Each week, in the lead-up to Opening Day (April 17) of the 2021 Woodbine Thoroughbred season, we’ll follow some of the must-read storylines of key horses and horsepeople, and also share other informative news and notes.
From horses on the Queen’s Plate trail, to horses to keep tabs on ahead of the new Woodbine season, to catching up with Woodbine trainers, the weekly report will keep racing fans and the racing community in the loop.
In this week’s report, 17-year-old owner Joshua Attard talks about his Plate hopeful, Darwin Baranch offers his thoughts on his 2020 campaign and looks ahead to the 2021 season, Sovereign Award finalist Silent Poet readies for his Woodbine campaign, plus much more.
Path to the Plate:
Joshua Attard, son of multiple stakes winning trainer Kevin Attard, is hoping his Keep Grinding gets a shot at Queen’s Plate glory on August 22.
In his last year of high school, Joshua has high praise for his three-year-old Ontario-bred (trained by his grandfather Tino Attard), who capped off his two-year-old year with an impressive victory.
Horse: Keep Grinding
Trainer: Tino Attard
Owner: Joshua Attard
Breeder: Huntington Stud Farm Corp.
Record: 1-0-0 from 3 starts
On being a teenage Thoroughbred owner…
“It feels great. I never would have expected, to be honest, to have a horse like this at my age. I’m really excited to have an opportunity to have a horse that is eligible for the Queen’s Plate, and that has a chance to be in the race.”
On when he knew Keep Grinding had potential…
“I knew when he started to work as a two-year-old last year. I used to go in the summer, when I didn’t have school, to watch him work and he would put on a show. His first race on the grass, I knew he had some talent because he came from far out of it and the race was a little short for him. He’s a two-turn horse. When he broke his maiden (watch the race here), that’s when I said I had a Queen’s Plate prospect.”
On why he chose the name…
“I wanted to name my horse something that motivated me. I play hockey. When I go into the corners, I always tell myself to keep grinding for the puck. So, if I ever had the chance to own a horse I would name it Keep Grinding. It’s something that motivates me and I hope it motivates other people.”
On the thought of having a Queen’s Plate starter…
“I’m very excited and happy. I’m really looking forward to that possibility of being in the Plate. Hopefully, everything goes well and we make it to the race. He started training in the past three weeks. It would be great if my grandfather and I had a shot to be in the Plate.”
On staying patient with the race being run on August 22…
“I try not to think about it. I keep my thoughts to myself. I know it’s a hard road to get to the Queen’s Plate, so we’ll just hope the horse keeps developing and getting better each week.”
Career wins: 288
Stakes wins: 15
Winter home: “I have eight horses in training at CamHaven Farms [Caledon, Ontario]. It’s an amazing facility with a brand-new 42-stall barn and indoor arena. It’s fantastic. They [Thoroughbred owners, Malta Manors Stables] are investing in the industry, and have done an amazing job with their CamHaven property. Erika [Banach’s wife] gets on the horses and I get them ready for her.”
Last season: “It was such a trying year for everybody with everything that was going on because of the pandemic. I think we were lucky just to be able to run the races. As for successes, I was hoping we’d get over 20 wins. That’s my goal, to win over 20 races each year. It was cool to have Samurai Queen (click here to read the story) change around and do so well. We had a pretty good year with English Conqueror, who was third in the Breeders’ Stakes.”
This season: “I am [looking forward to 2021]. I have 42 horses – we picked up some new owners – and we’re excited. We’re hoping to get a few more stalls, to keep our owners happy. That’s exciting. We’re itching to get back.”
Key horses: “English Conqueror is having a great winter. He’s grown up and he’s filling out more, which is what you hope for from their three- to four-year-old year. He showed that he can go a route of ground and likes the turf. He’s got a mile-and-a-half turf course at Woodbine that suits him perfectly. You’ve got to like that and there are lots of races – from 1 1/16th to 1 ½ – for him. We’re excited about that. If he can just move forward a little, get a length or two better, hopefully you’ll be calling me and we can talk about him some more. Samurai Queen is wintering very well. She’s up at Vera Simpson’s farm and she’s just getting turned out and enjoying her little break in life. Hopefully, she comes in as strong as ever and we win some more races with her.
“We also have two very nice two-year-olds that are in Florida right now. One is by Tapiture and the other one is by Frosted. They’re both training at Richard Kent’s training centre. The Tapiture’s name is Likeso, who is owned by John and Julie Terdik – very nice people. The Frosted one, who is owned by Steve MacDonald, hasn’t been named yet. He is a half-brother to Stunning Sky, a graded stakes winner of $400,000. They’re two nice horses and we’re looking forward to them also.”
Final furlong: “We didn’t win a stakes race, which was something we wanted to achieve, so hopefully we can come up with some horses that can be in a position to win those races.”
Ones to Watch:
From Canadian Thoroughbred’s Jennifer Morrison…
Trainer Nick Gonzalez is eagerly anticipating the arrival of his favourite horse, Silent Poet, to his barn at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida.
Now 6-years-old, Silent Poet (Silent Name (JPN) – Cara Bella, by Ghostzapper) is coming off a career-best season for owner/breeder Stronach Stables. The speedy dark bay won four of his six races in 2020, including the Grade 2 Nearctic Stakes and Grade 2 Connaught Cup Stakes.
He is a Sovereign Award (the ceremony is scheduled for April) finalist for both Champion Turf Male and Champion Male Sprinter honours.
Gonzalez, who has trained Silent Poet his entire career, said the gelding is about to return to him after a winter in Ocala, Fla. He will be pointed to the sprint stakes on the Woodbine schedule in 2021.
Ontario Stallion Spotlight:
Click here to get to know Big Screen, the stakes winning son of champion Speightstown.
2020 Race Rewind:
Watch Etoile hold off a hard-charging Court Return to take top prize in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes on October 18, 2020. Click here to watch the E.P. Taylor Stakes.
Find out more about the Racing ‘Round the World draw. Please click here.
Key Woodbine Dates:
Monday, February 22, 2021 – Backstretch re-opens for set-up
Wednesday, February 24, 2021 – Horses begin shipping in
Thursday, February 25, 2021 – Sand Ring and Training Track open – weather permitting
Saturday, March 2021 – Main Track opens – weather permitting and date TBD based on spring thaw
Saturday, April 17, 2021 – Scheduled Opening Day