08/27/2010 11:26AM

Fort Erie assistant trainer held in high esteem

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – A growing number of trainers have their stock stabled at more than one track and must balance their time and schedules. Enter the assistant trainer, whose role is to manage the barn on-site while providing essential information back to the chief conditioner.

Assistant trainers are left on their own for days and often weeks, carrying the burden while leaving the laurels to others.

Maree Richards joined the assistant trainer ranks in 2009 and is now enjoying her second year in that role at the Fort.

Richards is the assistant for Woodbine-based trainer Martin Drexler and she professionally manages the daily affairs of Drexler’s operation here. She is in charge of up to 20 head at any given moment.

Richards, 44, began riding Thoroughbreds as a teenager, and became a jockey. She went on to win 446 races and nearly $3 million in purse money.

Now, in her assistant trainer role, Richards still gallops a few horses each day, just to keep her hand in. But with 20 horses, four grooms, exercise riders, training schedules and vet work to manage, there is little playtime on her busy schedule.

“My day begins at 4 a.m and we are busy through the morning with little time to spare,” said Richards.

“Kris Robinson is our main exercise rider and he is as capable and reliable as they come. Luckily we have an excellent, hard-working crew, and that sure makes my day much easier. I love what I do and Marty is a pleasure to work for and a great guy.”

Drexler, for his part, believes that Richards is one of the best on the backstretch, and does not mind saying so.

“She is very capable, can be relied upon completely,” said Drexler. “I never have to worry about this end of the operation.

“We have great communication. My intention is to nominate Maree for the top assistant trainer at the Fort as she definitely deserves that kind of recognition.”

Sandspit preparing to defend title

The Name the Turf Course contest continues, and track officials say the leading contender at the moment appears to be to name the course after Puss N Boots.

Speaking of the Puss N Boots, the Cup race of that name is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 6. Trainer Tony Alderson advises that the old warrior Sandspit, the winner of Puss N Boots in 2008 and 2009, is getting prepared to defend his title.

“He breezed the other day and looked great,” said Alderson. “He will have one more breeze before the race. We are certainly hoping to make it a hat trick.”

◗ Tuesday will be Legends Day at Fort Erie. Included in a commemorative program that day will be a caricature drawn by jockey Chad Beckon featuring the likes of Hall of Fame notables such as trainer Lou Cavalaris Jr., jockey Robin Platts and many more. Some of those included in the program will be at Fort Erie to meet race fans.