06/16/2008 11:00PM

Attfield targets Plate record


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - You might not think that a horseman such as Roger Attfield, who already has recorded 311 career stakes wins, been the recipient of six Sovereign Awards as Canada's outstanding trainer, trained three Canadian Triple Crown winners, and been in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame for 10 years, could have much more to accomplish.

But Attfield, 68, will be looking to reach another milestone when he sends out Not Bourbon for Sunday's $1 million Queen's Plate.

Attfield has saddled seven previous Queen's Plate winners, and Not Bourbon could put him into a tie with Harry Giddings Jr., whose record eight Plate wins came between 1911 and 1942.

"It's been quite a few years since I won a Queen's Plate," Attfield said. "And it's always been in the back of my mind that it would be great to at least equal that old record. It would mean a lot to me."

Norcliffe gave Attfield his first Queen's Plate win in 1976 and Market Victory his second in 1987.

The Queen's Plates began coming Attfield's way with regularity as With Approval (1989), Izvestia (1990), Alydeed (1991), Peteski (1992), and Regal Discovery (1995) all delivered.

Of that group of seven, only Market Victory and Regal Discovery were particular surprises.

Not Bourbon wouldn't be a particular surprise, either, as the probable morning-line choice for this Queen's Plate.

But Not Bourbon has posed a special challenge for Attfield, from the time he first came to the racetrack.

"He was going to be an early 2-year-old, but he got loose, just when he was ready to run, and grabbed a quarter badly," Attfield said. "We lost a lot of time with him."

Things started to come together once Not Bourbon made it to the races here in late July, as the colt displayed steady progress capped by a win in the six-furlong Bull Page.

His next start, the seven-furlong Frost King, was to be a prelude to Not Bourbon's two-turn debut in the Kingarvie late in the meeting.

The Frost King instead wound up being Not Bourbon's final appearance of the season.

"He was virtually telling me that morning that something wasn't right," Attfield said. "But his blood came back okay, so we ran him."

Not Bourbon finished a disappointing fourth and emerged a sick animal.

"So, he wasn't able to go to the Kingarvie," Attfield said. "To be able to run two turns, as a 2-year-old, makes a huge difference going into your 3-year-old year."

In December, Not Bourbon went down to Payson Park with Attfield to prepare for his Queen's Plate run.

And while the horse fared well there, the man did not.

In late December, Attfield smashed his heel while trimming some trees on his property.

The injury was misdiagnosed, misguided surgery was performed leading to a severe infection, and Attfield had to be flown to Toronto in early March, where doctors assessed his condition and began appropriate treatment.

Attfield spent three months hooked up to both a waist-pack vacuum pump, which constantly flushed the infection out of his foot, and an intravenous drip containing antibiotics.

Attfield finally got the all-clear from his doctors Monday and is back to his unplugged state.

What the doctors probably didn't know was that Attfield already had been back in the saddle for a month, riding out with his string, medical gear in tow.

"It was frustrating," he said. "It's the longest period I've actually been away from the horses. I've broken a number of bones, but I'd never been away this long.

"It also makes you realize you're not indispensable."

Attfield's good friend Rachel Halden, who also was his assistant trainer before going on her own here recently, took charge of the Florida contingent.

Halden also was with Not Bourbon and the stable's other runners at Keeneland, while assistant Nancy Sullivan kept things ticking at Woodbine.

Meanwhile, Attfield had watched at home when Not Bourbon finished second behind Stuck in Traffic when making his season debut in the six-furlong Achievement on April 12.

Attfield's first trip back to the racetrack came April 23, as he parked his truck at a vantage point where he could observe Not Bourbon's four-furlong workout.

The trip was repeated a week later, but Attfield was confined to quarters when Not Bourbon returned a romping winner in Woodbine's seven-furlong Queenston.

Following the Queenston, the question of Not Bourbon's distance potential became a matter of public debate.

Even Attfield and the colt's regular rider, Jono Jones, professed some doubts as to whether Not Bourbon would handle the 1 1/8 miles of the Plate Trial, not to mention the 1 1/4 miles of the Queen's Plate.

"He's a horse that always had a great deal of natural speed, and he's always wanted to use it from day one," Attfield said. "Getting him to settle and rate, going two turns, hasn't been an easy project."

Not Bourbon had suffered what appeared to be a major setback when he finished slowly while working a mile in 1:45 in his major prep for the Plate Trial. The colt was scoped and showed signs of having started to displace his palate.

"When a horse trains badly, or runs a bad race, it really bothers me," Attfield said. "I try to analyze it; I'm usually hard on myself in that situation.

"But I don't get too excited about it. I'm pretty easygoing."

Not Bourbon came back one week later to breeze four furlongs in a bullet 46.20 seconds.

Four days after that, the colt passed his test with flying colors in the Plate Trial as he prevailed by a neck after Jones had waved his whip in almost premature celebration.

"Since the Trial, he's been training really, really well," Attfield said. "He's getting more and more professional with each race."

It takes one to know one.

And, whether he wins or loses the Queen's Plate, it's odds-on that Attfield will handle the situation with the grace and aplomb that have been his hallmarks.