With the 2017 Woodbine season off and running, things are much quieter at Kingfield Farms in Maple, ON, home to trainer Catherine Day Phillips and her family.
The 150-acre property has been in Day Phillips’ family since her grandparents, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Charles F. W. Burns and his wife, Janet Wilson, bought the farm in 1945. Day Phillips grew up on the farm with her mother and trainer Dinny Day, and her brother, Richard. The current property is now split between the siblings, with Richard running a breeding operation called Kingview Farms on one half and Catherine running the Kingfield racing operation on the other half. Day Phillips, her husband Todd, and sons Blake and Colton, live in the main house that previously belonged to her grandparents, with the training facilities close by.
“We built a new training barn in 2001,” Day Phillips said. “It’s a 28-stall barn and that’s where we have the horses located. We have a little indoor facility that we do some jogging and legging up in. We also have a European walker.”
The facilities are enough to get Day Phillips’ horses ready for the racetrack during the offseason. The majority of horses for her clients stay at the farm during the winter months. Once they finish their respective racing campaigns, the horses get a small break before returning to training in January. After a couple of months of training at the farm, the horses are ready to ship in to Woodbine to continue their preparations for the racing season.
“They start legging up at the beginning of January,” Day Phillips said. “Usually, it’s a mixture of turn out and the European walker. We start riding them at the beginning of February and start jogging them in indoors. If the weather’s too bad they can just do the walker. It’s a pretty good set up.”
Day Phillips’ winter training program on the farm has produced positive results over the last couple of seasons at Woodbine. She’s coming off the best season of her career in terms of wins at Woodbine in 2016, winning 22 races from 84 starters with purse earnings of more than $1.2 million. The biggest win of the campaign for Day Phillips came with 3-year old filly Neshama in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, which was her first career victory in the first jewel of the Canadian Triple Tiara series. With the success of the locally-based horses in recent years, Day Phillips has decided to keep the majority of her stable at home during the winter months.
“Two years ago we sent a bunch of yearlings to Florida and I think the ones that stayed home did just as well as 2-year olds and 3-year olds,” she said. “The horses that have raced late into the year, they come back really quickly. So now we keep them at home and have a little break over the winter time.”
The current set-up also allows Day Phillips to spend more time with her family during the offseason. Day Phillips and several staff members from the track continue to work with the horses day-to-day on the farm, but the somewhat lighter workload allows for each member of the staff to get some time off before the next racing season begins.
“We try to spend a little time with the family and we try to get away around Christmas time, but in general, we’re there in the barn every day,” she said. “Some of (my staff work at the farm). Some of them take a little break. We take turns so everybody takes a little holiday during the winter.”
Day Phillips had 23 horses at the farm this past winter and she now has 26 in training at Woodbine. With most of the horse population from the farm back at the track, there isn’t much action on the farm during the racing season.
“We’ve chosen to keep it a little quieter (during the season),” Day Phillips said. “Right now, it’s just my husband and I and the boys at the farm, so we don’t really take on outside horses. We’re really busy at the racetrack right now, so there’s not a lot of extra hours in a day for the farm, so we keep it pretty quiet.”
A few horses that do remain at the farm year round are retired after outstanding careers. Among them is a pair of horses Day Phillips trained: A Bit o’Gold and Jambalaya. A Bit o’Gold was the 2005 Canadian Horse of the Year after recording wins in the Grade 3 Dominion Day Handicap, the Grade 2 Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes, and the Grade 2 Sky Classic Handicap, while Jambalaya won a pair of Grade 1 races in 2007, including the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup Turf Stakes and the Grade 1 Arlington Million Stakes.
“The ponies and the retired horses are over at our house,” Day Phillips said. “We have a barn and the paddocks at our house. The racehorses are just across the street in the training barn.”
Day Phillips said she enjoys the quiet atmosphere on the farm during the wintertime.
“I remember the last day as we were loading to ship in to Woodbine and it was a beautiful morning,” she said. “It was nice. We enjoyed the time we had on the farm. We had a little more time with our family and the horses enjoy it. It was fun.”
While 2016 was no doubt a successful campaign for the barn, the 2017 season could be just as good. Neshama will return for her 4-year old campaign, while Day Phillips also has a pair of promising 3-year olds, including filly Financial Recovery and colt Guy Caballero, the latter of which was named among the top 10 Winterbook choices for the 158th Queen’s Plate this July.
“We had a very good year last year,” Day Phillips said. “It would be tough to improve on that but if we could keep it going a little bit, that would be great.”