04/11/2006 11:00PM

Newland's good fortune

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
The 7-year-old Barbeau Ruckus is now in George Newland's shed row.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Trainer George Newland has waited a long time for his first big break in the business.

At age 53, Newland's hour finally may have come. He has taken over as the trainer of Barbeau Ruckus, a multiple-stakes-winning 7-year-old who earned almost $968,709 in 32 starts for trainer Ross Armata.

Owner Thayalan Muthulingham and Armata ended their association over the winter and the owner approached Newland to take over his stock.

"I was so excited," said Newland. "I didn't even stop to think about it. Right off the bat, I said yes."

Barbeau Ruckus is pointing to the $125,000 New Providence, a six-furlong restricted race on May 13 at Woodbine.

"I'm looking forward to that," said Newland, who has never won a stakes race.

Newland, who had his first experience with horse racing in his native Jamaica, came to Canada in 1972 and wound up apprenticing here for a number of years with trainers such as Gil Rowntree and Laura Silvera before striking out on his own.

Since saddling his first winner, which came at Greenwood in the spring of 1988, Newland's best production came in 1997 when he sent out nine winners.

In recent years Newland has generally trained just two or three horses and the wins have been few. But he now has 10 stalls and is off to a quick start after striking with both Shapiro and Copper Topper here last Sunday.

Shapiro, a 4-year-old filly making her first start for Newland after being based at Fort Erie last season, scored for a $7,500 claiming tag in the afternoon's second race.

Copper Topper, a 4-year-old gelding, captured the eighth race when tagged for $25,000.

Claimed for $10,000 here last December, Copper Topper had won for $19,000 in his first outing for Newland and defeated several winter-raced rivals on Sunday after dueling through a solid pace in his first start in four months.

Stein optimistic about new home

Copper Topper was also the second winner of the day and the season for Justin Stein, the 26-year-old apprentice who has relocated from British Columbia this season.

Stein was the runaway leader at Hastings last spring with 148 wins, and he added a dozen to that total here last fall after scoring once in a brief earlier visit.

Runner-up to Emma-Jayne Wilson in the Sovereign Award balloting and third behind Wilson and Channing Hill in the Eclipse Award vote, Stein spent the winter at home in British Columbia preparing to make the full-time switch to Woodbine.

"I was working on my home, getting it ready to be rented out," said Stein. "I was galloping horses all February in Vancouver, and was back here at the beginning of March."

Accompanying Stein on his move east were his wife, Renee; his 14-month-old son, Owen; and his agent, Trapper Barroby.

"When I was talking about moving here last fall I didn't know, at the time, how it would feel," said Stein. "Now that I'm here, I'm very happy with it.

"As far as my career goes, this is the best place to be. And, things have been going very well. I'm getting on some decent horses for a lot of top trainers here in the mornings, and getting some good rides in the afternoon."

Another Armata joins training ranks

Francesa Armata, who took out her trainer's license just prior to the start of the meeting, sent out her first winner here last Saturday when Chris's Bad Boy romped in a $62,500 optional claiming sprint.

"I thought he was fantastic," said Armata. "It was quite the moment; I won't forget it."

Armata, 32, is the daughter of John Armata, who races as Alpine Stable and formerly had his horses with his brother Vito Armata. She had been working as an assistant to her uncle since 2000.

"I've been coming here since I was 11," said Francesa Armata. "We had a farm when I was a kid, and I was already hooked. Vito picked me up on weekends, and I came to work."

By age 18, Armata was working as a groom but then left the racetrack for the world of show jumping, where she was involved for eight years before returning here in 2000.

"Alpine started growing," said Armata. "When I came back, there was a place for me again."

For the last few years Armata juggled the life of an assistant trainer with raising her daughters, Sophia, 4, and Emily, 3. This winter, the time was deemed ripe for her to take over as trainer for her father's outfit.

"I had an inkling at the end of last year," said Armata. "My oldest daughter is in kindergarten, and that freed up my time a little bit. Over the winter, I was training the horses on the farm in Kleinburg, and started my transition."

Chris's Bad Boy, now 9 years old, had won 10 races, including a pair of stakes since being claimed by Vito Armata in the spring of 2003.

"He'll always be the 'big' horse," said Armata, who has eight runners here. "He had a very nice winter, and came back so happy. I guess he wants to stay for a bit."

Patrick Husbands switches agents

Patrick Husbands, the leading rider with six wins through the first four days of the Woodbine meeting, has severed his business relationship with agent Tyler Gaskin, who has represented him since last spring.

John Calleja has taken over as the agent for Husbands, who won four consecutive Sovereign Awards as outstanding jockey beginning in 1999.

Husbands, 32, was the leading rider at the meeting in all those years except 2001, when he finished second. Last year, Husbands ranked third in races won and second in money won here.

Calleja finished last year without a rider after his client Simon Husbands, older brother of Patrick, elected to make a change.

This spring, Calleja had picked up the book of journeyman Robert King and expressed total surprise at being sought out by Husbands.

"He told me he wants to be leading rider," said Calleja. "It feels great; it puts some fire back in your belly. I just hope everything works out good."