Tuesday, 07 June 2022 13:44

Rycroft leading Trainer with 17 wins on the season

Written by Curtis Stock
Firelicious and jockey J C Roque winning the first race at Century Mile on June 3 Firelicious and jockey J C Roque winning the first race at Century Mile on June 3 Coady Photo/Ryan Haynes

Apparently it’s not enough for trainer Tim Rycroft to win what seems like every second thoroughbred race at Century Mile. Last Friday he also won a quarter horse race with Firelicious.

“It’s like my brother Riley told someone: ‘If they had appaloosa racing Tim would train them too.’ And you know. He’s probably right. I train a few thoroughbreds for Beckham Ranches and they asked if I would be interested in training one of their quarter horses,” he said of Firelicious, who won by 2 1/4 lengths which is like half a mile in a thoroughbred race.

“So I said OK. It was swoosh. Maybe now I should go out and buy some standardbred horses too,” he said almost sounding semi-serious.

It’s been going that well for Rycroft, who also won three thoroughbred races this past weekend: Lone Pioneer by a nose and Fiona Bay by 4 3/4 lengths on Saturday and Little Harper, who won his career debut on Friday by four lengths.

That trio of thoroughbred wins gives Rycroft 17 on the season and a startling 12-win lead over Craig Smith, Joan Petrowski, Ron Grieves, Dale Saunders and James Brown, who are all deadlocked with five victories. The scariest thing is that this fast start to the season is nothing new to Rycroft. Last year he started off the 2021 season winning six of the first 18 races.

“I’ve pretty much gotten off to a good start every year,” said Rycroft, 58, who didn’t start training - in 1991 - until he spent 25 years as an outrider. “I’ve got a great crew. We work hard through the winter to try and have the horses ready,” said Rycroft, who begins his winter training at his farm in the Alberta hamlet Windfield - about 70 km west of Wetaskiwin - where he has an indoor arena he and his dad, Tom, recently built.

Rycroft said there are a lot of factors that go into his success. “No. 1 is good owners and good horses. Then there’s the crew I mentioned,” he said of his grooms and barn foreman Gonzalo Anderson.

“I couldn’t do it without Gonzalo, who has been with me for seven or eight years. He’s made a big difference. You need to have people like Gonzalo if you want to move forward. He’s loyal and conscientious. He’s a great caretaker and he gallops and exercises my horses too.”

Then there’s Rycroft’s go-to jockey, Enrique Gonzalez, who was named Alberta’s top jockey at last month’s Thoroughbred Awards dinner, and who is leading the jockey standings this year.

“When I need to win a big race Enrique is always my first choice,” said Rycroft. “He’s a very smart rider. He’s good on the lead but he’s really good down the stretch. He finishes so well.

“He was a big part of the year Greek Geek had last year,” Rycroft said of last year’s Horse of the Year, Champion Alberta-bred, Champion Sprinter and champion Aged Horse after winning seven of his nine starts and $174,400 including the Don Getty, CTHS Sales stake, the Alberta Breeders’ and the Century Mile. Greek Geek also set a track record when he won a mile and a sixteenth allowance race in 1:42 1/5 going wire-to-wire.

Greek Geek has had just one race in Alberta this year losing by a neck to stablemate Stone Carver, who holds Century Mile’s six furlong track record. Greek Geek and Stone Carver will likely run next in the June 18 Journal Handicap going six furlongs.

“Greek Geek prefers to go longer. He likes to sit third or fourth and then make a big run from the quarter pole to the wire. Stone Carver is just a flat-out race horse. He runs his eyeballs out every time. Enrique gave Greek Geek a lot of great rides,” he said of the former Mexico City champion jockey Rycroft lured from Vancouver’s Hastings Park a few years ago promising Gonzalez first call on his powerful stable.

“He knows where he’s at in a race and he knows where he wants to be,” he said of Gonzalez, who also works for Rycroft in the mornings every day.

Rycroft also uses jockey Jose-Mariano Asencio, who, like Gonzalez, is also from Mexico. “Asencio is a good, little rider. I believe he’ll be third or fourth in the jockey standings by the end of the year. With that kind of a team I have, I should win a lot of races.”

Win Rycroft does. And as well as strong starts, Rycroft also finishes extremely strong; he has been Alberta’s leading thoroughbred trainer the last four years and is well on his way to his fifth title. Before that he was second to Greg Tracy a few times.

Last year Rycroft won 63 races. In 2020 and 2019 Rycroft’s win total was 56. In 2018 he had his best year winning 74 races. That year he won six races on a single card which is believed to be a Canadian record.

All told Rycroft, a hard worker, has won 719 career races from 3,952 starts. “My philosophy about training horses is if you treat them good, they’ll treat you good. It’s not rocket science,” said Rycroft, who also has Joy In Grace in his 45-horse barn, who races for the Century Mile race club and who won in Edmonton after also winning in Phoenix. Rycroft plans on running her in the RedTail Landing stake on June 17.

“I just want to win races. That’s all I try to do,” said Rycroft, who spots his horses very well. “I enter aggressively. I put them in where they can win. I have no problem entering a $10,000 claimer in against $8,000 claimers. I lose a few horses to claims that way but I don’t like standing in the paddock and looking at the tote board and seeing that a horse I have entered is 15-1. It’s why we are here: to win races.”

While it’s very early Rycroft said that “Knock on wood, I think I have three or four Canadian Derby horses. I like Asyoubelieve, Great Vision, Glava and Ankara.”

Asyoubelieve, last year’s Two-Year-Old Champion owned by Craig Robertson’s Shot In The Dark Stable, should have won this past Saturday except that Gonzalez had one of his stirrups come undone leaving the backstretch. “Enrique had one foot in the stirrup and the other one out. He was basically riding bareback.”

Despite that Asyoubelieve still somehow finished second losing by just a neck to Slaats. “I don’t know how far Asyoubelieve wants to run,” said Rycroft, of the colt who has won four of his six starts including last year’s Canadian Juvenile and CTHS Sales stakes. “At this point nobody does. Every horse has a limit but he’s a very talented individual.

“I really like Glava,” Rycroft said of the three-year-old who broke his maiden by six lengths over Decoy with the latter coming back to win his next start by six lengths. “Great Vision can be a handful and he’s still a maiden. He’s a work in progress but I like him too. And then there’s Ankara. He’s just a winner of one race but I’m kind of excited about him,” said Rycroft of the well-bred son of Hard Spun out of an A.P. Indy mare owned by Skin In The Game stable, Everback Cattle Company, Stetson Enterprises and Ron Stetson. “They’re all new guys but they wanted me to find a Derby horse for them. We bought him in Florida off of Todd Pletcher.”

Rycroft has more on the way. “I’ve got a couple of two-year-olds I really like and I have a new syndicate of owners that want to spend around $300,000 for three or four good horses.”

STOCK REPORT - The talent in Rycroft’s family isn’t just Tim. His daughter, Quinn, 17, is already an accomplished singer. She recently opened for St. Paul, Alberta country singer Brett Kissel, who has had four No. 1 hits. Afterwards Kissel invited Quinn on stage to sing a Dolly Parton song with him.

“She’s been singing her whole life,” Tim, said proudly. “She plays the piano, guitar, writes music and recently was accepted into the University of Alberta to study classical music.

Quinn is also a promising barrel racer. “She was at Olds this past weekend at Provincials trying to qualify for Nationals. But, the surface was sloppy and her horse slipped and fell around the second barrel. “Quinn jammed her leg real bad. At first we thought her ankle and foot were broken but it was just a bad sprain.”

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