By Kelsey Riley
Trainer Carolyn Costigan was flying high in the winner’s circle at Woodbine on June 13. Her filly Roan Inish had just pulled a mild upset in the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks presented by Budweiser, and Costigan was waxing eloquently about the Sport of Kings.
“How can you not love this sport? For those people sitting at home watching this game, you’ve got to be here,” said Costigan. “You’ve got to come to the races. This is the sport you should be involved in. This is my idea of having a good time.”
While some would consider this an unusual display for a young trainer having just notched the greatest win of her career, for the 28-year-old Costigan, this is what it’s all about.
In less than a year as a licensed trainer, Costigan, who operates Arravale Racing Inc., has conditioned Roan Inish to wins in Canada’s most important races for 2- and 3-year-old fillies: the Princess Elizabeth Stakes and the Oaks, respectively. Shortly after becoming the first female trainer to win the Oaks, Costigan confirmed her filly, which is owned by her father Bob Costigan, for the July 4 Queen’s Plate against colts. While these accomplishments have granted the Irish-born Canadian considerable media time, it is her enthusiasm for racing that constantly shines through.
Both Costigan and Roan Inish have fashionable pedigrees. Roan Inish is a daughter of major sire Elusive Quality out of Inish Glora, a dual Canadian champion. Costigan is the daughter of Robert and Nora Costigan, who own Inish Glora as well as 2006 Canadian Horse of the Year Arravale. Costigan currently oversees a stable of six horses owned by her parents.
Costigan has supplemented her pedigree with a wealth of international education. In 2004, she moved across Canada from British Columbia to Ontario to take a position at Windfields Farm.
“I really hadn’t done too much hands on work with horses at that stage,” Costigan said. “I was kind of thrown into the deep end. They were one week away from the yearling sales here at Woodbine, and I was given a pitchfork and told, ‘muck out those six boxes, and keep up with us while we much out.’ I remember I climbed into bed after the first day at the sales, and I thought, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to work the rest of the week at this sale.’ But I did. Then I spent the winter at Windfields, and I had a great time.”
The next stop for Costigan would be the Irish National Stud course, followed by the Darley Flying Start programme in 2005. As part of the Flying Start, Costigan spent two years studying and working in Europe, North America, Australia, and the Middle East, including work placements with trainers Kiaran McLaughlin, Lee Freedman, and Mike de Kock in New York, Australia, and Dubai, respectively.
Upon graduating from Darley Flying Start in 2007, Costigan spent two years in Ireland working as an assistant to trainer Jim Bolger. In late 2009, Costigan returned to Canada to win the Princess Elizabeth Stakes with Roan Inish in her first start as a licensed trainer.
Almost a year later, Costigan continues to operate with the same excitement and enthusiasm that was evident following Roan Inish’s Oaks victory. She has a great passion for promoting racing and drawing new fans. Costigan is active on Twitter, operates an interactive website at arravaleracing.com, and is currently working to incorporate helmet and stall cameras into her program so fans can see Roan Inish daily.
“Money needs to be invested in advertising and giving access to the horses online,” said Costigan. “If you watch the Oaks race replay, and then the camera pans the grandstand, it’s almost empty. That just makes my heart deflate. It’s Canada’s premier race for fillies, and the grandstand has every right to be full. That’s just fan base, and that’s advertising, and that’s young people wanting to come. They have to have something they want to come for.”
As part of a younger generation of racing professionals, Costigan recognizes the need to embrace change and engage a younger audience.
“I think one of the issues that the industry faces worldwide is that the people who are in places of control and are in charge of things like the status quo, and it’s easy to keep things the same, and it’s easier to deal with the enemy you know than the enemy you don’t know,” she said. “Change is hard, especially for older people. They just need to be proactive and talk to more people who are under 25, and see what interests them, and work at it so we can keep their interest.”
With three days until the biggest race of her career, Costigan is hoping Roan Inish will generate interest on Plate day.
“The thing about Roan Inish is that she is a fighter. She likes to put her head in front. She really is an alpha female. I think she’ll be dangerous because she’s a fighter, and she’s carrying a little bit less weight, and she wants to go the distance anyways. They should be mindful of her in the race. If I had a colt in the race, I’d be worried about this filly.”