If you're watching training at Woodbine hoping to catch a glimpse of reigning Canadian Horse of the Year Pink Lloyd, you aren't going to spot him in the crowd. That's because, trainer Robert Tiller says, Pink Lloyd doesn't do so well training in a crowd.
The winner of 16 races from 19 starts, the 6-year-old gelding didn't make it to the races until his 4-year-old season. Tiller said Pink Lloyd (whose name is a reference to both the television series Entourage and the well-known band Pink Floyd) had a few soundness problems earlier in his career which held him back. Once he was able to train, Tiller realized the chestnut had too much fun chasing other horses. If a rival went by him on the rail, Pink Lloyd would kick into a full-out sprint and hunt them down. If exercise rider Rafael Sanchez kept a handle on him, the gelding would refuse to train at all.
Three-time Sovereign Award winner and Canadian Hall of Famer Tiller said Pink Lloyd is one of the smartest horses he has ever trained in a long and storied career. The Amsterdam native broke into the Canadian scene early, conditioning Near the High Sea to a runner-up effort in the 1975 Queen's Plate. Since, he has picked up four training titles at Woodbine, trained 2001 Canadian Horse of the Year Win City, and sent out winners of over $64 million.
Where other trainers might have given up and sent the horse to pasture, Tiller employed some creative problem-solving. He began taking Pink Lloyd to the training track behind the barns at Woodbine and waited for other workers to finish up before the 10:30 a.m. track closure. He learned Pink Lloyd was happy to stand on the outside rail and watch other horses go by. At about 10:28 a.m. each day, after the last worker has left the gap, Sanchez takes Pink Lloyd to the inside rail and the pair go for long, daisy-cutting canters worthy of a veteran hunter.
“It's pretty scary when you see him train,” said Tiller. “When he was younger, he was getting tougher and tougher [to work] and he'd come back sore. He kind of told us, ‘I'll hack around there but I won't gallop.'”
“This is what he's used to now. He thinks this is fun.”
On Thursday ahead of Pink Lloyd's 20th career start Saturday in the Grade 3 Bold Venture, the gelding enjoyed a leisurely two-mile canter on the empty track, ears pricked, with just a pony horse for company.
“He'll go by here, you won't even think he's stretching his legs out,” said Teller. “When he goes by, he'll slow down because he's looking at us.
“He's just very special. Everything he does is special. He's so different from other Thoroughbreds.”
After his leisurely hack, Pink Lloyd is accustomed to receiving apples between 12 and 1 p.m. each day. If Tiller is late, Pink Lloyd will remind him with a loud, rumbly nicker.
Tiller believes Pink Lloyd's talents are underrated in the Canadian racing scene. The sprinter has proven he can win from on or off the pace (though Tiller believes he does his best work sitting third or fourth). His track record-setting performance in the Jacques Cartier Stakes came after a five-month layoff.
“For a sprinter to do what this horse has done, which is win 13 out of 14 sprints … in a six, six- and-a-half furlong race you only have so much time to maneuver. There's no margin for error. And you can get into more trouble in a four-horse field than a ten-horse field,” said Tiller. “People don't realize this. He can come from anywhere. Most sprinters are just speed-crazy.”
Still, Tiller has no plans to send Pink Lloyd to the Breeders' Cup. Firstly, the expense — $250,000 – to enter and travel is no small consideration. Secondly, Tiller has a hard time imagining the gelding's routine working anywhere but Woodbine.
“Where are you going to be able to gallop him at 10:30 in the morning? And where are you going to be able to get his stall padded up to the roof with rubber?” said Tiller. “He has a tendency, when he gets to feeling good, to get kicking in there. And he can kick high. There's a lot of little details that people have no idea about.”
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