One has to leap a lot of hurdles if they’re going to be successful in the racing game.
Fortunately for trainer Rachel Halden, a native of Wakefield, in Yorkshire, England and a budding training star at Woodbine, she has plenty of real life experience at the task.
“From the age of 16 to 20, I rode both steeplechase and flat racing,” says Halden. “I won my first race at Kelso, a Scottish track, in an apprentice race for steeplechase jockeys. We went two and a half miles over hurdles. I jumped the last two in second place and somehow managed to win.”
Although Halden still gallops her own horses in the morning, she doesn’t miss the daredevil lifestyle of a hurdles jock.
“I was young and fearless!” she laughs. “I wouldn’t do it now, but at that age you don’t think about what could happen to you.”
Halden grew up on a small hobby farm stocked with pigs, cows, goats and a pet pony that the budding horsewoman took a shine to.
“Out of myself and two siblings, I was the one that attached myself to the pony,” she recalls. “Eventually, I went into show jumping and by the time I was 13, I started working in a racing yard and never thought of doing anything else.”
By the age of 20, Halden realized that getting over the next hurdle of her racing career, the dream of becoming a full-time conditioner, was proving to be a steep task in her native U.K.
“In England, it really was the “Sport of Kings”, and back then, females didn’t have as much of an opportunity to get involved,” says Halden. “I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a jockey. I had achieved a few ambitions but I wasn’t going to make a living at it.”
Halden’s career was at a crossroads, so she packed her bags and headed to Florida where she galloped horses for 18 months until her working papers ran out and she had to return home.
While in Florida, Halden met Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield and after having spent a year at home in England, the pull of the game proved to be too much and she returned to North America, set down roots in Canada as a landed immigrant, and went to work for Attfield as an assistant.
It was a position she held for nearly a decade.
Memorable amongst her time with Attfield was a winter spent working in Florida readying Not Bourbon for a shot at the 2008 Queen’s Plate, after Attfield suffered a medical issue and had to return to Canada.
“Roger was away for three months and I looked after his horses and went up to Keeneland with them,” recalls Halden.
Halden went out on her own upon returning to Woodbine that spring, but the work she had put into Not Bourbon paid off handsomely as the colt rumbled to victory.
“It was very special for me to see him go on and win,” said Halden. “I felt a sense of achievement that I didn’t let Roger down.”
That year, Halden would post six winners in her initial campaign, including her first, coming with Gee Pari on May 24, 2008, at Woodbine.
She added another five wins the following year, but accepted an offer from another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, to take care of his Woodbine string in 2010.
“We had a good meet but Bill was down on numbers the following year and one of his strings had to go. I found myself back out on my own again,” says Halden.
Fortunately, the hard work Halden put in each morning paid off in spades thanks to a solid working relationship with Rob Landry, a jockey turned racing manager for the Krembil family’s successful Chiefswood Stable.
“I was Roger’s assistant for 10 years and Rob rode a lot of horses for Roger,” says Halden. “And when I was on my own, Rob rode a few winners for me also. I told Rob that I was going back out on my own again and was looking for an opportunity. he recommended me to the Krembils and it went from there.”
Halden saddled Chiefswood’s Savethethought and Unbridled Overture to two victories apiece in 2011 – but the real breakthrough for Halden came in 2012 with Nipissing, a precocious daughter of Chiefswood’s 2004 Queen’s Plate champion Niigon.
Nipissing went undefeated through four juvenile starts including scores in the Princess Elizabeth and South Ocean Stakes.
“She’s a special filly. There’s no question. She does everything so easy,” says Halden, who was pointing the three-year-old to the June 9 Woodbine Oaks and perhaps the Plate on July 7.
Halden is looking for more in 2013 for herself as well.
“I’d like to expand my stable and pick up a few different clients and try to move forward with my career,” says Halden.
And, given her success so far, it would be no great leap to see Halden realize yet another dream.