Catherine Day Phillips has the chance to pick up her first Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on Saturday, but the trainer remained cool as a cucumber Friday, despite getting home from the Keeneland September Sale a few hours before.
“Every race is a big race, to be honest,” she said. “Every race we run in, a lot goes into it and it's the same with the Mile, obviously. I've had a lot of pressure-filled moments and I just focus on our job to get him there the best we can. Having said that, I've had about three hours' sleep.”
Mr Havercamp, who is a homebred for owners Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry, comes to the Mile from a win in the G2 Play The King, one of the four races which make up a perfect record on the Woodbine turf course. Day Phillips has seen steady improvement from the gelding, who didn't launch his career until July of last year.
“I think he's a Grade 1 horse, but might as well let him find out in his own territory,” she said. “If not, there are plenty of other things he can do, but might as well give him the chance.”
Day Phillips grew up in Canada a third-generation horsewoman: her grandmother was a breeder and both her parents trained. Although she was involved with sport horses from a young age she didn't begin working for her father, Olympic gold medalist John Day, until she was in college.
“I was always a little bit intimidated by the racehorses,” she said. “They always seemed to be a little scary next to the show horses. It's a different world. I really love watching the racehorses develop.”
Day Phillips didn't make the leap into training right away. She took several years away from the barns, worked in finance, and came back when she was sure racing was where she wanted to be.
She recently moved barns on the Woodbine backstretch and ended up in the barn her father used to have, conveniently positioned near one of the hacking trails. Although her name was familiar to many in Canadian racing, Day Phillips says she didn't have horses handed to her because of her father's connections (he trained for prominent Sam-Son Farm). She has kept her operation relatively small for most of her 19-year training career, but has expanded her operation from 30 to 40 horses since last year.
“It certainly didn't open doors, by any means. I started small and it took a long time to build up the clientele I have now,” she said. “I always joke when we won the Arlington Million, a reporter said, 'Now you've won the Arlington Million! How is this going to change your life?' and I said, 'I really don't think it will.' And we didn't pick up a client or customer or anything as a result, which is fine. It's just been persistent, hard work over the years.”
Next, Day Phillips has her eye on more races in America. She wintered at Palm Meadows last year and saddled Dixie Moon in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar, and hopes to run in the States more often in the future.
“Our base will always be Woodbine, but it would be nice to have the horses, and I think we're getting them, who can compete,” she said.
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