Shelley BROWN'S horses have begun to find their groove at Assiniboia Downs.
With the help of three wins last Friday and two more Saturday, including A Girl's Gotta Do's one-mile victory in the R.C. Anderson Stakes, last year's trainer of the year has narrowed the gap between her and 10-time winner Ardell Saylor from nine to six. Sayler currently leads 26-20.
A slow start isn't unusual for Brown. Her horses also took their time before finding the winner's circle last year.
"The spring training didn't help much because we were just plagued with bad weather," Brown explained. "If the track was open, it was windy and miserable. We did the best we could but Mother Nature was really hard on us, and that made us fall much further behind than we wanted to be."
'I wasn't expecting to have as many of my own, so I said sure to a lot of new horses, and the next thing I knew, I was bombarded with horses'
Also, the bulk of her stock had not been training or racing over the winter, so there was the catch-up time they required to pull even with the horses who came up from tracks down south.
There was also another factor which Brown hadn't considered. That was her top trainer status.
"If there was one thing that kind of surprised me, and maybe played into the fact that it is a little tougher going this year, it's that I had quite a few people ask me to take their horses," she said. "I wasn't expecting to have as many of my own, so I said sure to a lot of new horses, and the next thing I knew, I was bombarded with horses.
"I got too many too soon, in my career," added the Regina native, who is into her fifth year as a trainer. "I know the job that I like to do, and I know with this many horses, it makes it hard for me to not be quite as hands on with every horse every day, and that's not my style of training."
When the season began on May 5, Brown had 43 horses in her barn. She says she would like to get it down to, "no more than 30." Much of the reducing will come through attrition.
"It's getting to that time in the season when some of the babies (two-year-olds), will have a couple of starts and then go home, so the numbers will start to cut back a little more and I'll be a little bit more okay. I am very happy to keep training for the clients that I have, but I just have to cap it at that."
One horse she won't get rid of any time soon is A Girl's Gotta Do. "She was a new horse for me, so I didn't really know what to expect from her."
Last year, under a different trainer, the grey filly ran six times with her best result being a third.
"She's really gotten a lot of confidence," added Brown, "and she's sure a welcome addition to the barn."
The filly (by Battle Cat, out of Farrmost), bred by Sherisse Ziprick of Russell and owned by Last Call Stables, completely dominated the R.C. Anderson Stakes by finishing by 10 lengths in front of Arstar and Key To Glory.
Since being in Brown's care, she has already won two of six (including the $25,000 Hazel Wright Sire Stakes), and finished second twice.
"She was a real nervous filly when I took her on, but she has begun to calm down and she's really starting to come into herself," said Brown. "She just needed to take a little time."
To even consider her as a local favourite for the $50,000 Assiniboia Oaks on Aug. 5 is still a stretch, especially when you consider there's bound to be shippers coming in from as far away as Edmonton, Canterbury Downs in Minneapolis and Woodbine.
"We still have the $15,000 Gold Strike Mile for Manitoba-bred three year old fillies on July 27, and I think she'll be real tough in there, but I think we'll just play it one day at a time," said Brown. "If she goes on to run good there, then the Oaks is something that we could look at."
With the gap closing between her and Sayler, you'd think Brown would be feeling the pressure, but not so. "Last year when I took over first place, somebody had to tell me. I spend so much time in the barn, that I only focus on what is going on here.
"As long as at the end of the day I am proud of how the horses are running, how they look, and how they're training, then I am satisfied with the job that I am doing. If I do win another trainer's title in the future, that would only be a bonus. Another feather in my cap."