12/12/2012 2:54PM

Woodbine notes: Attfield reflects on an off year

Michael Burns
Forte dei Marmi, winner of the Sky Classic, is regrouping after running last of eight in the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight at Calder.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – The year 2012 was a year to remember on a personal level for Roger Attfield, as he was inducted into the horse racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., this summer and later was enshrined in the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame.

On the racetrack, however, Attfield’s season could only be called disappointing.

“It’s the worst year I’ve had in about 25 years,” said Attfield, who was speaking from his Florida winter base in Payson Park.

He had saddled 21 winners for earnings of $1.89 million from 134 starters at Woodbine heading into the final week of the meet.

Attfied took home Sovereign Awards as Canada’s outstanding trainer for 2009 and 2010, the seventh and eight such honors of his career, and was runner-up in the voting behind Mark Casse for 2011.

But his barn this year sported a new and not necessarily improved look.

“Most of my big horses had been retired, and I didn’t have any young stock,” said Attfield.

Key losses included Miss Keller, Impossible Time, Mekong Melody, and Oregon Lady to the broodmare ranks, and Society’s Chairman and Sand Cove to the Ontario sire program.

The stable’s stakes-winning total, which had been at double digits for the Woodbine meeting from 2008 through 2011, shrunk to just three this season as Smart Sting captured the Maple Leaf, Forte dei Marmi the Grade 2 Sky Classic, and Musketier the Grade 3 Singspiel.

Only Forte dei Marmi remains in the barn, however, as Smart Sting has been retired to life as a broodmare and Musketier will be standing at stud at Adena Springs North.

Simmard, another hard-knocking turf stakes winner for Attfield through the years, suffered an injury that led to his retirement this fall.

All that being said, Attfield’s immediate fortunes could be taking a turn for the better in the coming weeks at Gulfstream Park.

Forte dei Marmi, who also finished third here in both the Grade 1 Northern Dancer and the Grade 1 Canadian International, is regrouping after running last of eight in the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Calder on Nov. 24.

“He’s having a little bit of an easy time,” said Attfield, who trains the 6-year-old gelding Forte dei Marmi for Stella Perdomo. “He hated that Calder turf course. I shouldn’t have run him on it. It was hard and dry and sandy.”

Kissable, a 4-year-old filly who won the Waya at Saratoga over 1 1/2 miles on turf and a good fourth here in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor, and Miss Cato, a 3-year-old filly who was beaten in photos as the runner-up in graded turf stakes in her two appearances for Attfield, are with the trainer at Payson Park.

“They’re on holiday right now,” said Attfield. “They’ll start up in another couple of weeks, probably around Christmas time.”

Hollinger, a 5-year-old gelding, and Janicellaine, a 4-year-old filly, both ran well in stakes at Calder and should be back in the entries soon.

Perfect Shirl, winner of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf but absent since finishing eighth in Gulfstream’s The Very One last February, is at Payson Park preparing for a comeback.

“She’s getting legged up,” said Attfield, who has no specific timetable for Perfect Shirl’s potential return.

Are You Kidding Me, the 2-year-old gelding who finished a bang-up second here in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at one mile on turf and a close fifth in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at 1 1/16 miles, also is waiting in the wings.

“I gave him some time off on the farm in Kentucky,” said Attfield. “He’s been back here for about two weeks. He’s looking really well, and going very nicely.”

Despite the bright spots, Attfield is very concerned with what lies ahead.

“I’m very, very, very light on horses right now,” said Attfield. “I only have 24. I’ve got to get some more stock here, from somebody, somehow.”

Of Canadian horse racing in general, with its uncertain future due to the loss of slots money at Ontario racetracks, Attfield said: “I find it very scary that it’s going to affect the breeding industry so much. I think we’ll eventually get things sorted out. I’m certainly optimistic about it. But I’m worried that we’ll be down in numbers by then. I’m looking for some new owners, some new horses, to rebuild my stable. It’s very difficult at this particular point in time.”

First winner for late starter

Vaal Bhawansingh came to Toronto from his native Trinidad to begin undergraduate studies at York University, with an eye toward a career in the law.

But Bhawansingh’s road took several detours along the way and last Saturday, at age 49, he found himself posing in the winner’s circle with Blushing Brat, his first winner and just his ninth starter as a trainer.

“It’s been a long year,” said Bhawansingh, who owns the 5-year-old gelding Blushing Brat and the 4-year-old filly Honey Brew and trains the 2-year-old gelding Raiderforlife for owner Franco Meil. “I just wanted to finish it on a good note. I’ve already picked up a client for next year. It’s looking good.”

Bhawansingh did graduate from York but obtained employment with a food distributor and never resumed his education.

“I was 21 years old and I had a good job, with good money, and a company car,” said Bhawansingh, who spent a dozen years in his first profession before the lure of the racetrack intervened.

Bhawansingh had no association with horse racing in his homeland but began attending Woodbine with friends as a diversion from his studies at York.

His introduction to the game came as the owner of Go Joe, a horse who won three races while trained by Jim Cheadle and then Michelle Bonte, and he then hooked up with trainer Abraham “Eddie” Katryan, who convinced to give the racetrack a whirl.

“I came to work with him in 1999, as shed row foreman,” said Bhawansingh. “It was a fantastic relationship – not just with Eddie, but with the whole barn. I was able to work with horses like Wake At Noon, One Way Love, Heyahohowdy. . . . Everything I know, everything I learned, came from Eddie.”

Bhawansingh left Katryan’s employ in 2009 and took a job offtrack with one of his owners, Trinity Racing, while owning a couple of horses on his own and with Meli.

Clint Abraham was Blushing Brat’s trainer of record this spring when Bhawansingh took his trainer’s test. He had his first representative when Honey Brew finished third here Sept. 14.

Blushing Brat added a pair of thirds before breaking through in a $10,000 conditioned claiming race at seven furlongs.

On Saturday, Blushing Brat will be looking to come right back in an open $20,000 claiming race at the same distance.

“When you take one over, you really want to run the horse where he can be competitive,” said Bhawansingh. “This is not the ideal spot for Blushing Brat, but he came out of his last race really good, and this is what there is for him.”