Winning at Woodbine Race Track: A Day in the Life of a Thoroughbred
Allow me to take you on a race-day journey – a great love story of horse and trainer that I was lucky enough to be a part of for the race at Fort Erie Race Track on Saturday, May 12th, 2012.
The gorgeous, big, strong Roman-nosed chestnut gelding Ronaldino, was a multiple stake horse in 2008 at Stampede Park before making his way to Woodbine. It was at Woodbine where he competed against a very tough class of $50,000 claimers, until being dropped to $32,000, only to later drop to a very suspiciously low $5,000 price tag in Fort Erie eleven months ago. This did not scare off the Fort’s leading trainer at the time, Mark Fournier, as he jumped at the opportunity to train the classy gelding from the west.
Fournier is a great horseman; he takes pride each and every day with his horses, and trains accordingly. That is exactly what “Ronnie” needed – to be felt appreciated. This is why he gives his best every time Fournier runs him. Ronnie had an outstanding record before joining Fournier’s stables, but with the aforementioned as his trainer he has sizzled with 6 wins, 5 seconds, a third and two fourths in the past 14 races.
This brings me to this past Saturday where Ronnie was scheduled to run at Woodbine in the 2nd race. Both Fournier and Ronnie had to make the trip up the QEW to Toronto from Fort Erie to take a stab at the $24,000 purse. The two of them, whom have rarely been apart in their near three-year long relationship, left the Fort at 6 A.M. to ensure an early arrival without the chance of being scratched due to tardiness. I was picked up along the way in Hamilton, and from the moment I climbed aboard I could feel the excitement and nervousness Fournier exuded.
I would anticipate his nervousness, as for the past four weeks he has spent countless hours babying his pride and joy in hopes of having him in peak condition for this race. Money is on the line - if you don’t win, you go home empty-handed. It’s really that simple in horse racing; you’ve got to win to stay ahead.
As we arrived at the track, Ronnie came out of the horse trailer as calm and happy as could be expected. Standing tall, examining his surroundings, and overall, just enjoying himself as he pranced away into the receiving barn. After a couple of turns in the barn, Fournier already yelling at me (well, he would say he was merely “strongly” asking me) to “get the water pail filled, a small amount of feed in his feed tub, hang his webbing and hang his hay net”. I understood his demands, and acted promptly to them, and together we had Ronnie settled in to his stall, very relaxed and awaiting the call.
Race time was 1:30, which meant we would leave the barn at around 1:00. It was only 8am, and Fournier refused to venture too far away from the chestnut for those 5 hours, keeping Ronnie calm and relaxed. The trainer showed him to the track vet whose job it is to assure the gamblers he is healthy and ready to run, as well as to Fournier’s own vet to make specially sure everything is as it should be for Ronnie’s pre-race.
The time came to give a last-minute cleaning, throw on his race day bandages, pretty him up and throw on the bridal. Ronnie has been known to get a little excited venturing over to the front side on race day, so a pony takes him over to keep him quiet so he doesn’t lose unnecessary energy.
As we reached the paddock, we showed his tattoo to prove his identity. We got to his stall where the valet and Fournier were waiting to throw the jockey’s saddle on. After he was saddled up, Ronnie certainly looked impressive. As he pumped himself up, I swear he grew in stature. I took him for a couple turns of the paddock as he showed off for the fans, prancing around happily and throwing his head showing he was ready to run.
Fournier at this point was talking to the jockey, Justin Stein, with some last-minute suggestions of how to ride him when the paddock judge warned, “Riders up!” We started to the race track. Fournier assumed his place to watch the race. Ronnie was second choice to a heavily bet favorite.
“AANNNNNDDD THEY’RE OFF!” It’s a fair break and the expected speedballs go out in a blistering 21.2, as Ronnie sits a distant 3rd. Stein sits patiently, holding Ronnie until about half the five-furlong race is done, and then begins a move and closes in on the leaders. The favorite still had a few lengths on Ronnie at the head of the lane, and this is when he accelerated to catch the leader with about 1/16th of a mile left – Ronnie WON!
I met Fournier down at the Winner’s Circle where I had to rip his arms away from hugging his Dad so I could celebrate with him. The tears of joy streaming down Fournier’s face as Ronnie made his way to the Winner’s Circle was indescribable. That single memory will stay with me and resonate in my mind for years to come. You know how a picture tells a thousand words? Well that very much applies here.
Fournier then went to congratulate the jock, and made his way to Winner’s circle, alongside his horse. Ronnie, as happy as ever, with his head up so high and his ears perked, posed for the camera.
It was a great day, a great outcome, and once again proved the strong bond between trainer and horse. The relationship between horse, trainer and jockey is very unique, and the reliance on one another is what makes the Sport of Kings so special.
Here are a few links for you to get a better sense of the race:
…and that is the last word.