04/04/2012 1:13PM

Woodbine: Changing of the guard with Sam-Son runners


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Sam-Son Farm has shuffled the deck this year, and the big winner is Malcolm Pierce, who now will be the outfit’s only trainer at Woodbine.

Losing out is Mark Frostad, who succeeded Jim Day as Sam-Son’s trainer in 1994 but has been taking on outside clients while his Sam-Son numbers diminished over the past few seasons.

Both trainers had their usual winter contingents at the Fair Grounds, but Sam-Son runners formerly in Frostad’s care – including stakes winners Eye of the Leopard, Hotep, and Forest Uproar – have moved under Pierce’s shed row.

“We’re a lot smaller stable than we used to be,” said Rick Balaz, who took over the reins at Sam-Son after his wife, Tammy Samuel-Balaz, died in 2008.

“We used to have 40 horses at one time, and that’s the sort of numbers Mark needs to run his operation. We’re 20 to 25 horses, and he had to go and get a lot of other clients.

“We like the private-trainer atmosphere. That’s what we want to get back to.”

That change will not be readily apparent, as Pierce and Frostad both have 40 stalls here.

“I can’t just give up my other clients, who have been loyal to me,” said Pierce, who had worked as an assistant trainer for Sam-Son from 1981 until going out on his own in 1997 and began picking up horses from the outfit a couple of years ago. “Eventually, I’d like to dwindle down and not have 40 horses.

“Obviously, to race all the Sam-Son horses here is a great thing for us. They’re almost all Canadian-bred, and eligible for everything. I couldn’t have better horses, or a better client.”

Pierce stayed through last Sunday’s final weekend of the Fair Grounds meeting and will have 13 or 14 horses, including 10 Sam-Son charges, at Keeneland. His wife and assistant, Sally Pierce, will be running the show here through the early weeks.

Meanwhile, Frostad is out of the mix at Sam-Son less than one year after riding the wave of his successes there into a berth in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

“It’s certainly going to be different,” said Frostad. “I had some great years with Sam-Son. But, we’re looking forward to new challenges. We’ve got a bunch of nice horses, and some terrific new owners.”

During his time with Sam-Son, Frostad’s many major accomplishments included three Sovereign Awards as outstanding trainer, Canadian horse of the year titles with Chief Bearhart (twice), Quiet Resolve, and Soaring Free; and Queen’s Plate victories with Scatter the Gold and Eye of the Leopard.

Frostad also has a contingent at Keeneland, with his eight horses there including Trend, a homebred 5-year-old gelding owned by noted Kentucky breeder Arthur Hancock who has placed in graded stakes at Gulfstream in his last two starts over one mile on turf.

Other prominent runners currently in his string include New Normal, a stakes-winning 4-year-old filly owned by Robert S. Evans; Poof Too, a stakes-placed 4-year-old filly owned by John Fielding and Frederick Hertrich IIII; and Kiss in the Forest, a homebred 3-year-old filly who races for David Greathouse and was a two-time winner here last year.

Da Silva out for rebound

Eurico Rosa da Silva enjoyed life at the top here in 2010, leading the standings in races won with 190 and money won with almost $9.2 million en route to a Sovereign Award as Canada’s outstanding jockey.

And, while his 2011 campaign was not as productive, Da Silva still wound up fourth in the standings in both races won with 125 and in money won with almost $6.1 million despite having his season end in mid-October.

“Last year was a tough year for me,” said Da Silva. “This year should be much different. I took a break, since I had the accident. I rested a lot.”

Da Silva had been riding Aldous Snow here in the Oct. 15 Cup and Saucer when he broke a bone in his leg after being struck by the hoof of a rival who was suffering a fatal breakdown.

“I used a cast for a couple of months,” said Da Silva, “and then I started doing physiotherapy for four weeks.”

Da Silva, 36, then resumed his training in tae kwon doe, a martial art that he has been practicing for six years.

“It helps me focus, be more disciplined,” said Da Silva, who returned to the racetrack on March 1 and has been making the rounds with his agent, Tom Patton, who took over his book last summer.

“Man, I feel fantastic,” Da Silva said. “I’m very happy to see the people again, and if I can keep myself, the way I am, it will be a great year.”

Da Silva also has a significant event to look forward to on the home front, as his wife, Claudia, is expecting their first child in mid-April.

Shift in purse structure

The purses for aces restricted to Ontario-sired horses have been cut by approximately 10 percent this season.

A restricted opening-day maiden sprint, for example, offers a purse of $50,000, as opposed to $55,900 last year.

Steve Lym, racing secretary and a director of racing for the Woodbine Entertainment Group, said that the reductions for individual Ontario-sired races will be counterbalanced by the number of offerings.

“The trend has been to write more and more of these races, and we’ll continue to write as many as we can,” said Lym.

“I think horsemen will find by the end of the year that the opportunities have increased and the total purses paid out will be the same or even better.”

Woodbine also has bumped up purses for the lower-range claimers, up to the $16,000 level.

Lym cites the example of an open $10,000 claiming sprint, which begin the meeting with a purse of $25,200 including the 20-percent Ontario-bred bonus. Last year, a comparable race was worth $19,300.

◗ Jockey Emile Ramsammy will be sitting out opening weekend after suffering a shoulder injury while working a horse in Barbados last month but is expected to return to action next Friday.

“He’s been working and galloping horses but he’s just not right where he wants to be,” said Ramsammy’s agent, Neal Wilson.

◗ Several members of Woodbine’s jockey colony will be available at 11:45 a.m. on Friday for photos and autographs at both the north and west entrances of the racetrack.

Also, members of Woodbine’s customer service staff will be giving away mystery cash cards worth anywhere from $2 to $1,000. Registration will take place between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. on the third floor at the east end of the grandstand.

◗ Tom Cosgrove, formerly a director of racing for the Woodbine Entertainment Group, has left the racing department and taken on the new role of Woodbine’s archivist and historian.