Trainer Rachel Halden is staying home this winter, forgoing her yearly circuit of winter in Florida and early spring in Kentucky in an effort to obtain her Citizenship to Canada. This is the first time this dedicated horsewoman has taken any significant time off since her young teenage years and she is not sitting idle as she is hoping to expand her stable at Woodbine in 2020. Rachel is preparing to ship in her charges as soon as the backstretch opens March 1 and notes that she does have stalls available for new clients in 2020. – photo above by Will Wong
Michigan based Breeder and Owner Christopher Harris believes in the Ontario breeding program and is hoping to breed and race “that one big horse”.
Having grown up on a farm in Yorkshire, England Rachel Halden began riding ponies and competing in shows throughout her early childhood. Contrary to having family or a friend spark the interest in racing, Rachel was drawn to horseracing on her own and secured a weekend job at a local racing yard at age 13.
As a new recruit in the thoroughbred racing industry, she began as most do by mucking stalls and doing other necessary jobs around the stable. Rachel eventually advanced to grooming and then to galloping the stable’s thoroughbreds.
At age 16 she was riding races as a Steeplechase Jockey across England and ventured to the United States three years later to get ahead on her career path to training horses.
Working at tracks along the East coast Halden was introduced to Canadian Trainer Roger Attfield and began working as his Assistant in 1998 at Payson Park in Florida.
For the next two years Rachel looked after a string of horses at Monmouth Park for Roger who had just become a newly inducted member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. All of the horses would winter in Florida each year and Rachel ventured to Woodbine with the barn in 2000.
Amid her time in the Attfield barn Rachel gleaned the knowledge and expertise to confidently go out on her own at Woodbine in 2008. Rachel garnered six wins, six seconds and eight thirds that first year for various owners with Gee Pari, a mare she herself owned in partnership with William Werner, giving her her first win as a trainer.
Rachel gave up her public stable in 2010 for an opportunity to work with another Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott who sent a string of horses from the United States to Woodbine. Unfortunately Mott did not send any horses the following year and Rachel went back to building her public stable.
In 2012 she began training a few horses for Chiefswood Stable, one of which was two year-old filly Nipissing, who was by Cheifswood’s 2004 Queen’s Plate winning stallion Niigon. The filly flourished under Rachel winning all four of her juvenile starts including the Princess Elizabeth and the South Ocean Stakes. Other winners for Rachel that year included Kiche’s Spirit and Niigon’s Glory for Chiefswood and Hurdle Rate for Klaravich Stables Inc. and William Lawrence.
After a second in the G3 Selene Stakes, Nipissing would provide Rachel with the first Classic win of her training career by winning the 2013 Woodbine Oaks. Devastatingly though the talented filly would sustain a life ending injury in the Wonder Where Stakes six weeks after her Oaks win. The loss of Nipissing was crushing and Rachel admits that it has taken many years for her to be able to speak of the events, “To go from the highest to the lowest in a matter of weeks. This business will humble you.”
Rachel has also turned out high end achievers Camp Creek who made a last to first rally to win the 2016 Canadian Classic Breeders’ Stakes; and Code Warrior, owned by J.C. Racing Stable, Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber, won the G3 Hendrie Stakes for Rachel in 2017.
Rachel continues to train for Chiefswood Stable whose horses adorn the list of her top money earners in her career including 8 year-old Nipigon ($469,040) and Niigon’s Eclipse, winner of the 2018 G2 Nassau and 2017 Victoriana Stakes ($433,741) both of which have now been retired along with now fellow retirees three time 2019 winner Ambitious Moon and two time 2019 winner Niigon’s Bay. Chiefswood’s three year-old filly Samarian, who broke her maiden for $65,000 in September, is set to return to Rachel’s barn in 2020 for her four year-old campaign.
Rounding out the Halden barn in 2019: Pay for Peace, owned by Team Penney Racing & Carem Stables won the Plate Trial Stakes and Darcy Scudero’s Faith Over Fear broke her maiden December 8 after 3 seconds and a fourth in 2019. Sayso, owned by Barry Butzer & Rachel broke her maiden in May and the partnership followed that with another maiden winner, Cabertoss, who won his career debut in June; Overturned, owned by Christopher Harris broke her maiden in July and his three year-old gelding, Matinee, an Old Forester youngster (bred in partnership with his father John) made his 2year-old racing debut on Woodbine’s closing day, December 15.
A resident of Milan, Michigan, Christopher has produced Ontario-bred horses which have been trained by Rachel Halden to race at Woodbine for the past six years.
An IT Manager in Michigan, Christopher has been breeding and racing horses for more than 20 years after purchased his farm near Ann Arbor. When the last remaining Thoroughbred racetrack in Michigan, Pinnacle Race Course, closed its doors in 2010 Christopher was on the hunt for attractive breeding programs nearby.
The Ontario breeding program came to light when bloodstock agent Elizabeth Blythe suggested the Ontario stallion Old Forester for one of his mares. The decision was made to sire and foal a mare in Ontario and consequently a few years later Christopher began searching for a Woodbine based trainer.
Trainer Rachel Halden was having a big year and after speaking with her the decision was made.
Christopher noted that he is impressed with both the breeding and racing incentives for Ontario-breds and how easy the experience has been.
A terrific example of how lucrative the Ontario program can be was when Christopher’s Ontario-bred, Ontario-sired filly, Overturned, won a $15,000 claiming race in July with a purse of $20,800. With the added bonuses offered in the race, he took home the owner’s share of $17,520 in earnings and also received a breeder bonus for the win.
Christopher currently has four mares, three of which will be foaling in Ontario this year. The mare Civic Duty, confirmed in foal to Commissioner, owned in partnership with Dr. Kristine Kaufeld, has qualified for the $5000 Mare Recruitment Program bonus offered this year by Ontario Racing through the Ontario Thoroughbred Improvement Program. Once the mare has foaled in Ontario the partnership will receive the $5000 bonus and since the mare is also being bred to an Ontario stallion in 2020 they will receive an additional $2500 bonus.
“I have never had a problem crossing the border with my mares. As long as all the paperwork is complete and the rules have been followed it is an easy process.” Noted Christopher, “The people I have dealt with in Canada have bent over backwards for me.”
When asked about his racing success in Ontario, Christopher laughed, “I am hoping that one day that one big horse will come. So far I have been giving Rachel a lot of projects. Rachel is a step above and runs a terrific operation and always does what is best for the horse.”