Sometimes magic has no beginnings. Neither does love.
But there was just something about horses that brought love and magic to Amy Henry, who trained upset winner Mrs Suhwiggins to victory in one of this past weekend’s four $75,000 Super Finals at Century Mile. “I really don’t know how I was first attracted to horses,” said Fort Saskatchewan’s Henry, 28, who is in her very first year as a trainer. “I never grew up with horses. My family never had horses. In fact my father and my sister are allergic to horses and hay. But as far as I can remember I was always drawn to them. I remember when I was going to elementary school there was a farm right across the street from the school and I would go over there and feed them tall grass.”
It wasn’t long before the horses would see Henry coming and would line up five or six in a row waiting to be fed. “That was the first indication that there was something about horses that I needed to be around - that I needed to be involved. When I was young and still believed in Santa Claus, horses were always at the top of my list. I got stuffed animals but never the real thing. I had to get a horse myself for that to happen.”
But that was still many years down the road. First, a whole lot of things had to happen. When Henry was still in elementary school she found out her dad had a ranch buddy who had some Clydesdales. “I begged my dad to let me come with him. I just wanted to go out there and pet and brush them. I remember when I was seven my dad’s friend even let me drive a hitch of Clydesdales for about 100 yards. That’s something I’ll never forget. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. It was minus 20 and I had frost bite on my teeth. But I was never so happy.”
In junior high school it just so happened that a couple of Henry’s friends took riding lessons. “It wasn’t for a lack of begging, but my parents couldn’t afford riding lessons for me. But I would go out there with my friends just to be around the horses. I just loved being there.”
The path to horses was getting moulded deeper and deeper. But the next chapter is where it really gets interesting. “After I graduated from high school I took a job selling cell phones. One day a guy came in with a broken cell phone. I could smell horses on him and so I asked him what he did. He told me he was working for Kelly Hoerdt,” Henry said of one of Alberta’s premier horsemen. “Then he told me that Kelly was looking for some help at the Bedrock Training Centre in Beaumont that Kelly owns with Blair Corbeil.”
A few days later, in May of 2010, Henry showed up at that farm. “Kelly gave me his business card and told me to think about it,” said Henry, who didn’t take long to make the decision. “I went in cold. I had to learn everything from scratch. I knew nothing about working with harness horses. But Kelly was a great teacher. He’s so knowledgeable. If you had questions he had the answers. I was super excited. But at first I only worked at the farm part time. Everybody told me that once you get into the racing business you can’t get out.”
Two years later, Henry took the full plunge. “I decided that working with harness horses was what I really wanted to do. It was 2012. I gave my notice with the cell-phone company, went full time with the horses and never looked back.”
Henry stayed with Hoerdt for eight years. In 2018 Henry went to visit her best friend, Nikki Davies, who happens to be the wife of trainer/driver Paul Davies, in B.C. “Nikki was living and working at Randy Rutledge’s farm. He had five or six horses that were racing and I wound up helping out at that farm.”
Soon, Rutledge offered Henry a job. “I told him that I had a couple of race horses in Alberta and Randy said bring them out here. I said I also had an old riding horse, Yankee Luke, and he told me to bring Luke too. I was always planning on coming back to Alberta but in the summer of 2018 Randy was diagnosed with cancer so I stayed to help look after his horses. I didn't want to leave him high and dry. Thankfully, Randy is in remission. He even drove a horse last weekend for the first time since being diagnosed with the cancer. Randy is a phenomenal horseman. He breeds all of his own. He shoes all of his own. He was named B.C.’s horseman of the year last year. I learned a lot from him.”
Then, at the expense of a serious accident to B.C. horseman Jim Marino, Henry, who took out her trainer’s license last December, got her real big break. “Jim went down in a training accident that went wrong this spring on March 20 and broke his pelvis. He was hospitalized for 16 nights. He’s go 20 screws in his pelvis. He’s got pins and plates all over his body. When Fraser Downs ended their meet, Jim asked me to train his stable of 27 horses in Calgary at Century Downs. For him and his owners to give me that kind of an opportunity - to trust me, who had just gotten her trainer’s license, with something like that was really cool. He had stakes horses, open horses… It was a big step for them. I’ve done my best not to let them down.”
She hasn’t. Henry won 22 races at Century Downs including stakes wins with RockinNTalkin and Mrs Suhwiggins. Then came last Saturday night in the $75,000 Super Finals when Mrs Suhwiggins, at odds of 8-1, came home on top by four and three-quarter lengths. After a bunch of seconds and thirds it was Henry’s first win at Century Mile.
“She was ready to rock,” said Henry of a race where driver Brandon Campbell forced the torrid early pace and then picked up the pieces when odds-on-favourite Rockin Mystery, who drew the outside eight hole, and Hottieonthehorizon engaged in a speed duel and wilted in the stretch. “She’s phenomenal. She’s so small. She has no idea how tiny she is,” Henry said of Mrs Suhwiggins. She’s a mighty mite.”
Mrs Suhwiggins, RockNTalkin and Henry are now at Fraser Downs preparing for that track’s $100,000 Super Finals on Nov. 11. “I just love the challenge of learning how to help horses and make them better than they were yesterday,” said Henry. “When we claim a new horse that might have some issues I love that challenge of how to fix that too. You want to make them shine.”
Henry said a successful horse person has to earn a horse’s trust. “Once you do - once you get that connection - it’s the most wonderful feeling. A horse that trusts and connects with you will give you everything. I just love it and it’s something you don’t get with anything else. You have to work for it. But the rewards are the best in the world. Horses are the greatest therapy in the world. No matter how you are feeling the horses are always happy to see you. I’ve been surrounded by a ton of great people. I’ve had a lot of great people to learn from: Kelly Hoerdt. Randy Rutledge. Jim Marino."
“If you aren’t learning something every day then you’re doing it wrong.”
In the other Super Finals, Keith Clark won the first two starting with Dontpokethedragon in the two-year-old colts and geldings and then took the two-year-old fillies with Snow Shark. Both wins were similar as Clark controlled the pace most of the pace in both of them.
Both horses also have similar stories - both bred by Keith Clark out of mares he bought at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and used to successfully race in Alberta: Dontpokethedragon out of 2014 Northands Filly Pace winner Rummys Command and Snow Shark out $187,000 earner Shark Fest.
In the two-year-old colts Clark let Just Mac take the early lead but by the quarter pole he was back on top. The pair stayed one-two to the wire with Dontpokethedragon having just enough left to hold off Just Mac by a head in 1:56 2/5. Sent away at 5-1 Dontpokethedragon, who has never been worse than third in eight career starts, paid a healthy $12.80 to win.
In the two-year-old fillies Clark made a calculated gamble letting Miss Itunes take the lead after a half in in 58 seconds. “I had a lots left when I let her go,” said Clark. “I was just hoping that Miss Itunes had enough to keep going.” Clark was right. He followed Miss Itunes to the head of the lane, popped out and won by three-and-a-half lengths with Miss Itunes just holding off LA Woman for second in a mile that went in 1:55 4/5. The second favourite, Snow Shark returned $7.80 to win. Similar to Dontpokethedragon, Snow Shark has never been worse than third in seven career outings. It was Snow Shark’s third stakes win but easily the most lucrative having previously won the Oct. 11 Stardust in her previous start and the July 28 Emerald.
Finally, in the three-year-old colts and geldings final, Jewels Dragon got the perfect trip behind favourite Outlawgrabbingears through a half in a relatively slow half mile in :58 4/5 seconds and never had to leave the fence until midway down the stretch. “The early pace was slow and when the pace is slow you want to be be close to the lead,” said winning driver Kelly Hoerdt after holding off Outlaw Gunsablazin by a neck in 1:54 4/5 with the last quarter going in very fast :26 3/5. It was a sprint to the finish,” he said with five horses all within a few lengths of each other at the wire. They were all pretty leg-weary at the finish. I was pretty confident I would find room in the stretch because the 6-horse (HF Jesse James) was parked the mile which helped us. Then Outlawgrabbingears made a break in the stretch which also helped us."
“As I said ‘Don’t count out Jewels Dragon,’” said Hoerdt, who cautioned bettors in this space last week. “He’s a very versatile horse. He can come from anywhere.” Owned by B.C.’s Paul Sanders and Christine Cutting, the victory was Jewels Dragon’s ninth in 17 starts this year including one of the elimination legs of the Western Canada Pacing Derby in a track record 1:51 1/5.
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