June 24, 2012
Attfield'S angry, Roger that!
By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Roger Attfield’s bid to become the trainer with the most Queen’s Plate winners came up just short on Sunday.
Attfield’s entry, Colleen’s Sailor, ran second for most of the 153rd running of the venerable Plate at Woodbine Racetrack, but faded to fourth in the stretch. Still, not a bad performance for the Terra Di Sienna Stables mount, who had only raced six times for career earnings of $106,154.
But Attfield, a native of Newbury, England, who immigrated to Canada in 1970 and has been one of North America’s leading trainers ever since, is cautiously optimistic that before he retires, he will break the record and win his ninth Plate. As it is, he is tied with the late Harry Giddings Jr. for most Plate wins by a trainer with eight.
“It would be the icing on the cake, wouldn’t it?” said Attfield, after the Justin Stein ridden Straight of Dover went wire to wire for the Plate win. “I hold the record for the most Triple Crowns, the most Breeders Cups, the most Prince of Wales and I’m equal in the Plate, so to break that would obviously be very special.”
If the status quo was maintained, Attfield would have a good chance to break the record, even though, at 72, his workings days are not exactly unlimited, though he still enjoys good health and loves getting up everyday at 4 a.m. to work out his horses.
But with the recent announcement that the provincial government is planning to take the slots out of Ontario racetracks means that Attfield may never get his ninth, and not because of his age or a dearth of good three-year-olds in his stable, but because the Queen’s Plate may be cease to exist in future years. Nick Eaves, president and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment said this week that Sunday’s Plate may be the last if the province goes ahead with its plans to eliminate slots at the tracks.
Not winning his ninth Plate would be a disappointment for the personable Attfield. But his great fear is what the government’s plan would do to the people who work for him and the thousands of others who work in the industry. Attfield is not a big political guy, but he believes that the Liberal government simply can’t understand the damage they would cause if they pulled slots out of the tracks.
“The thing that bothers me most is I’ve got 35 people working for me and they’re going to be out of jobs, and are not going to be able to find jobs,” said Attfield, who won the $150,000 Singspiel Stakes earlier in Sunday’s program with Musketier. “It’s easy to say that they’ll help retrain these people. But retrain to do what?
“This industry gives so many jobs to so many people — it’s not just us racing a horse in the afternoon,” Attfield continued. “It’s the blacksmiths, the feed companies, the little (horse) farms. So many people are involved in this (industry) that it will affect. There are so many people that rely on us. Rural Ontario is going to be totally changed. People’s properties aren’t going to be worth anything what they were. It’s crazy.
“I’m older and I’m capable of going somewhere else and racing,” Attfield added. “But why should we? Woodbine is such a special place. Everybody in the racing industry throughout the world looks at Woodbine as THE place.”
Like many people in racing, Attfield doesn’t understand the motivation behind the Province’s plan to get slots out of the tracks.
“The whole thing is ridiculous,” he said. “The partnership between the slots and the thoroughbreds has been so successful and we’ve contributed so much money to the private sector and the government coffers with really no cost to the government. It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
And what about tradition? The Queen’s Plate, and horse racing in general, has such a rich history and has meant so much to so many people for so many years. But that doesn’t seem to count for anything.
A couple of years after legalizing mixed martial arts — the sport that makes money for the province on the backs of two men beating each other to a pulp in a cage — the Ontario government decided to deliver a round house kick in the teeth to the horse racing and to people like Attfield, who can only pray that somewhere down the road the Liberal government will see the light and a compromise that would work for both sides will be reached.