For a week leading up to the Atto Mile (gr. IT), Patrick Husbands told anyone who would listen that his mount, Numerous Times, belonged in the field for Woodbine's $1 million (Canadian funds, about $640,000 U.S.) turf mile.
It didn't matter to the track's leading rider that the colt who almost died last fall had never tried stakes company, especially grade I foes, and never raced beyond seven furlongs. Husbands, who had ridden the 4-year-old perfectly throughout an undefeated five-race career, assured the colt's co-owner, Bob Harvey, and trainer, Sid Attard, that it would take a very good horse to beat their colt.
Husbands was not only right--the colt landed his nose in front of favored Affirmed Success and Quiet Resolve on the wire--but he erased his own nagging memories of his impossible photo-finish loss last fall aboard Williams News in the Canadian International, a race he thought he had won.
Adding to the emotion of the popular victory, Husbands dedicated the win to his mother, Audrey, who had passed away in Barbados following a long illness a week before the race.
"(Winning) this race means a lot to me and my family," said a teary-eyed Husbands, who was to leave for Barbados to attend the funeral the day after the race. "If it wasn't for Sid and Bob I probably wouldn't have ridden this horse today, I'd be at home for my mom's funeral. But my family waited for me."
The fifth Atto Mile featured a deliciously competitive field of 14 with grade I winners Affirmed Success, Brahms, and Irish Prize headlining the group. City West, whose rider Shane Sellers caused some drama the previous day by announcing that his comeback from injury would be put on hold because of chronic knee problems, and Slew Valley also shipped up from the states.
Barbadian hero Blast of Storm, trained by 83-year-old William Marshall, had been at Woodbine for a month and was joined by eight local starters including the reigning Horse of the Year Quiet Resolve, the speedy Wake At Noon, and Numerous Times.
Numerous Times was a sentimental pick for many, not only because of Attard, a longtime top 10 trainer at Woodbine, but because of his undefeated record. The colt was 3-2 after the first $30,000 was bet on the race. He settled at a surprisingly low 6-1 by post time.
After a false start by longshot Hard Currency, who broke through the gate and delayed proceedings, the Atto Mile field was led early by Wake At Noon, who scampered along the rock-hard turf while pursued by Affirmed Success and Numerous Times.
"He's the type of horse that riders love to ride," said Husbands. "He leaves the gate running and positions himself. I just took him back and got him to the outside and relaxed."
Husbands angled his colt out at the head of the stretch, brushing Quiet Resolve and jockey Todd Kabel, and then battled furiously between rivals to the wire.
"I knew I had won the race, 100%," said Husbands, who had to wait a few extra minutes to celebrate his win when Kabel lodged a claim of foul that was quickly dismissed by the stewards.
The running time on the sun-baked E.P. Taylor turf course was a Woodbine record of 1:32.79.
After the race, Harvey, the frontman in a six-person syndicate which owns the colt, held back tears as he described the biggest moment in his 23 years in racing.
"It's a very proud moment in my life, the biggest highlight," said Harvey. "I'm very proud of the horse. The nicest thing is that it happened here, in front of our fans. They stuck behind the horse, they know what he's gone through, they know what I've gone through."
Quirky Numerous Times, a nervous colt who holds his head and tail high, was a $165,000 yearling purchase by Harvey at the 1998 Keeneland September sale. Harvey couldn't afford the entire price for the horse and soon formed the Committee Stable with five partners, all of whom, like Harvey, are involved in the transportation business.
Numerous Times, an Ontario-bred son of Numerous out of the Theatrical mare Dramatical, proved to be a handful early on--he was difficult as a yearling and plagued with minor problems as a 2-year-old.
After a smashing debut win last May, the colt was being prepared for the Queen's Plate (Can-IT) before he bucked shins. He came back in the fall and won his next two races before he was stricken with equine arterial enteritis.
"This horse was the closest thing to death that you will ever see," said Harvey. "They had to open him up. After a couple of weeks of intravenous fluids and water, he got colic. The (vet) said that he didn't have much strength and that if he goes down, he's not coming back. I'm bawling my eyes out and talking to him. But he didn't go down."
Attard, a popular figure on the Woodbine backstretch, has a number of Maltese family members involved in racing including training brothers Tino and Joe (father of trainer Steve) and another brother, Hall of Fame jockey Larry.
"This is the best race of my life," said Attard. "I give a lot of credit to my help, they watched this horse like a hawk. He's a very nervous horse in the morning. When he starts stall walking, he can go :21 flat in the stall."
Attard said he needed convincing from Husbands to enter the colt in the Atto Mile but said he "figured we had to try to see what kind of horse we had."
Harvey and company turned down an offer of "about $700,000" for Numerous Times days before the race but not one member of the syndicate wanted to sell.
Now, Harvey hopes that his team can send their colt to the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on World Thoroughbred Championships Day at Belmont Park Oct. 27.