05/03/2013 1:58PM

Woodbine: Attfield stable in a 'rebuilding year'

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ET O BICOKE, Ontario − Trainer Roger Attfield has found the going tough at Woodbine this year.

A perennial powerhouse here, the Attfield barn has lost a number of stakes winners in the last couple of years, with the males Musketier and Simmard being retired to stud last year and Perfect Shirl and Smart Sting joining a parade of Attfield stakes winners who became broodmares.

“I’ve had very few 2-year-olds the last couple of years,” Attfield said. “I have only two 3-year-olds now and no 3-year-old filly. It puts a big hole in your stable. This is going to be a rebuilding year for me, to try and put some balance back in the stable.”

Attfield briefly feared he had suffered another setback at Keeneland on April 26, when Forte dei Marmi, a 7-year-old gelding who won last year’s Grade 2 Sky Classic, suffered an injury and was vanned off following the Elkhorn Stakes.

“We were touching all over the place, not winning a race, and then something like that had to happen,” Attfield said. “But he was fine after the race. The jockey felt he’d taken a bad step. He wasn’t sure. We do want them to look after these horses.

“The horse is in good shape,” he said. “He’s trained better here the last couple of days than he was training at Keeneland.”

Another Attfield horse, Kissable, who finished fourth here in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes in October, recently ran fourth in Keeneland’s Grade 3 Bewitch, a 1 1/2-mile turf race that marked her first start in more than five months.

“She didn’t run badly,” Attfield said of Kissable, winner of the Waya at Saratoga last summer. “She was quite a long ways out of it, and there was no pace. It’s kind of an impossibility in that situation.”

Forte dei Marmi and Kissable were at Payson Park with Attfield over the winter before the stopover at Keeneland on their way back to Woodbine.

“They were both going to run in Florida, but the ground was so hard it wouldn’t have suited either of them,” Attfield said.

With no suitable opportunities on the immediate horizon at Woodbine, Forte dei Marmi and Kissable are scheduled to make their next appearances out of town. Forte dei Marmi’s target is Pimlico’s Grade 2, $300,000 Dixie at 1 1/8 miles on turf May 18. Kissable could run in the $65,000 Keertana, a 1 3/8-mile turf overnight stakes for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs on May 18 or in the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay, a 1 3/8-mile turf stakes for fillies and mares on May 25 at Belmont.

In the meantime, Attfield will be saddling his first stakes starter of the meeting here Sunday with Are You Kidding Me in the $100,000 Wando, an open overnight stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

Are You Kidding Me, a Kentucky-bred, won his maiden over six furlongs on Polytrack here last July and later finished a close fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity over 1 1/16 miles on Keeneland’s synthetic surface Oct. 6. Five months later, Are You Kidding Me lost a one-mile open allowance turf race at Tampa by a nose and, after finishing eighth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, ran third in a second-level allowance at Keeneland at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

“He ran a good race at Tampa, but the Florida Derby, his first time on the dirt, was not a good experience,” Attfield said. “He just didn’t close at Keeneland the way he should have.”

Attfield said he was pleased with Are You Kidding Me’s tune-up Wednesday for the Wando, a four-furlong breeze in 47.20 seconds while working in company.

Vandenberg joins local riders

Brittany Vandenberg, 22, cut her teeth at Thistledown last year and rode four winners there before hanging up her tack to preserve her apprentice allowance. Now Vandenberg is at Woodbine, raring to go and waiting for her first call.

Vandenberg, 22, was born in Windsor and recalls first climbing aboard a horse at age 4. It was just last year, however, that her racing career began in earnest.

“I bought a Quarter Horse racemare last June and won on her in my first race,” she said, referring to Kool Sachi, who won at Michigan’s Mount Pleasant Meadows on June 17. Kool Sachi also gave Vandenberg her second Quarter Horse victory at Ontario’s Ajax Downs on Sept. 11.

Vandenberg launched her Thoroughbred career at Thistledown on Aug. 22 and recorded her first win Sept. 13 and her fourth Oct. 24. She said she always had planned to come to Woodbine and that she chose Thistledown as a starting point because she knew trainer and former jockey Richard Rettele.

“He taught me to race-ride, and I learned everything I could from him,” Vandenberg said. “I came here, but it was so late in the year I figured I might wait.”

It hasn’t taken long for Vandenberg, who is being represented by agent Neal Wilson, to fall in love with her new surroundings.

“I love the speed,” said Vandenberg, who spent the winter at home in the Windsor area, breaking a few Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. “This is what I want to do for a long time.”

Services set for Van Every

A memorial service will be held next Saturday for Michael Van Every, who died of cancer April 24 at his Nobleton, Ontario, home. He was 71.

The service will be held at Van Every’s home, at the corner of 16th Sideroad and 8th Concession.

Van Every was active in the Thoroughbred business as an owner, breeder, and board member for the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society and Jockey Club of Canada. He was the longtime partner of the late Susan Jane Anstey, who was the publisher of Canadian Thoroughbred and other equine magazines.

Van Every and Anstey, in partnership with Kinghaven Farm, campaigned Charlie’s Dewan, winner of the 1995 Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine.

◗ The Toronto Thoroughbred Racing Club will hold its first meeting of the season 1 p.m. Sunday in the third floor Champions area. Beginning June 5, meetings will be held Wednesday evenings and will be held in the same area at 7:30 p.m.