Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: A Date With Team Enable

by | 11.02.2018 | 1:40pm
Head traveling assistant Tony Proctor pats Enable on the neck while she is accompanied by Dos the lead pony, ridden by Chelsea Hackbarth

I have been so excited ever since I heard Enable might be coming for the Breeders' Cup in my very own hometown, and even made a “friendly” wager with Ray Paulick right after she won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (I said she'd be here—glad I was right!).

Now, try to imagine the level of anticipation I felt when I learned I'd get to accompany Enable to the track at Churchill Downs on my pony horse (Dos) during the week of the Breeders' Cup! She's a two-time Arc winner, a champion, and easily one of the best horses in training anywhere in the world right now… and I get to introduce her to Churchill Downs.

Enable and her famous ears!

I wondered how she would be different from the other horses I've ponied, and how she'd react to being with a pony – I learned she'd never seen one before. I wondered what her people would be like, how they would interact with her, and whether she'd look the same up close as she does in photographs.

“Here comes the queen,” announced the quarantine barn coordinator as Enable headed toward me.

My first impression: Enable possesses the kind of monumental presence that draws the attention of everyone around her, before they even recognize who she is. It's clear that she knows she's special just by the way she carries herself. Enable isn't as quite as big as I thought she'd be, but she steps out toward her work with such confidence that she appears significantly larger. She has the most wonderfully long ears that are almost a little homely (don't tell her I said that), and she is delightfully playful, even a bit mischievous.

As soon as Enable figured out she could nibble on the pony's saddle, his mane, and my knee, she loved the idea of going alongside us. Her exercise rider, a kind young Pakistani man named Imran Shadwani, gently admonished her for biting at the pony, but I assured him Dos wouldn't mind the little bit she was doing. Besides, I told him, she's Enable – she gets to do what makes her happy!

Shadwani has lived in the UK for over 15 years and tells me he studied English in school in Pakistan. His English is very proper and he is endlessly polite – he even laughs when he doesn't understand my strange American jokes. In his spare time, Shadwani drives a taxi in the UK.

Can you imagine jumping into a taxi cab and hearing that the driver works with one of the top turf horses in the world? I probably wouldn't believe him, but jockey Frankie Dettori assured me the story is true.

Enable, Proctor and Shadwani after her first gallop on the turf course at Churchill Downs

I told Shadwani he is so lucky to ride this filly, and he agreed whole-heartedly.

“She's a superstar,” Shadwani said, smiling down at the champion's graceful neck.

Enable's main man on the ground is John Gosden's head traveling assistant Antony Proctor, a former jockey. Proctor has been with Enable for every one of her starts in the past two years, and it's clear she is like a daughter to him.

A middle-aged man with a kind smile, Proctor is explicit with details on what I'm to do with Enable each morning. He wants her to jog at a steady pace around the chute on the first morning, just easy exercise as she gets used to going along with the pony. He video chats and streams the entire process to Gosden as we march along the rail, but we seem to be doing what he wants as his instructions are few and far between.

As the week goes on, Proctor opens up a bit more and shares a few stories about his time with the champion filly. She can be a little feisty, I learn, and Proctor explains that she's feeling even better now than she was before the Arc.

Enable tries to run over Antony when horses race past us on the way to the turf course

Later in the week, I lead Enable back and forth from the turf course for her gallops, keeping her as calm as possible in front of the horde of cameras and for a couple of days, in the face of wildly waving umbrellas and raincoats.

The first day we headed to the turf, we got on the track a bit early and had to wait until the gallopers on the dirt course were finished. Enable got upset each time horses would gallop by, almost running over Proctor the first time she heard the hoofbeats!

Shadwani and I just kept talking to her and soothing her as we waited, keeping her feet moving to give her something else to think about.

Finally Enable was allowed to head out to the turf for a slow canter, and her curiosity overcame the previous concern about being passed by other horses. She was lovely to watch float over the grass on the famous “Big Board,” those long ears flicking back and forth as she cruised beneath the Twin Spires.

She always comes off the turf course bouncing, proud of herself and soaking up all of the media attention. Enable knows she's the star of the show.

“Trotting Tony” Proctor leads Enable and Frankie Dettori on the turf course

One of the most amusing stories Proctor relayed to me was how he is essentially Enable's pony for her European starts. He leads the filly at a “jog” nearly all the way to the starting gate before her races, and he has been doing some of the same on the turf at Churchill Downs.

“At this point, I've got to be one of the fittest people at Churchill,” he joked on Thursday after running more than a quarter mile with her down the soggy turf. He's not wrong.

Twice so far this week, Enable's race jockey Frankie Dettori has come to gallop her. He jokes that Proctor has to go with him to warm her up for the races because he fell off the filly once before, and they don't want him to embarrass them again.

Dettori absolutely loves Enable!

He's quite the character, Dettori, and it's obvious that he and Enable have an incredibly strong bond. The jockey strokes her ears while calling her pet names, and she allows it, if perhaps a bit grudgingly. When she's had enough she flips her head up and down a few times, and Dettori just laughs and throws his arms around her neck to embrace her.

In contrast, Proctor's affection for the filly is more understated: a steadying hand on her neck when she's upset, an awed voice when talking about the accomplishments of the “Ferrari” that is Enable. He is even quieter about his own accomplishments, though his face lights up when I mention that my pony is a son of Street Cry. Matter-of-factly, as if he's discussing what he'll have for breakfast, Proctor tells me he used to gallop the Dubai World Cup winner for Sheikh Mohammed.

As much as I'm looking forward to seeing Enable's race on Saturday, I'm also glad the week isn't over. I get a couple more days to enjoy the glow of Enable's presence, to play a small role as she tries to become the first horse to win the Arc and the Breeders' Cup Turf in the same season. It's a big ask, but her team believes she's up to the task.

From the four days I've spent with her, I'd have to agree. Enable knows why she's here, and she's very confident; I know she'll give every last ounce of her courage to hit the wire first on Saturday, and both Proctor and Shadwani will be waiting to feed her her customary carrots after she leaves the winner's circle.

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