Wednesday, 04 November 2020 09:31

Alberta represented at this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup

Written by Curtis Stock
Bodenheimer working out at Keeneland Bodenheimer working out at Keeneland Photo by Pyrois Photography

Dallas Birdrattler, who comes from Lethbridge and is a graduate of the Horse Racing Alberta / Olds College Professional Racetrack Exercise Rider Program, works for Valorie Lund, the trainer of Bodenheimer, who definitely has a puncher’s chance in Friday’s $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Keeneland, Kentucky. Furthermore Birdrattler has galloped Bodenheimer many times

“He’s a class act,” Birdrattler said of Bodenheimer, who has won three of his four career starts including a very impressive victory just a month ago over the same Keeneland turf surface in the Indian Summer Stakes while going the same five and a half furlong distance that this Breeders’ Cup race will be contested at. “He doesn’t do anything wrong. He trains so strong but at the same time he’s so gentle. He’s just a really cool horse. He knows his job and he knows what he has to do.”

The Breeders’ Cup is thoroughbred racing’s year-end championship. It is conducted over two days with two-year-olds racing Friday and the rest of the races set for Saturday. Golden Pal is the favourite in the Juvenile Turf Sprint but he drew the outside 14th post position. “I can’t wait until Friday,” said Birdrattler, 27. “Just to be a part of this is insane really. It’s really exciting.”

Purchased for just $27,000 Bodenheimer, broke his maiden by 11 1/4 lengths at Minnesota’s Canterbury Park on July 29, then he won the Prairie Gold Juvenile at Iowa’s Prairie Meadows on dirt on Aug. 22. His third start marked his only loss when he finished fifth in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Sprint on Sept. 12. But that race was contested on a wet and deep turf course that he clearly disliked. Then he checked in with the Indian Summer Stakes victory.

Birdrattler started working for Lund, who trains Bodenheimer for her sister Kristin Boice and mother, Marylou Holden, last February. “We met in Phoenix, Arizona,” recalled Birdrattler, who spent the last three winters there which is also where Lund was based before she relocated to Kentucky. “I said ‘hello’ when I was galloping a horse and Valorie asked if I would get on a horse for her. I went to her barn, introduced myself and started galloping horses for her. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Like Lund, his boss, and with the Phoenix track closed — possibly forever — Birdrattler now plies his trade galloping horses in Kentucky for Lund at the Ashwood Training Center, 10 miles northeast of Lexington. “It’s like a family operation. Everybody helps everybody,” said Birdrattler. The facility has 300 stalls, a training track, official timed workouts, and turnout paddocks.

Birdrattler, who has also galloped horses at Arkansas’ Oaklawn racetrack, said he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t around horses. “My dad, who died when I was just three months old, used to train horses. So did my dad’s father and my great grandfather. Horses have always been a big part of my family. I’ve always loved horses - especially thoroughbreds. They are so honest. If you don’t lie to them they won’t lie to you. My mom used to take me to Lethbridge’s Rocky Mountain Turf Club and we’d meet my uncles and aunts, who also went to the races. I started grooming horses and shovelling manure when I was 12."

In 2013 Birdrattler graduated from Horse Racing Alberta / Olds College Professional Racetrack Exercise Rider Program where former champion jockey Real Simard was the head instructor at the time. “While I grew up around the track, taking that program was the first time I committed to being in horse racing full time. “It’s where I learned how to gallop horses. Olds was a really good experience. Everything about it was good,” Birdrattler said of one of the two Horse Racing Alberta funded programs - there is also a Groom’s Program - which are designed to provide professional trained horsemen to work in the industry in Alberta.

Theresa Sealy, a coordinator of the programs and one of the instructors, clearly remembers Birdrattler. “He was absolutely a professional kid who came into the program very serious about improving himself and working into becoming a trainer. He also presented himself well; he’s well spoken and he really enjoyed himself as a student,” said Sealy. “The biggest thing I remember about him is that he had no fear. None whatsoever. He was also always seeking out criticism. He always wanted to know how he could improve. Now look at what he’s doing. I’m really excited for him,” said Sealy, who wanted to note that they are still open for applications for the 2020/21 programs.

After graduating, Birdrattler took out his ‘B’ Circuit trainer’s license in 2014. With just a small stable Birdrattler had a lot of success especially with two mares, Officer’s Charm and Lilly Abbie, both owned by Gordon Howg. “Officer’s Charm was virtually unbeatable in the bushes and even set a track record at Northlands for three and a half furlongs,” said Birdrattler, who would pass his ‘A’ circuit trainer’s test in 2019. “One of the few races she lost was to Lilly Abbie.”

Birdrattler said his aspirations are to train again. And he’s got lofty goals. “I want to have a horse nominated to the Dubai Cup,” he said almost matter-of-factly. Asked what he likes most about galloping he said “Going fast. When you set down a horse and that horse responds to you and relaxes it’s awesome.” With Bodenheimer Birdrattler certainly knows all about fast.

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