Breeders' Cup Presents Connections: On Top Of WinStar's Stallions - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Breeders’ Cup Presents Connections: On Top Of WinStar’s Stallions

Toby Richard rides Bodemeister into the barn at WinStar

It's hard to imagine a person with more zeal for his job than Toby Richard. The dedicated WinStar Farm employee is up before the sun every day to oversee the training of the farm's soon-to-be 2-year-olds, striding into the barn with a big smile and a hearty “Good morning!” And while working with the young Thoroughbreds is his passion, it's his afternoon gig that puts the icing on the cake.

RIchard's pace picks up noticeably, nearly skipping with excitement, as he approaches WinStar's magnificent, nearly-new stallion barn. He moves right to the stall of 23-year-old Distorted Humor, cradling the sturdy chestnut's face in his arms.

“He's one of my favorites,” Richard said, adjusting the western saddle on the bright-eyed stallion's back. He swings his leg over the sire of 18 Grade 1 winners, and the pair jaunt out into the sunshine in perfect synchrony. Distorted Humor's proud, vibrant attitude is on full display as Richard balances easily on his back, putting the good-feeling stallion through his paces.

“Nobody ever told him how old he was,” Richard laughed.

WinStar is one of a small number of breeding farms that utilize riding to exercise its stallions. Obviously, the horses are extraordinarily valuable, but they also have to be kept in shape during the summer and fall in order to perform at their best during the breeding season. Many farms accomplish this with a mechanical jogging machine, which WinStar uses in conjunction with the ridden exercise and daily turnout.

“They really seem to enjoy being ridden,” said stallion manager Larry McGinnis. “It keeps them from getting bored, and it gives them something to look forward to. It's important to let them be a horse.”

Richard, 39, rides between four and five stallions each afternoon, weather permitting, rotating through the barn to exercise each according to his own needs. Once aboard, he will jog or lope the stallion a couple times around a pair of paddocks near the barn, traveling about a mile. The path is impeccably groomed and fully enclosed for safety. The stallions also wear protective boots on their legs and are accompanied to and from the barn by a handler on the ground.

“Nobody ever had to tell me to be careful with these guys,” said Richard. “Some of them try to pull on me a little bit or play around, but I don't let them do much more than a slow lope, just enough to make them feel like they've done something. They all love it. They love their work. I get along real good with them; I love riding them.”

“Well, none of 'em have bucked him off yet,” joked one of the grooms.

Riding stallions like Distorted Humor, Pioneerof the Nile, Bodemeister, Fed Biz, Revolutionary and newcomers like classic winner Exaggerator is a bit of a change from where Richard got started. The Sunset, La., native was an amateur boxer with dreams of being a jockey.

Richard with Distorted Humor

He'd always been around horses, exercising and starting young racehorses to make a living. Richard first began reducing, exercising heavily and eating a carefully-controlled diet, in order to make a certain weight-class for boxing. He got below 130 pounds, then 120 and was preparing to start race-riding aboard Quarter Horses.

“I was doing well, was about to start riding, but then I got real weak and got put in the hospital. I gained 28 pounds overnight because I was just that dehydrated,” Richard said. “I wasn't hardly eating at all. When I got put in the hospital, they said 'You're going to kill yourself.'

“I thought about it for a while, and I decided to give it up,” he continued. “I thought, 'Okay, there's other things I do well.'”

Back to exercising racehorses and eating regular meals, Richard made his way to Kentucky. He picked up a couple of jobs galloping for different trainers, enthusiastically bounding into the barn each morning and riding the toughest of horses with practiced ease.

In 2014, Richard took a job with trainer Nick Zito. Traveling across the East Coast, Richard galloped Thoroughbreds for the Hall of Famer but re-discovered that his passion was truly in the process of training young horses to accept being ridden.

In September of 2015, Richard decided to live in one place for a while, taking the year-round job at WinStar. Under the supervision of head trainer Richard Budge, whom he calls an “incredible horseman,” Richard began his work with approximately 40 yearlings. His methods, including work with tarps, giant exercise balls, and stepping over small logs, were seen by some as a bit unconventional.

“Somebody said to me, 'I've never seen anybody do that with a million-dollar yearling,'” Richard said, grinning. “I said, 'Watch, I'm gonna make him worth two million.'”

Two of the yearlings Richard had a hand in starting at WinStar that first fall went on to be Breeders' Cup contenders in 2016. Good Samaritan, by the late Harlan's Holiday, won the Grade 2 Summer Stakes before finishing third in the Juvenile Turf. Yellow Agate, by Gemologist, won the G1 Frizette and contested the Juvenile Fillies.

“You get to see a lot of nice horses here,” Richard said, pointing out some of Thoroughbred racing's elite horses resting in nearby paddocks, sent to WinStar for their winter vacations. “It's one of the few full-service facilities still out there, and they do everything first-class.”

This year, Richard and the rest of the WinStar team have already begun the training of 65 yearlings, a number Richard would like to see continue to increase. His main objectives for the team, written for everyone to see outside the tack room of the training barn, include safety, helping each horse to reach its full potential, and of course, starting the next Triple Crown champion.

In his spare time, Richard and his fiancée Heather Stark attend competitions with her off-track Thoroughbred, go hiking with their dogs, and have even appeared in a couple of colt-starting competitions across the Midwest.

“I try to get better at everything each and every day,” said Richard. “I love what I do and I love these horses. I'm just a lucky guy.”

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