For the past eight weeks, every night just before he nods off, William Werner envisions what it would be like to win a Breeders' Cup race. On Friday, he'll find out if it becomes a reality.
On Tuesday morning, just days before the gates open on the biggest day in thoroughbred racing, Werner and Woodbine-based Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield are in Kentucky, where they'll soon watch My Gal Betty, a two-year-old daughter of Point of Entry, contest the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
The race is one of five events slated for Future Stars Friday, one day before nine more Breeders' Cup races, including the $6 million Classic, take over the spotlight at Churchill Downs.
“It's all I've thought about for the last two months,” said Werner with a laugh. “It's a chance of a lifetime. It's so exciting, but you have to hold yourself back. But I can tell you that we're enjoying it. And my wife will tell you that I'm driving her crazy.”
Perhaps so, but Betty Werner is likely to forgive her husband in those moments. After all, the Kentucky-bred bay is named for her.
“The naming began through the horse's mare, Gal of Mine,” started Werner. “We're sitting at the table in Lexington, shortly after we bought her, and it just popped up… it's got to be My Gal Betty.”
Do the two Bettys share anything in common?
“They're both lovely,” said Werner. “I'm lucky to have both of them in my life.”
My Gal Betty, who won at first asking on May 20 at Woodbine, has fared well in her four lifetime starts, winning two races to go along with a second and a third. It would have been three wins if not for a DQ in the My Dear Stakes, contested on July 7.
A head in front at the wire in the My Dear, a claim of foul from the rider of Tiz Breathtaking resulted in My Gal Betty being placed third by the stewards.
In her next start, the inaugural running of the Catch a Glimpse Stakes, My Gal Betty romped to a 4 1/4-length score over a yielding E.P. Taylor Turf Course on a rainy Toronto afternoon.
“She's always trying well for me, ever since I got her in Florida, and she's just a sweetheart of a filly, actually,” said Attfield after the race. “I was quite upset when she got taken down [as the winner] the other day. I knew that she was probably going to have to be [taken down], but it was unfortunate because I thought she was much the best. But anyway, I was so pleased with her today and because you're always anxious when the weather changes like this and you have no idea how they are going to handle that kind of going, but obviously she does.”
After a strong runner-up showing September's Grade 1 Natalma Stakes, part of the Breeders' Cup 'Win and You're In' program, My Gal Betty will now face the best two-year-old turf fillies in the world.
“We lucked out with a nice one,” added Werner. “When we went down to Payson Park, right away, she left the pack and wanted to take charge. She was just a little baby. Allyson Walker, Roger's assistant, kept saying, 'She's really a good one.' Roger liked her from day one, too. I didn't know until her first race. You just don't know, to be honest. But she's been impressive.”
Werner is hoping the thrill ride continues on November 2.
He's happy to be sharing it all with one of thoroughbred racing's most decorated trainers, an inductee in both the Canadian and United States horse racing Halls of Fame, an eight-time (tied for the most) Queen's Plate winner and eight-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada's champion trainer. Among his accomplishments, Attfield also won the 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf with 27-1 longshot Perfect Shirl.
As Werner recalls, it was a combination of fate, a mutual friend and a shared meal that brought the two together.
“We're great friends and have been for a long time,” he noted. “I met (fellow owner) Mickey Canino in Lexington and we talked for several days and just hit it off. At the time, Mickey and Roger were partners on three or four horses a year. Mickey said, 'Would you like to come in?' I told him that I sure would like that. But Roger didn't really want another partner.
“So, Mickey told me that we should take Roger out and get something to eat. Betty and I went out to dinner and we hit it off with Roger. He said, 'Let's do this. Let's be partners.' That was around 1997 or 1998. We've been together ever since.”
As a sole owner – Werner has also owned horses in partnership – the Illinois native has 10 wins, six seconds and eight thirds from 64 career starts, along with (US) $391,366 in earnings.
He's hoping his most memorable horse racing moment comes this Friday in the Bluegrass State.
“She's awesome,” said Werner of My Gal Betty. “She's training great here and she's loving it at Churchill. We know there are a bunch of good ones in it, so we don't know what's going to happen. She's definitely at the top of her game. If she's good enough, we'll see. As long as she gets a good trip, and comes home good and sound, we're happy.”
Walker knows just how special it would be to make the walk to the winner's circle.
“It would mean the world to all of us in the Attfield barn for Mr. Werner to win this race with this filly,” she said. “Since day one, 'Betty' has been forward and aggressive. She has always loved training and has so much natural athleticism. Not only is she named after his amazing wife, but Mr. Werner is a longtime friend, partner and supporter of Roger's. His kindness and generosity to all of us in the stable, and towards the racing industry as a whole, is immeasurable.”
For the next couple of days, Werner, now retired, will do what he's done the past two months.
No need to ask what's dominating his thoughts.
“What do you think I'm dreaming about?” he laughed. “I'm dreaming about winning the Breeders' Cup. I saw it again last night and it was awesome.”
My Gal Betty (20-1 in the morning line) has post 13 in the 14-horse field and will have Javier Castellano in the irons. The U.S. Hall of Fame rider posted his eighth career Breeders' Cup win in 2017 with Rushing Fall in the Juvenile Fillies Turf.
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