Rock'n USA and Tanya Lindsay get along simply marvellously.
To prove it, Lindsay, his trainer, has a massive love bite on her left shoulder, where he chomped down on her a week ago when she was in his stall at Assiniboia Downs. "That was when he was happy," Lindsay chuckled. "He had just had a real good workout."
Bites, kicks, getting squashed between the stall and a horse are all part of the job, but where Lindsay is concerned, "Ducky," as the horse is affectionately known along shed row, can do no wrong.
"Don't misunderstand me," said the 95-pound trainer. "He's not pleasant to be around in the stall. He's as nasty as nasty can be and you can't get after him. If I do get after him, he's like, 'Yeah, I don't think you're going to win this one little girl.' That wasn't the first time I've been bitten. I'm sure it's not going to be the last."
Lindsay, her mother Shirley and Marvin Burnette bought Rock'n USA in 2007 for $4,500. "He came from a really big barn, where I think he was kind of shuffled around a little bit. He ran 11th out of 12 for bottom claiming at Woodbine, in a condition race for non-winners of two races lifetime."
Rock'n USA had never set a hoof on a dirt track until she brought him to the Downs. "He broke his maiden on the turf in California and then he was shipped to Woodbine where he ran on the Polytrack. For whatever reason, his form just went down the toilet."
Known as a sprinter, she ran him as such in 2008, and he went five-for-five and was named Sprinter of the Year. Last year, the (now) seven-year-old California-bred bay gelding, by Suggest, out of Mi Camino by Cahill Road, was named Horse of the Year, as well as Older Horse of the Year for winning four of five trips, including the $75,000 Gold Cup Stake and a stunning, come-from-behind victory in the $50,000 Harvest Gold Plate at Northlands Park in Edmonton.
"The biggest thing we did with this horse is change his attitude," proclaimed Lindsay. "When I got him, he didn't eat well, he was underweight, he wouldn't even eat a carrot or any kind of a treat. Now he's just a monster for it. He went from being a less than happy horse to being a really happy horse."
Last year Lindsay was forced to turn him from a sprinter into a route (longer distance) horse. "In 2008 he was solid going five furlongs, up to about seven-and-a-half, but last year he won his first outing, going five furlongs. Then he kind of hurt himself a little bit in the six-furlong $30,000 Free Press Stake (ran second to Monsoon Rain). I laid him off for about two-and-a-half months, but then I had no more sprint races left, so his whole training program had to shift to getting him to carry a route of ground."
Lindsay says Rock'n USA is a tactical horse. "He has always been on the front because he always had that natural speed out of the gate. But because he is kind of an easy, relaxed horse to gallop, we were able to teach him to carry his speed a route of ground, and slow the fractions down."
He quickly adapted to the longer distances, as Lindsay witnessed in the one-and-one-eighth mile Gold Cup.
"Even though he was hooked on the front end the whole way, it didn't intimidate him to be beside another horse," said Lindsay. "Nor does it bother him to be behind other horses, getting dirt in his face, as was the case (over one-and-one-16th mile) in Edmonton."
Rock'n USA will begin the defence of his crowns Saturday when he makes his first start in the seventh race, with Rocco Bowen in the saddle."
There's no doubt that to Lindsay, "Ducky" is a one-of-a-kind, special horse. Since she bought him, her $4,500 investment has returned, "ballpark figures? I would say $90,000 last year, and in 2008, $49,000.
"He's no pet, but I'll always take care of him," she vowed. "He's been my dream come true, so I won't run him in a claimer when he is losing his form. I'll make sure he's well taken care of, because he has taken care of me."
Post time tonight and Saturday is 7 p.m.