely be spending a long, long day stressing out and trying to attend to all of their needs, making sure everything is good,” said Baillargeon. “And I will clean all my harnesses and oil them. I like them all to be perfect and shiny and everything. So it’s a lot of fun, I enjoy that part a lot.”
Baillargeon’s attention to detail is one of the reasons Royal Witch is returned to his care each time he comes back to the barn from the pursuit of an education leading toward a PhD in history. Last spring, at the start of her 4-year-old campaign, the mare’s personality bloomed and she started to fully embody her name.
“She has become a trotting mare with all that goes with it,” said Baillargeon ruefully. “And I just really enjoyed seeing her come out of her shell and become as entitled as she feels that she is. She’s a great mare and I spoil her and I’m glad to see that she reciprocates. And also she doesn’t like anyone else but me, it’s quite funny.
“If I put her in the ties, anyone who walks close is always like, ‘Is that Whitney?’ and they have to walk very wide because she will wind them up and go after them,” he adds with a chuckle.
As a result of Royal Witch’s finicky nature Baillargeon will handle her care on Saturday, passing her along to driver Trevor Henry for the sixth race, while Jamie Litt concentrates on P L Jill, who he will hand over to driver Sylvain Filion. Baillargeon started caring for P L Jill when he returned from school in April and says the mare has grown on him quickly.
“She’s another you could say special one, like Royal Witch. They both need their stars aligned, they have a lot of little special needs, they’re both hot trotting mares. I like that, I like when they’re particular about everything, because I guess I am very particular about my things,” said the caretaker. “And she’s really sweet and the cutest thing is that she loves her bananas. So every day when I’m done putting her away, before she goes in her stall she has a banana, and she watches you peel it and her ears and her eyes, everything perks up when she hears the crunch.”
Whether their charges are successful in their respective stake finals Schlatman, MacDonald and Baillargeon will be there to meet them when they come off the racetrack Saturday. Emoticon Hanover will get her bath, P L Jill her bananas and both horses and handlers will set their sights on the next opportunity to shine.

Stakes action June 14 to 20:

June 15

Woodbine Mohawk Park
North America Cup, Fan Hanover, Armbro Flight, Goodtimes, Roses Are Red Finals and Mohawk Gold Cup

Georgian Downs
Sharpe’s Summer Series Final, Horse and Gelding Trotters

Hanover Raceway
Sharpe’s Summer Series Final, Horse and Gelding Pacers

June 18

Georgian Downs
Sharpe’s Summer Series Final, Filly and Mare Trotters

June 19

Grand River Raceway
Sharpe’s Summer Series Final, Filly and Mare Pacers

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