Thursday night, as every year, I followed the Sovereign Awards, applauding the accomplishments of people and horses.
I was thrilled to see Mighty Heart win Champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year. His story was a bright light in a year that has been filled with darkness, uncertainty and fear for all. His story brought excitement, joy and collective hope. Watching and cheering for the one-eyed wonder gave many of us a short but most welcome reprieve from the challenges of navigating our daily lives in unprecedented times.
Mighty Heart, nor any of the other horses, did not wander onto the racetrack alone. His success is due to countless hours of hard work and dedication by a whole group of people. He is part of a much bigger picture and a much bigger team, Josie Carroll Racing. And at the helm of that ship is the unwavering hand of its captain, Josie herself. Under her watchful eyes, with her knowledge, skill and experience, her trainees grow and thrive until she deems them ready to step into the starting gate.
Training racehorses is a challenge on any given day. The industry is changing and trainers have to grapple with media controversy, changing regulations, not to speak of the lack of experienced and passionate backstretch workers. Small tracks and trainers are being put out of business as they can no longer compete with the rise of “super trainers” and governing bodies only interested in the almighty dollar. The passion, commitment and love for the sport of kings that has kept it going for so long is a mere flicker of what it used to be.
And so it was that, with great disappointment, I saw the Sovereign Award for Outstanding Trainer be handed to Mark Casse, yet again.
This is not to take away from Mark Casse’s accomplishments. His rise to prominence in North American racing is impressive and remarkable. But at this point, I think it is important to remember that these are the Canadian Sovereign Awards. And the category for Outstanding Trainer should be for exactly that. A trainer that has accomplished outstanding things during the racing year. Casse undoubtedly had an excellent year when looking at the numbers. But is that what this award should be for? Mere statistics? If that is the case, the category should be renamed.
The award for Outstanding Trainer should be given careful consideration and take into consideration all those that train, regardless of if they have 5 horses, 25 horses, 50 or hundreds of horses.
That Josie Carroll did not win Outstanding Trainer of the year is despicable.
Despite the racing season being shortened, she still managed to have one of her best, if not the best year of her training career – 9 stake races with 7 different horses. All 3 Triple Crown races, even if it was with 2 different horses and, of course, the Oaks.
During normal times, this alone would have been laudable. But thrown into the mix, a global pandemic that affected each and everyone that crippled the world and wreaked and is still wreaking havoc on businesses far and wide. Racing was not spared. And yet, Josie walked into the barn each and every morning to do what she knows and loves, while at the same time dealing with the implications of the pandemic on her entire staff and her horses. So that now, she wasn’t just training horses, she was counseling and boosting morale, calming fears, all the while upholding safety measures to keep everyone healthy and safe. Spending countless hours on the phone with frustrated owners and attending zoom meetings, championing for racing itself.
What she accomplished this past year wasn’t outstanding – it was extraordinary.