Tim Rycroft. Tim Rycroft. Tim Rycroft.
Say it six times. Alberta’s leading trainer the last three seasons, Rycroft won six races over the first two days of the current race meeting at Century Mile.
“It was good,” said Rycroft, who is seldom satisfied. “I was expecting them too run good. Even the horses who didn’t win ran well,” he said of also having five seconds and three thirds. "Put it this way: I wouldn’t have been pretty disappointed if we hadn’t done well. You can’t get left behind."
“It was a long spring and everybody worked hard to get these kind of results. I started training at my farm in Windfield in January at a new arena my dad Tom and I built. Then we moved into Century Mile and we didn’t miss a beat,” said Rycoft, who won four races on Friday’s season-opening card and then two more on Sunday.
“Spring training went great. The track was in nice shape and they’ve kept it in good shape. It allows us no excuse for not having our horses ready to go. I owe a lot to my crew and my owners. I’ve got a great staff and great owners. That’s what it takes to win. It’s not easy winning races.”
But that’s what Rycroft made it look like. Florist started the Rycroft show with Florist on Friday’s card. Well back early Florist quickly flew past the field to win by three and three-quarter lengths. “He had a good spring. He was fit and he was ready,”
Then came Last Endeavor, who duelled with favoured Major Shepard, put that one away and strode to a one-length triumph to break his maiden. “We raced him at Woodbine last fall. He finished second and probably should have won that race. He’s a nice horse. I think he’s going to be decent.”
Rycroft’s third win on Friday came with Cigarillo, who like Last Endeavor raced a couple of times in Ontario last fall. Cigarillo won by five lengths at Century Mile. “Not a very big horse but a nice horse,” said Rycroft, who has two wins more than Ron Grieves, who won four races last weekend.
Finally it was Greek Geek, who inched past Flat Out Leader to win by half a length. “He was bought out of the Alberta Yearling Sale by Riversedge so he’s eligible for Alberta-bred stakes and Alberta Days. “He likes to lay on horses and he did it again on Friday but he’s getting it figured out. You have to learn how to win and I think that’s what Greek Geek is doing. I think we’ll have some fun with him. It’s just taken him a little while to figure it out.”
Sunday Rycroft was back in the winner’s circle twice. War Giant, claimed for just $8,000 in Florida by owners Crystal Cates and Gonzalo Anderson, put on a show running down last year’s Champion Sprinter Stone Carver in the stretch to win by three-quarters of a length.
The time for that five furlong race was 56.48 - just off the the track record of 56.13 - after Stone Carver, winner of last year’s Journal Handicap, was forced into a very fast opening quarter of 21.26 after duelling with the quick Deuces Are Wild, winner of last year’s Spangled Jimmy.
“I wasn’t expecting a first quarter in 21 and change. If Stone Carver had been able to get a breather he probably wins. For his first start of the year that was asking a lot. He didn’t lay down in the stretch; War Giant was really rolling. But I guess that’s why you put two horses in there,” said Rycroft. 57, who didn’t start training horses until 15 years ago after being an outrider for 25 years.
Despite his late start training horses, Rycroft has won 642 races for career earnings of $8.3 million. “War Giant is an old class horse. He won a stakes race at Gulfstream earlier in his career and it’s not easy winning a stake there. “Andre (Martin) rode him really well.”
A finalist for Alberta’s top two-year-old last season, Sir Miezi then closed out Rycroft’s six-win performance. Going head-to-head with Walktheline, Sir Miezi won by three lengths for jockey Rafael Zenteno Jr. “When it works it’s great,” said Rycroft, who on July 21, 2018 entered six races at Northlands and won them all which set a Canadian record for most training wins on a single card.
“I’ve got good confidence in the horses I’m training, the training program I use and the crew I have working for me. I also really have to credit my wife Lori,” he said of the former trainer. “She keeps the horses well fed and looked after and then lets the rest of us do our thing. It’s good for the owners, good for the crew and good for me. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into just winning one race. It’s great when it all works out like it did on the past weekend.”
From the sounds of it the future looks great for Rycroft too. Wednesday morning he worked four two-year-olds three furlongs. All four went in 36 seconds. “And the riders were just sitting on them,” added Rycroft, who got rolling when he took over the training of Alberta’s perennial top owners Riversedge stable - owned by Norm Castiglione and Robert Vargo - in 2015.
“I’ve got about 10 two-year-olds including some nice quality babies.” He’s also got some three-year-olds that have yet to race including one named Cab Sav, who also worked Wednesday going a handy five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.
“I’m hoping he’s my Derby horse even if he hasn’t started yet. He galloped out half a mile after the work which I like to do instead of just pulling them up once they hit the wire and he did it very well.”
Well bred, Cab Sav is by Birdstone, winner of the 2004 Belmont and whose dam, Elegant Effort, is by former Queens Plate winner Alydeed.
“Covid has been tough on everybody. Especially the owners who were investing in something that might not have been there and trainers like my dad Tom who owns 25 horses himself. Our opinion was to keep operating like we were always doing. You might as well be ready and we were.”
One of the horses Rycroft will be running this weekend is the venerable seven-year-old Trooper John, who has always been Rycroft’s favourite. “I’ve got four or five five furlong works into him already,” he said of the Riversedge career winner of 11 of 29 starts for earnings of just shy of $400,000.
“He’ll make them run. Five furlongs isn’t his best distance but I expect him to be coming when they turn for home. He’s been training really well. It’s exciting to see him back. When he won the Century Mile stakes last year that was one of my favourite races. People had given up on him."
“My philosophy about training horses is if you treat them good, they’ll treat you good. If you give them an opportunity to be the athletes they are, it often works out. It’s not rocket science. Occasionally you look like a genius when things fall into place. But mostly it’s just a lot of hard work."
“I’m not easing up on the gas pedal. I can tell you that.”
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