Randy Thompson wasn’t sure he would be able to get the words out when he dialed the number. But when he heard the voice on the other end of the phone, he calmly said, “I finally found the one.”
He remembers the call as if it were yesterday.
Sitting in his car on the Woodbine backstretch, the trainer with the unmistakable Barbadian accent recalled the moment he realized the horse he always dreamed of having was in Barn 4 at the Toronto oval, home to the five Thoroughbreds under his care.
“I’ve been here in Canada and at Woodbine for 20 years, since October of 2000. I had always hoped to find a very special horse one day, a horse that would change my life. I knew Marjorie’s Dream was the one. So, I called [champion jockey] Patrick Husbands, a fellow countryman, and I told him the day had come. And then I told him all about her.”
How he came to train and co-own the powerful, yet agile Ontario-bred chestnut is a story in itself, horse racing’s version of a classic fairytale.
Chapter one began at the 2019 Canadian Premier Yearling Sale, the annual horse sale that takes place on the Woodbine grounds. The main characters are Thompson, his ex-wife Susan Thompson, and her boyfriend John McMullan.
The trio was looking for a Thoroughbred to buy at the sales pavilion, one that came with a modest price tag and untapped potential.
“We bid all day, but we didn’t get anything,” recalled Randy. “We were frustrated. A filly came in the ring and she had a cut on her shoulder. The auctioneer said the horse would be sent back to the farm for 14 days, so that they could treat the cut, and we could get her. She is by Old Forester, who has the champion horse [Pink Lloyd] in Canada. I knew the cut would heal, so we bought the filly for $2,000. We were excited. When she was at the farm, she developed swelling on her hind. It was a hematoma. We took her to a clinic, and they cleaned it out and flushed it. We sent her to another clinic and they also did a fantastic job.”
Days later, Susan received a phone call from the breeder Estelle Clunies, reaching out to thank them for buying the filly, now named Fourteen Days.
“Fourteen Days, she’s a fighter,” said Susan. “We named her after the pandemic, a mark in history none of us will ever forget.”
Clunies also had a question.
“She wanted to let us know they also have the sister available for sale, a two-year-old horse called Marjorie’s Dream,” said Randy. “She sent a picture to us. She was this big, tall horse. I thought, ‘Wow… she’s beautiful.’ I asked how much they wanted and she told me it was $6,000.”
The three mulled the offer over, and figured it might be worth the risk.
They liked what they saw in the picture and quickly realized this horse would be further along than her sibling.
“We ended up making enough money to buy Marjorie’s Dream,” recalled Randy. “We were hoping and praying that Woodbine would open on time in the spring so that we could keep her in a stall there. I have to say a big thank you to Woodbine Racetrack for taking care of us through the pandemic. And then when Ontario Racing funded us with $1,500 [Ontario purse funds from races cancelled in April and May due to COVID-19 restrictions were redistributed to owners of Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Quarter Horses in the form of a monthly stipend] for the horses, it was really great. That helped us pick up our feet and carry us through.”
“We truly feel blessed,” added Susan. “Randy, John and I worked very hard throughout the winter to get Marjorie ready for her racing career.”
Little did they know the thrill ride they was about to embark on with the daughter of Old Forester, sire of multiple stakes champion and 2017 Canadian horse of the year, Pink Lloyd.
Not that the journey would be bereft of drama.
Initial elation at the prospect of owning a young horse with upside was tempered by a series of misfortunes.
Jeffrey Alderson, who worked Marjorie’s Dream early on, was injured in a morning training accident, which sent the jockey to the sidelines for an extended period time.
Randy, desperate to pair Canada’s eight-time top rider Husbands with the horse, was left wondering if it would ever happen.
“I had to stay on with the program for the horse. But I still couldn’t get Patrick, so I turned to another rider, Daisuke Fukumoto. He came and breezed the horse. She ran her first race with Daisuke. We needed to get her going. She ran the farthest of any horse in the race and was fifth, but she was closing. After that, Fukumoto’s agent told me he couldn’t make a long-term commitment because he was riding for a trainer with a bigger outfit. One day, Patrick was supposed to come and work her, and it didn’t work out again.”
Disappointed, he devised another gameplan to get Husbands in the irons.
“I decided to name Patrick on the horse. I was going into the race, but Patrick didn’t get to breeze her. He kept her close to the rail in their first race together and at the top of the lane, she took off with him again. She finished second, but Patrick and I knew there were other races to come for her.”
That list included the $135,000 Algoma Stakes on August 30 at Woodbine.
Randy had the race, a seven-furlong main track race for three-year-old fillies foaled in Canada, circled in his calendar for some time.
Husbands worked Marjorie’s Dream in preparation for a spot in the Algoma starting gate.
“Patrick told me that was the work that he wanted,” said Randy. “She waited until he told her to go, and she did. At the top of the lane, when he asked her, she kicked home. He put me on eggshells after that. I got so weak. I had trouble going to bed. I was shaky. I wasn’t dreaming of winning… I was dreaming about disappointing the public. I knew people would bet her, and I didn’t want them to be let down. It was pressure. I’ve had horses scratched at the gate, lost when I thought we would win. When the Queen came to Woodbine in 2010, I went to Fort Erie with a horse. The horse was scratched and I didn’t get to see the Queen.
“And now, I have a horse who is the favourite for a six-figure race. I was feeling light. I came down to the barn Saturday night around nine to look at her before the race on Sunday. I wanted to see her, just to make sure she was okay. I was feeling very nervous. I knew a lot of people, whether they were betting or not, wanted to see her win.”
A conversation on the morning of the race with Allyson Walker, assistant to dual Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield, helped ease Randy’s nerves.
At least it did temporarily.
“Ally asked me if I was nervous, and I told her I was. She told me that everything was going to be fine. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I came down a bit after we talked. I felt a little less nervous.”
Walker was happy to be a calming influence.
“Randy is awesome,” said Walker. “We might be a big barn, but like to have a small barn, ‘family’ atmosphere. Randy has been stabled in our barn since spring and has been a great addition. We all cheer for one another. And everyone celebrates each other’s wins in Barn 4. We are all there seven days a week trying to make the best lives for our horses and ourselves.
“We all know she is a spirited filly, so coming up to a race can be a lively endeavour. I asked him if he was excited and he said, ‘No… I’m really nervous.’ I think all I said was, ‘Don’t be! I promise to worry enough for you and you be excited and focus on the race.’ We spoke a little about the pressures of it all and her tricks. He laughed and thanked me.”
In the minutes before the eight-horse field was sent on its way in the Algoma, the jitters returned.
And they certainly didn’t abate when Marjorie’s Dream, the slight 9-5 race favourite, was engaged by a hard-charging rival in deep stretch, a duel that culminated in a photo finish.
A nose was all that separated the pair, with Marjorie’s Dream holding on for the win.
Husbands, donning the maroon and silver silks (an homage to the colours of Coleridge & Parry, Randy’s secondary school) with an emblem of a fork and knife that acknowledge Thompson’s mother – who has her own food business, Vern’s Cuisine – delivered the trainer his first stakes crown, and an $82,935 payday.
“It’s amazing, it feels really good,” said Randy, who watched Marjorie’s Dream win her second race from four starts. “First of all, I want to thank my good friend Peter Brown for finding me in Barbados and getting me a job in Canada 20 years ago. He let me work for [trainers] Mr. Tino Attard and Kevin Attard – I really appreciate those guys. And most of all, my mom, she allowed me to come. As you see, my colours are well representative of my mom’s food business.”
He wasn’t only thinking of his mother.
“The breeder named the horse after her Aunt Marjorie,” noted Randy. “On her tombstone is a picture of a racehorse wearing a shadow roll [the same equipment Marjorie’s Dream wears]. She sent a picture to me the week before the race. She told me her aunt loved horses and loved being around her. So, it was a blessing to be able to win for her too.”
His neighbours in Barn 4 were ecstatic.
“After she won, Randy thanked me again for easing his mind and taking the worry on,” said Walker. “I had spoken to Roger on the phone before saddling his horse, Grazely, in the following race, and he had been watching Randy’s horse and was thrilled he won. Support system is everything.”
For the horseman from Browne’s Gap, in Christ Church, Barbados, it was a moment he had always envisioned, long before he came to Canada.
“Growing up, I wanted to be a rider, but I was in a few accidents in Barbados. So, I decided to come to Canada to find work as a groom or a galloper. When I got to Woodbine, I often thought about winning a big race. Each year I was there, I thought more and more about winning that big race.”
Now in his eighth year training Thoroughbreds, he never wavered in his belief that he would one day make a life-changing call.
Thinking of the day it finally happened brings out a big smile.
“I said that when I find that perfect horse, I have to call my countryman. I’m going to call Patrick. He’s a top rider, and I wasn’t going to call him to ride just any horse. It had to be the horse. And Marjorie’s Dream, she was that one.”
He has another top-of-mind hope: seeing more Bajan and Black trainers in the sport.
“If you are willing to work hard, believe in yourself, and have a dream to chase, anything is possible.”