November 27, 2021
“Come on, you raver, you seer of visions.
Come on, you painter, you piper, you prisoner and shine! “
From “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” by Pink Floyd.
And on Saturday, Pink Lloyd shone, against all odds. There were tears, for sure. Happy ones. Ones with mixed emotions, too.
Pink Lloyd wrought a storybook ending to his long tale on Saturday, when he won the $200,550 Kennedy Road Stakes at Woodbine for his 26th stakes win, adding to his earnings of $2,455,430. He started 38 times, won 29 of them despite his quirky nature, (His name fits him; it’s quirky too.) his foibles and his (rare) fumbles. On a numbing cold day as the sun set and rendered it colder, Pinkie eagerly pulled it all together one more time. And won. Again.
And sometime in the coming week, the nine-year-old gelding will leave the racetrack for a new life at Long Run retirement facility about an hour’s drive away. “I’m so happy he’ll be up there and he’ll get to be a horse and run in the paddock, do all those horse things and have friends, and run as fast as he can, in the mud,” said Michelle Gibson, who won a special Sovereign as Canada’s top groom in 2020.
But she has mixed emotions. His was the first face he saw when she walked into the barn every morning. He won’t be there to greet her every morning as he always did, and she won’t see him cross a finish wire again.
“It’s like sending your kid off to school,” she said. “Sending him out the door into the real world. I’m happy he’s getting what he deserves, but at the same time, for my own personal, is to not see him again. I’ve seen him every day for years now, and that’s hard.”
Gibson knows about Pinkie’s goofiness better than anyone. She has a video of his final breeze in which his tail swirled like a propeller (a red flag, so like Pinkie), he’d prop, go wide around the turn, throw his head down, give his exercise rider not a moment’s rest. Trainer Bob Tiller says he’s like that when he’s fit. He’s more sedate when he’s not so fit. So in his own way, he was signaling that he was ready.
Gibson saw Pink Lloyd come into the Tiller barn as a 2-year-old. He was goofy back then, too. He always wanted things to be done his way. Back then, he had numerous soundness issues, and would disappear, appear, disappear again. He did not start until the fall of his 4-year-old year.
Gibson and Tiller always have to keep in mind that Pinkie reacts to the strangest things. Strange noises drive him to distraction. The sound of a garbage truck beeping as it backs up? Not Pinkie’s favourite. A cell phone on speaker mode? The siren that alerts folks to a loose horse? Yikes.
“He’ll just start kicking the walls down,” Gibson said. That’s why he lives in a stall with rubberized walls. And because he’s very athletic, the rubber stretches up a long way. Six feet up.
On the morning of his final race, he constantly bobbed his head out the stall door. He chewed on the inside of his cheek. The head would go out. The head would retreat. Tiller had the barn door mostly closed. It was to be a quiet place, to keep him from getting stirred up. But Pinkie knew what was to come.
“He’s my kid,” Gibson said. “I’m the first one in the barn. He knows me as soon as I come in. He sees me come in. He puts his head out and does a little ‘Hnhnhnhn.’ “
Then she goes into his stall and what happens then, is what she calls her “morning molestation.”
“He’s all over me and makes all my clothes filthy dirty,” she said. “He has to have his head rub every morning, no matter what is going on. I have to stand there and prop myself against the wall and he just rubs and rubs and rubs. And then he’s okay, cool, then he goes off and does his own thing.”
Sometimes she’d leave the stall door open, and he would never leave. “He knows, I tell him, if he ever leaves, he’s not going to eat again. So he knows. I know he’s never going to leave me.”
She will pass all of this on to his new people. And visit as often as she can.
Gibson officially became his groom in 2018, but was in the picture behind the scenes before that. It was very hard on Friday, she said, as she was tacking him up for his last gallop. “He’s just like: ‘Whatever, mom, let’s just go play.’ For me, it’s emotional. I started crying and crying because it was the last time.”
Trainer Tiller, who somehow managed to make a star out of a wayward boy, said he’d heave a sigh of relief when it ended. “I feel less stressed today,” he said before the race. “He’s not even going to be the favourite today. The horse has gone off at 1 to 9, 3 to 5, 4 to 5, and sometimes you get beat when you are that price. There are a lot of factors in horse racing. It depends on how the race is run, whether you get checked three times. He’s lost a couple of races I thought he should have won.”
This season, Pink Lloyd finished second to Souper Stonehenge in both the Vigil and the Jacques Cartier Stakes, so no surprise that Souper went off as the 2 to 1 favourite in the Kennedy Road Stakes. Pink Lloyd went off at almost 4 to 1. “There’s no pressure,” Tiller said. (Souper Stonehenge finished sixth of eight.)
So Tiller did not expect a win. There were also a couple of nice 3-year-olds in the race (for a 9-year-old to contend with.) There was Clayton, a crack 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail last year, who resurfaced after a long absence and won his only other start this year. There was Tap It To Win, who had won the Seagram. There was a grey colt that had shipped in from the United States.
“I just want him to get around there safely,” Tiller said. “As long as he gets around there safely to finish his career, that’s all I hope and pray for. We’ll take whatever we get.”
Tiller says he’s been asked if he thought Pink Lloyd had taken a step or two back from his best this season. “I’m going to be 72 in a couple of weeks and I’ll tell you, I’ve taken a step or two back,” he said. But he thinks Pink Lloyd should have won all of his races this year.
“There will never be another one like him ever. Not in my eyes. Certainly not for me,” Tiller said. In the past, Woodbine has always had the races for him, so why leave? But with the addition of the inner turf course, the track has written more and more races for the grass, and the synthetic events that Pink Lloyd favours have been disappearing over the past couple of years.
“I’ve been asked so many times, why didn’t I take him to the States?” Tiller said. “They had all the races here for him. He’s got a rubberized stall. He’s well managed.”
And where else would track management cater to Pink Lloyd’s whims? He works when all others are finished. Otherwise, he’d want to run off and chase them all. He comes out to gallop and work when the normal training time is over. The track maintenance crew lies in wait until Pinkie is finished. And he has his own personal pony boy – chief outrider Rob Love, who is one person that has the strength to hold him in check. Pink Lloyd has come to know that. He’s with the rangy gelding in the mornings, and in the afternoons during post parade. It has taken a village to produce the Pink Lloyd that we know.
“This is where’s he’s been safe,” Tiller said.
Last year was to be Pink Lloyd’s last season. But he came back this year. He loved the track. And he was sound. “Lord forgive us, if he wins today, there might be somebody who thinks he should come back next year,” Tiller said before the race. “Not going to happen.”
Tiller said he’s going to walk out of Woodbine at the end of the day with his head held high, “just as long as he is okay,” he said. “It’s not that important for me to win. It’s important for him to run well.”
Pink Lloyd sat fifth early from the gate behind a wall of horses as Clayton went for the lead with Richiesinthehouse, a recent claim for trainer Francine Villenueve, pressing him. Jockey Rafael Hernandez sat chilly until the turn, when he found a seam and went four-wide to chase four horses ahead of him.
“I was just hoping Rafi would get room,” Tiller said. “I said at the head of the lane: ‘You what what? Here he comes.”
Pink Lloyd loves to run at horses and this was his perfect scenario. He wore them all down, his white foreleg flashing in the dim light, and with 70 yards to go, he was in front to win by half a length. Hernandez and Emma-Jayne Wilson, riding second-placed Richiesinthehouse, bumped fists past the wire. He got a standing ovation.
Wilson and Hernandez were the two who engineered the act of throwing jockey Eurica Rosa da Silva in a snowbank the day he retired two years ago. Da Silva had been Pinkie’s regular pilot before Hernandez took over. Thoughtfully, Hernandez drew attention to Da Silva’s feats by shouting his favorite phrase: “Good luck for everybody!”
Despite the chill, the pace was not slow. Clayton set vigorous fractions and Pink Lloyd won in 1:08.84, which is only .79 slower than his track record for six furlongs.
“He’s a legend,” Tiller said. “He proved today he was.
“We are blessed to win this race and it’s a tremendous way to go out. You know he’s been Woodbine’s horse, he’s been Canada’s horse, and the next time some horse wins 26 stakes races in 29 races at Woodbine, let me know about it.”
Frank Di Guilio, Jr., the face of the Entourage Stable (Ed Longo, John Peri, John Lucato and Victor Mele), said managing the horse’s career may have looked hard from the outside, but it “was truly the right thing to do from our point of view, because the races were here,” he said.
“There was no temptation to run him on the grass. There was no temptation to take him out of town because we had the opportunities here and we know he loves it here. He has some quirks, so you don’t know what’s going to happen when you ship, or get into a new stall and things like that. We just thought it was the right thing to do. Maybe other people would have done it differently, but I don‘t think they would have had the success.”
“It’s the greatest thrill of my life,” Tiller said.
It’s always hard to say goodbye.