Five weeks ago thoroughbred trainer Carson Frey was feeling useless and in considerable pain. A man who likes to gallop all of the horses he trains, a two-year-old he was training panicked at the sight of a couple of work horses going by, reared up and flipped over right on top of the hot trainer.
“Chipped one vertebrae and cracked another,” said Frey. “It wasn’t the horse’s fault. She just got scared and I happened to be underneath,” said Frey. It hasn’t slowed him down though.
Friday night Carson impressively won another race at Century Mile with Special Brandy, who could be any kind of a horse, winning the night’s feature race by a widening eight and three-quarter lengths in a swift six furlongs in 1.09.65 seconds in her seasonal debut. It was Frey’s sixth win of the season from just 18 starters.
“I got lucky. Not just about the injury which could have been a lot worse but because Quincy Welch helped me out and galloped all the horses in my barn while I was on the sidelines,” he said of the former Alberta leading jockey.
“The last few days I’ve been galloping a couple easy horses a day - easing my way back into it. But it’s been Quincy that got me through. I like to gallop most of my own horses so I know how they feel. But Quincy has been awesome,” he said of Welch.
“I named Quincy to ride one of my horses early in the meet but he came to me and said you’re going to have to get another rider. But he said I hope you’ll let me gallop your horses.” Frey couldn’t say yes fast enough. “Quincy is one of the smartest and strongest finishing riders we’ve ever had in this province,” said Frey, who has been training horses since 1993.
“I owe Quicy a lot and I owe my staff a lot. Especially Melisa Gilkyson,” he said of former trainer Don Gilkyson’s daughter-in-law. “She’s the boss. She’s been with me for three years and I trust her fully with everything in the barn. She makes sure everything gets done. She’s a really good horse person; she’s been around the track for about 30 years so she knows what’s she’s doing. With Quincy and Melisa I was feeling pretty useless because all I could do was go and observe.”
Frey has been doing a lot of his observations in the winner’s circle. In addition to Special Brandy, Frey has also sent out Triple Power and Moon King both to a couple of wins each and Chico d’Tiger, who romped home by nine and a half lengths in one of his starts this season,
“Saturday morning I was wondering about who the best horse I’ve trained is and I kept coming back to Special Brandy. I’ve never had a huge stand-out horse before. She very well could be the best I horse I’ve ever bridled. Especially after that performance on Friday.”
‘That performance’ - the aforementioned eight and three-quarters of a length win - came after Special Brandy, who is five-years-old but has only made three career starts - all wins - for owners Westana Ranches duelled three-wide for the early lead after starting from the outside seventh post position.
Special Brandy’s only other starts saw her win her maiden debut by eight lengths last August and then taking a non-winners of two races by four and three-quarter easy lengths two weeks later.
“Westana likes to take their time with their horses. They let them grow up and they don’t like to push them. I wasn’t sure what to expect from her because it was her first start for me and her first start of the year; I was hoping I would get a nice performance but I didn’t think it would be that nice,” said Frey.
“Greg Tracy had her down south when Covid hit and the owners brought her back to Alberta; Westana asked me to take her over so I was very fortunate. I’ve been very impressed with the way she has handled everything that’s for sure. She’s a little quirky in the stall; she gets a little worked up when she’s in there. So we do a little extra pampering with her. She goes on the walker four or five times a day so she doesn’t have to spend all her time in her stall where she weaves and dances. When she’s out of the stall she’s nice and relaxed. I thought she might need a tightener. But she obviously didn’t."
“She’s a nice mare and she can run,” he said of the daughter of Yes It’s True, who sired 51 black-type stakes winner and won 10 stakes races,” who was also bred by Westana. “Special Brandy isn’t much of a work horse. You gallop and work her and you don’t think there is much there; she just doesn’t put much into it. But you put her in the starting gate and it’s like night and day.”
As well as Welch and Melisa Gilkyson, Frey attributes his hot start to his owners. “I really have to thank my clients who supported me through the tough times of Covid-19. A lot of owners stopped training their horses when it was day to day whether or when we were going to race again. I phoned my clients and asked if they wanted to keep going. They all said yes. I said ’Are you sure?’ and they all said keep going so that’s what we did and it’s paid off. I was lucky to have clients that stuck through it.”
Frey, whose father owned a lot of thoroughbreds in Grande Prairie, actually got started in quarter-horse racing. “I worked for William Leech for four years starting in 1989. Leech has been the leading quarter-horse trainer in Alberta for most of the last 25 years. In 1993 I went on my own with just three thoroughbreds.”
One of those three was Oakies Angel, Alberta’s champion claimer of the year. “I claimed him for $5,000 and he won five in a row including all three legs of the Marathon Series at Northlands. “That was a fun good start right off the bat.”
But then, for a while, it wasn’t fun. “When Calgary’s Stampede Park shut down it left Northlands as the only ‘A’ track in the province. I had a family in Calgary and it was tough to leave them for the whole time,” said Frey, who was operating a big barn of 25 horses at the time. “So I decided to do something different and went into oil and gas sales for seven years,” said Frey, who has 11 horses in his barn this year and doesn’t want a whole lot more.
“But I was miserable doing that and I went back to what I liked four years ago. Racing gets in your blood and it keeps coming back.”
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