Training racehorses, specifically the stars of this game, is no easy feat. This is especially true when they are quirky, capricious, and want to be their own boss.

Just ask Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield. Working in the industry for over 40 years, Attfield has come across some notable horses that have been *interesting* to train.

Case in point, Alydeed.


“As a two-year-old he was quite easy to manage. As he got older, he got very aggressive in his training. He had all the ability in the world but his temperament would change in a second. He was like a Jekyll and Hyde! He would change from being a really nice horse to a really aggressive horse. I had to take him with the pony a lot and sometimes he would just freeze and you had to just to work along with him.

“I remember one day I was schooling him in the paddock and he just froze and started to stare at the sky. You could tell if you tried to make him move he was going to throw a tantrum and throw himself on the ground. So we just let him stand there. He stood there for 20 minutes and all of sudden he just mellowed out, put his head down and we walked him home, and he was just like a puppy dog. He was a very strange horse.”

Split personality aside, in 1992, Alydeed not only won the Gr. 3 Derby Trial Stakes, but also captured the prestigious Queen’s Plate. He was a runner-up in the Gr.2 Preakness Stakes that same year and in 1993 he secured the Gr.3 Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Keeneland as well as the Gr.1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct.

While working with Alydeed presented its challenges, Attfield notes there was another champ whose training wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

“There was a filly called Miss Keller that I won the [Gr.1] E.P. Taylor with later on in life. A very interesting filly. She came to me from Ireland and they told me how difficult she was to train. When we first got her she didn’t want to train and she would pull herself up in the mornings and not move. We got her to the races and she showed a distinct dislike to anybody telling her anything.You had to ask her, you couldn’t tell her anything,” said Attfield.

The filly was also tough to deal with in the barn. “We spent a lot of time with her. She was very difficult to catch in the stall; she would kick you out of the stall in a heartbeat. She just had her own attitude, big attitude.”

However, in time her attitude did eventually improve– in part due to the help of a four-legged friend.

“One day someone was carrying a terrier in their arms down the shed row. She started to scream her head off and neigh and get all excited so we took the little dog to her stall and she nuzzled it. She made a tremendous fuss over this dog. So it was at that point in time that we decided we would buy a stuffed toy for her, like sort of a little dog. We hung it up in front of her stall and she just loved that thing to death and her whole attitude changed tremendously as far as handling her in the stall.”

Miss Keller and her beloved stuffed dog. (HorseDVM Pinterest)

Racing-wise, however, as Attfield continued to work with her he realized that whoever rode Miss Keller could not hit her with the stick. With that in mind, the filly began to show her talent.

“She started to run really well and consequently won the E.P. Taylor and other races and went onto to be a very good broodmare, actually.” Miss Keller raced everywhere from Curragh (Ireland) to Saratoga to Woodbine. She placed in several U.S. graded stakes and won the 2010 Gr.2 Canadian Stakes.

“Once we got to understand her, she turned into what she was capable of being. I find that with most horses – you know some are very easy to get along with but some are more difficult to understand. I find that one of the most interesting parts of training, really trying to get inside their head and understand what they are looking for.”

“Once we got to understand her, she turned into what she was capable of being. I find that with most horses – you know some are very easy to get along with but some are more difficult to understand. I find that one of the most interesting parts of training, really trying to get inside their head and understand what they are looking for.”

If you’re a railbird in the morning watching horses work, you might see an eccentric horse or two.

Enter Brass in Pocket. Trained by another Hall of Famer, Robert Tiller, the graded stakes winner was apparently a handful for riders during morning training. Tiller recalls exercise rider Kwan C Lamb being her go-to rider.

“He was the only guy that would deal with her. She would just come on the racetrack and wheel and it was horrible to get her going,” said Tiller.

It’s no secret that exercise riders and jockeys have a precarious job in handling racehorses. In light of that fact, an ambulance is on hand both in the morning and afternoon to assist a fallen rider and determine if further medical assistance is needed.

Tiller, who has been training horses for almost five decades, remembers a day some 20 years ago when Brass in Pocket dropped Lamb – but there was no ambulance on site.

“To tell you the truth in those days we would have to call 911 if somebody got hurt, believe it or not. That’s the only time that I’ve had a fire truck come out onto the racetrack. We called 911. He [Lamb] was lying on the track, she had dropped him so bad. Here come the Etobicoke Fire Department and this guy drove right onto the training track, out the gap and onto the racetrack. I have never seen that in my life, before or since.” Luckily, Lamb just ended up hurting his shoulder. “It wasn’t as serious at it first looked.”

But the mare has also provided some wonderful memories in the afternoon for her trainer. “She was a really great mare and won a lot of races. Of course in those days we had all the Ontario Sired races and she was the queen.”

Brass in Pocket became a multiple stakes winner, securing a handful of black type stakes wins including three consecutive victories in the Classy ‘n Smart Stakes (2002-2004). In 2004 she also won the Gr.3 Seaway Stakes.

One Queen’s Plate winner that will remain notable for his behaviour is Kennedy Road. Racing historian Tom Cosgrove doesn’t have the fondest of memories of the racing champ.

“He wasn’t a very nice horse at all. I mean, he was just nasty to work around. Paul Cooper looked after him during his three-year-old year for J C Bentley – that Plate Year was 1971. Nobody wanted to mess with Kennedy Road. Nobody.”

Kennedy Road, with jockey Sandy Hawley riding, romps to easy 3 1/2-length victory over 32-1 shot Fabe Count in the 112th running of the Queen’s Place at Woodbine. (Doug Griffin/Toronto Star Archives)

It would appear that Kennedy Road’s victories as well as his reputation followed him into the history books as well. In The Plate: 150 Years of Royal Tradition from Don Juan to Eye of the Leopard, Louis Cauz and Bev Smith noted that Kennedy Road ‘had a tempermental streak that severely tested the patience of the men who trained him – Jim Bentley, Charles Whittingham and Clarke Whitaker.’

“Kennedy Road was a brute of a horse,” Woodbine’s former head of media, Bruce Walker, said in a 2017 TRC article. “A nasty horse, too, I can attest as he bit me once!”

Whatever flaws he may have possessed in character, Kennedy Road made up for in his star-studded career. He earned the racing spotlight in Canada as well as in the U.S. “He went on from Ontario to California where he showed his overall quality as a racehorse, racing against the best older horses in California,” said Cosgrove.

In 1973 the son of Victoria Park landed wins in both the Gr.1. San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita as well as the Gr.1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park. That year the five-year-old Ontario-bred also found himself racing against the great Secretariat in the Marlboro Cup as well as the Canadian International championship. On both days, Secretariat stole the spotlight.

Regardless, Kennedy Road earned the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year and in 2000 was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Frank Courtney has been working in the racing industry for a very long time, beginning in the early ’60s walking hots for trainer Andy Smithers. The last five decades have also seen Courtney as an exercise rider, the clerk of scales and a bookkeeper.

Not surprisingly, he’s met a few capricious characters along the way.

“This is going back quite a while. There was a horse called Mr. T.F, a big chestnut horse that Andy Smithers trained. Talk about being a comedian around the barn! When you would be walking him this horse could all of sudden take his left leg and put it in front of you and trip you,” said Courtney saw many hapless hotwalkers fall prey to the chestnut’s cheeky tactics.

“One summer we were at Fort Erie and it was a rainy morning and the hotwalkers all had rubber boots on. So this poor kid is walking in front of me and doesn’t this horse just take his left leg and I swear he did it deliberately, because he did it more than once. When you’ve seen more than one hotwalker get tripped by this horse, you think ‘this horse, I think he’s doing it on purpose.’”

Courtney also remembers another horse trained by Smithers who was an interesting character.

“This horse’s name was Gauchesco, who was owned by Ed Seedhouse. He was a stallion that was stabled at the very end stall and when the hot walkers would come around the corner and they really weren’t watching themselves, he would run out and bite them.”

“He was a bad boy of racing, but he was a stakes horse.”

Another horse that Courtney recalls is Ambassador B. Trained by Gil Rowntree, Ambassador B won several stakes in the ’70s at both Fort Erie and Woodbine. The roan horse was known for giving his exercise boys a really hard time. “When he would be walking to the track, all of a sudden he would wheel and drop them and take off. He was notorious for that. An exercise boy by the name of Dougie Anderson got along with him really well and knew his tricks. But every once and awhile he would get one of them sitting on their seats and he would be heading home to his barn,” said Courtney.

Taming temperaments while tapping into talent appears to be an essential element in turning a rough diamond into a Canadian racing gem.