A bouquet of balloons was waiting by his stall when Canadian International winner Bullards Alley returned to Churchill Downs Monday evening. Grounded by a full bag of Red Delicious apples, the balloons represent just how precious this 5-year-old gelding has become to trainer Tim Glyshaw's small stable.
Bullards Alley is Glyshaw's first Grade 1 winner, and the trainer rode along with his horse on the van ride to Woodbine. Glyshaw even groomed Bullards Alley leading up to his 42-1 International upset, in an effort to keep his stable back at Churchill from being short-staffed.
Meanwhile, Natalie Glyshaw was hard at work in Kentucky maintaining the day-to-day operations of the stable. Her name may not appear on the program, but Tim is always quick to point out that his wife and assistant trainer has been a fundamental part of Bullard's career from the very beginning. The daughter of Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame jockey Ronald Ardoin, Natalie Glyshaw took on the temperamental colt as a “pet project” when he was a 2-year-old fresh from the Fasig-Tipton horses of racing age sale.
“He's just unique,” she said, describing Bullard's white-rimmed eyes and unusually playful demeanor. “When he first got to us, he was pretty scared of everything and it took a long time to get him used to the racetrack. He still gallops every day in blinkers, but now he's not scared anymore. These days you had better be tied on when you go to the track because he's going to jump around and buck and play. He's a happy horse.”
While preparing Bullards Alley to race, Natalie has always taken extra care to ensure the horse was happy, whether it was feeding him before the other horses, sneaking him an extra peppermint or two, or even making sure the gelding got to train at his preferred time of day.
It took some time, but last May Bullard rewarded the Glyshaw Stable with its first graded stakes win in the G3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill.
“I'm usually the one who gets stuck babysitting him on race day,” Natalie Glyshaw laughed. “He used to get all worked up after getting Lasix, running around his stall and bucking and kicking the walls. I just had to hold him at the front of his stall for the several hours leading up to his race, keeping him calm. We got really close.”
Bullard didn't find the winner's circle again until the day of the International, despite running hard every time he stepped on the track. The team decided he'd earned a little vacation at the end of 2016. By the time Bullards Alley returned to the races, however, neither Tim nor Natalie were sure if their stable had a future.
An Equine Herpesvirus outbreak at the Fair Grounds hit the Glyshaw Stable particularly hard; though just one filly in the barn tested positive for the virus, never showing any other symptoms, the ensuing 30-day quarantine cost almost two months of racing and training on the Glyshaw horses.
After the quarantine, nearly half of the Glyshaws' string was claimed away when he entered them at the Fair Grounds. Tim and Natalie were only able to claim two horses during the meet, meaning they returned to Kentucky with a shell of their former numbers. In addition, the bills to the feed store and other vendors were piling up, and things were looking dark.
“We were robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Natalie. “Everyone knows the racing industry has its ups and downs, but this was worse off than we'd ever been before.”
They arrived back in Kentucky and picked up some of their regular Indiana-based clients. The momentum was a slow build, trying to get horses fit and finding the spots that worked for them. Some of the stable staff had to be let go in order to compensate but eventually the Glyshaw horses began to find the winner's circle again.
Bullards Alley appeared to have had a slow start to his 2017 season, too.
“Actually, if you go back and watch all of his races on video, he never really runs a bad race,” Natalie said. “He always comes running at the end, and he only ever gets beat a few lengths for everything in all these graded stakes races. A lot of times he'd have bad luck or the ground would be too hard for him; sometimes our rain dances don't work.”
Suddenly, October. On the 7th, Indiana-bred Bucchero gave the stable its second graded victory in the G2 Woodford at Keeneland. Eight days later Bullards Alley put on a freakishly good performance to give the Glyshaws their first Grade 1 in the Canadian International, winning by a record margin of 10 3/4 lengths.
“It was just… utter shock,” said Natalie, remembering the feeling of watching Bullards Alley extend his stride down the lane on the television in her Churchill Downs tack room. “A lot of owners will only see that he was 42-1 in the race. They won't see how hard he tries or how much heart he consistently shows on the racetrack.”
Typically a woman of few words, it was easy to hear the emotion in Glyshaw's voice when she greeted Bullard Monday night with his celebratory apples and balloons, both of which she'd brought to the barn late at night just for him.
“He just kept bopping his nose against the balloons, playing with them,” she said. “We both work so hard, and there are plenty of days when it is hard to remember why we keep doing this. Today isn't one of those days.
“He's a good boy.”
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