Kawartha Downs race fans are familiar with seeing Nick Boyd posing for a photo after driving a horse to victory. On June 28 he visited another winner’s circle, this one at Fort Erie Racetrack where a Thoroughbred horse he co-owns and helped train was a winner.
Pugnacity, a four-year-old chestnut gelding, was victorious for the first time in three starts this year. Nick shares ownership of the horse with well known harness horse trainer James ‘Friday’ Dean and friend Handel Viarruel.
“This is the second Thoroughbred I’ve owned with Handel, the first was a mare called Sure Would. We heard that this horse was for sale last year, and very reasonable so we thought we’d take a shot,” explained Nick who has always been a fan of Thoroughbred racing.
Nick and Friday set about to get the horse ready to race. “First we gave him four months off, turned him out and let him just be a horse. We fed him well, including a few doughnuts here and there, and he became a bit of a pet. I know that’s a real no no as people will tell you that if you make the horses a pet they won’t perform as well but that doesn’t seem to have been the case with him.”
Their training methods were somewhat unconventional given that the horse was never ridden. “I’ve been around horses all of my life and I think I’ve only ridden one maybe six times. We didn’t even have a saddle. The only equipment he saw was a halter and a lead shank,” said Nick.
“Friday would drive one of our horses and I’d sit on the jog cart with one hand on the cart and the other holding the horse with a lead shank. Once we got him in shape there were a few times I had to let go as he was going too fast, we couldn’t keep up. He was a real gentleman though, he’d finish and then just stop and wait for us to catch up.
“A few times he’d shake his head or take a misstep and I’d fall off the cart. We’d have people around the track watching to see what kind of show we’d put on that day.
“Honestly we had no clue what we were doing and from what I do know we weren’t training him in the conventional Thoroughbred fashion, but we did get a very good foundation in him with lots of miles.”
Once they thought their protégé was ready to race they sent him to trainer Robert Smith and he made his first start at Fort Erie on May 31 where he finished eighth. “We got all dressed up, even wore hats for his first start, we’re having lots of fun with it. In his next start he was fifth, he raced really well and closed through the stretch.”
On June 28 Puggie, as he’s affectionately called, scored his victory. “He’s just figuring out what racing’s all about, he’s a bit of a late bloomer. We’ll see how far he takes it. If he keeps get better, we’ll enjoy racing him. When he can’t race any more we’ll find him a nice home as a riding horse. He’s got a great disposition.
“It’s a nice diversion for us. He’s got his own little fan club too. We’d likely do it again as we’ve had a lot of laughs and say this will make a great chapter in our book ‘As The Hopples Burn.’”
On Saturday night Nick’s attention will be back on his first love, Standardbred racing. He has drives in eight of Kawartha Downs’ 10 races on Saturday night. Post time is 7 p.m.