Bob McIntosh — master horseman

The multi-Hall of Famer on the secrets to his long, successful career.

by Murray Brown

There was an innocuous horse by the name of The Monarch C who played somewhat of a major role in the lives of Jack McIntosh, his sons Doug and Bob, Jack’s nephew Al and to a small degree, yours truly.

Let me try to explain.

Jack McIntosh, in the words of his son Bob, was somewhat of a livestock savant. Whether it was beef or dairy cattle or horses, Jack McIntosh excelled.

Jack became aware of an outlaw pacer in Western Canada that his owner couldn’t do much with. His name was The Monarch C.

Always up for a challenge, Jack McIntosh offered to trade one of his heifers for the horse. The offer was quickly accepted.

With a great deal of patience and utilizing his innate horsemanship, Jack was able to get along with the outlaw and eventually developed him into a racehorse.

He then sent the horse to the stable of Del MacTavish in Montreal where he rose through the ranks to become a solid B1 pacer on what was then the top racing circuit in Canada.

Along the way, Jack sold a piece to a friend of his named Don Backer.

Where do the McIntosh brothers and cousin Al fit in, one might ask? Of course Doug and Bob were direct witnesses to their father’s wizardry.

A few years later Bob and Al established a partnership which still exists to this day. They began racing mostly claimers and cheap overnight horses and were quite successful doing it. Their next step in the natural progression often found in this business was to enter the yearling game.

They had some money but not enough they felt was needed to get into yearlings, then, as now, a risky and expensive enterprise.

Bob thought of Don Barker, his father’s partner on The Monarch C.

The approached him. Don said he was in and they were on their way.

How does The Curmudgeon fit in you might ask? The Monarch C was the first harness horse that I ever knew. I found myself in the stable area of Blue Bonnets Raceway at least a hundred years ago and came across a personable fellow of about my age named Duncan MacTavish. Why was I in the stable area? I really cannot remember.

Anyway, we got to talking and I discovered that Duncan drove and trained harness horses. He said that he was driving one that evening. His name was The Monarch C.

He said that he thought he had a good chance of winning with him and that he was worth a bet. At the time, my entire bankroll was about $5. I decided to bet $2 on The Monarch C. As it happened, the horse won and paid something like $12. That was it. I was hooked. That began a 60-some-year journey, with most of my working life devoted to following these noble steeds.

It’s such a small world that we inhabit.

According to Standardbred Canada’s statistics (dating from 1984) horses trained by Bob McIntosh have won 4,459 races and earned $102,270,018. His UDRS number in that time period is .356.

McIntosh has been training horses since the mid 1970s. The reality is that those numbers would be increased by many more dollars, perhaps millions. Why do the stats only begin in 1984 (USTA stats only begin in 1991)? Goodness only knows. But that’s a topic for another conversation.

Bob and his older brother, Doug, began training horses under the tutelage of their father Jack.

After a few years with Doug, Bob decided to branch off on his own with his cousin Al as his partner.

They began with cheap overnighters and claimers. After several years of success with them, they branched into yearlings.

Since then, Bob’s success has been phenomenal.

He is a member of both the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame among numerous other honors.

I had the pleasure of speaking with him several times this past week.

Bob, from the time you went on your own, your success was almost instantaneous. Are there any particular reasons why?

“I think there were quite a few horsemen who were as talented and worked just as hard as I did. My ace in the hole was something I learned from my dad. I, like he, never particularly wanted to be a driver. Back then most of the trainers drove their own horses. They might have been good trainers, but a lot of them were, to put it kindly, not the best of drivers. I always used what I thought were the best drivers available to drive my horses. I started with guys like Bill Gale, Trevor Richie and a kid my age named John Campbell at Windsor Raceway. Through the years, I’ve used a lot of the best drivers ever including, but not limited to, Mike Lachance, Bill O’Donnell, Ron Pierce, Ronnie Waples, his son Randy, Dave Magee, and in recent years Trevor Henry. Another reason I think has been my use of long checks in racing or even no checks in training. As soon as I claimed one, the first thing I usually did was drop the horse’s check. It gave the horse more freedom. He was happier. Generally speaking, the happier a horse is, the better, it will perform for you.”

Let’s talk about some of your great horses.

Camluck — “Having him was like winning the lottery. He was a terrific racehorse, maybe not a true great in the manner of Artsplace, Staying Together and Artiscape, but he was a whole lot better than having an empty stall. We really had no intention of standing him, because at that point we were not in the breeding business. After his time trial at Lexington, we had him sold for $600,000 to Hill Farms in Ohio. Bobby Hill, then the farm owner, was bringing us a check in payment for the horse when he was arrested for drug trafficking. Needless to say, the deal collapsed. The rest is history. He became one of the great sires in this sport’s history. We stood him at Seelster Farm in Lucan for the duration of his breeding career.

“Until Bettors Delight came along, he was the greatest pacing sire to ever stand in Ontario. Bettors Delight came here as a made sire, so he got good mares from a top syndicate. Camluck did it all on his own. There were very few mares that he didn’t improve. He was a blessing to everyone who had anything to do with him.”

Artsplace — “I only had him for one year, but what a year. He won all 16 of his starts and earned $932,325. He was voted 1992 Horse of the Year. Not only was it a great year racing Artsplace, but it was such a pleasure in racing him for two wonderful men in George Segal and Brian Monieson. Brian and his wife Doris enjoyed every minute of this great adventure. They didn’t miss a single one of his races. The loss of Brian at such a young age was such a great one for our sport. I still think of him and miss him to this day.”

Staying Together — “I had to replace a Horse of the Year, so the next year in 1993 I was lucky enough to have another one in Staying Together. He was a great warrior. He also came ready to compete. In order to beat him, a horse had to be good, very good. We won 28 races and earned $1,470,332 with him.”

Artiscape — “One of the few horses to be both Two Year Old and Three Year Old Pacer of his year.”

Western Shooter — “Maybe the greatest horse that I or anybody else was ever around. He had it all — great breeding, was a magnificent individual and above all had unbelievable talent. He was a truly great 2-year-old who towered above any horse that he faced. His loss in the winter of his 3-year-old season still depresses me. After he died, I was so heart broken and depressed that I couldn’t leave the house for weeks.”

“There are numerous others, Lustra’s Big Guy was probably the first great or close to great horse that I had. He probably put me on the map. Others include in no particular order, Delinquent Account, Savvy Almahurst, Only Take Cash, LA Delight, Thinking Out Loud, Immortality, So Fresh, Sunset Warrior, Electric Slide, Armbro Officer, Die Loving, Mattaroni, Three Mile Island, Armbro Officer, Squirter, Crown Lavec, Western Maverick, Allamerican Ingot, Whenyouwishuponastar, Bond Street, Mystery Fund, Armbro Bombay and probably a few others that I’ve left out.”

Bob you’ve had great male horses, but it seems that you’ve had incredible success with fillies. Are there any secrets to that?

“I think it’s just mostly common sense. It comes down to the title of that song by the Temptations, Treat Her Like a Lady. I’ve found that with fillies you’ve got to try to get along with them and not fight them. If you fight them, neither one of you are going to win.”

Bob, you are 68. Your success has been phenomenal. You’ve won most of the races worth winning. You’ve won 16 Breeders Crown races, more than anybody not named Jimmy Takter. You’ve spent too many years fighting the cold weather and driving that long road from Windsor to Mohawk. Have you had any thoughts about slowing down and maybe training in the warm Florida sunshine?

“I’ve given it some thought, but very little. Firstly, most of the success I’ve been lucky enough to have is due to the great staff I have. Most of them have been with me for years. They have their families in the area. If I went to Florida, I’d probably lose them. I couldn’t bear that and I’m certain the success of the stable would be impacted. Secondly, I may be getting older, but I don’t feel it. I get up each morning with a smile on my face and the thought of hopefully riding behind some future champion. I haven’t thought of cutting down. We are still open for business.”

In addition to the impact you’ve had as a trainer, you’ve also been a very successful breeder. It appears that you’ve pretty much restricted yourself to racing and breeding Ontario breds.

“To a great degree that is so. In my opinion, the Ontario program is the very best in the world. The stakes payments are low. The ease of travel is much better than anywhere else. If you’ve got a good horse the money is excellent. If not, you can pay your way in the B events. Now with the breeders awards, you can still reap good rewards without paying training bills. It may not be easy. Nothing in this business is. But the opportunities are there.”

You’ve got a great family, let’s hear about them.

“I’ve been married to Patty for 30 years. She is the glue that keeps our operation together. She handles all the books and does a great job of it. Moreover, she helps to get me up when I sometimes get down. We have two sons, Rob and Sean. Both of them are natural horsemen and work well with horses. But they have chosen to venture successfully in the real world. The older, Rob, is a lighting engineer. His younger brother, Sean, just graduated from the University of Toronto as a doctor. We consider cousin Al to be part of the family, because he has been with us from the very beginning. Through those years, never has there been a cross word between us.”

You are a member of the two most renowned Halls of Fame for harness racing in North America.

“I was enshrined in Goshen in 2003 and I still find it difficult to believe I’m in with that great group of people. It was certainly a great honor to get into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and I am grateful for that as well, but Goshen was very, very special.”

How about the horsemen you’ve encountered through the years? Who would you rate as the best?

“If I were restricted to only one, I suppose it would be Jack Kopas. But really close behind would be Clint Hodgins. Both of them really incredible horsemen and great people.”

Let’s turn to drivers.

“John Campbell was the very best not only driving for me, but also over a great period of time. Just look at his numbers and you can see why. For a shorter period of time, Bill O’Donnell might have been as good.”

What’s your stable’s composition like today?

“We’ve got 44 head, almost all of them Ontario eligibles. Twenty-one of them are 2-year-olds. The rest are 3-year-olds with a few older horses thrown in. For the first time in forever, my brother Doug and I own a colt together. He’s a trotting colt by Trixton.”

How about your involvement in breeding?

“We have 15 or so broodmares. We raise our own as we’ve always done. I’m a great believer in raising a horse naturally. They are herd animals. A lonely horse is generally an unhappy horse. We raise them together, feed them well, worm and vaccinate them regularly and treat them as horses.”

How has COVID-19 affected you?

“Using one word, I would say terribly. Perhaps not as much as some stables which are entirely composed of raceway horses, but pretty bad, nevertheless. We’ve got 44 head to feed and take care of with no money coming in. We’ve usually done fairly well in winter earning enough money to buy some feed, pay salaries and make a few stakes payments. Now all the money is going out, with nothing coming in. It’s pretty difficult.”

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