As a young girl, Josie Carroll clipped pictures of race horses out of the newspaper and saved them in a scrapbook.
She also kept a ledger in which she wrote down imaginary bets.
“Of course, at the time I didn’t know anything about it,” she says. “I just went by the horses' names.”
More than a half-century later, Carroll ranks among the sport’s greatest trainers, and last year became the first female thoroughbred trainer inducted into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.
“There is a great satisfaction in having accomplished so many of my goals, but I never looked at it as a gender thing,” she says. “I have just wanted to always be the best I can be at what I do.”
On Saturday, Carroll hopes to win the country’s most famous race, the $1-million Queen’s Plate, for the third time. She has two horses in a strong field of 14, including Curlin’s Voyage. Canada’s champion filly in 2019 as a two-year-old is the 5-to-2 second choice among bettors behind Clayton, the 2-to-1 favourite trained by Kevin Attard.
Curlin’s Voyage has won five of nine starts, including the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks on Aug. 15, and has finished out of the money only once. She is the daughter of Curlin, who won the Preakness Stakes in 2007.
“She impressed us from the begimnning,” Carroll says. “Everything we have asked her to do she has done in spades. She is tremendously consistent. Her record speaks for itself.”
Older than the Grey Cup and Stanley Cup, the Queen’s Plate has been run annually since 1860. It is the oldest continuous horse race in Canada and the United States.
Originally scheduled for June 27, the 1 ¼-mile race for three-year-olds bred in Canada was postponed as a result of the risks associated with COVID-19. It is typically attended by tens of thousands of spectators, but will be staged without any this year at Woodbine Racetrack because of continuing health and safety concerns. There will also be no American jockeys for the first time since 1996 because of border restrictions.
“Everything is entirely different this year,” says Carroll, who was the first female trainer to win the Queen’s Plate in 2006 with Edenwold. "It is especially difficult for the owners and people invested in these horses.
“For them, not to be able to participate on such a big day is hard. The enjoyment of this sport for most people comes from being around such magnificent animals.”
Carroll’s second entry in the Queen’s Plate, which is scheduled to start at 5:41 p.m. Eastern Time, is Mighty Heart, a 20-to-1 long shot.
Clayton, the favourite, won the $150,000 Plate Trial Stakes on Aug. 15 at 1 1/8 of a mile. It has finished in the money in all three events this year – two wins and one second – and has won three of four races over his career.
Attard will also have a second entry in Merveilleaux, a filly ridden by Kazushi Kimura, the 2018 and 2019 champion apprentice rider in Canada and 2019 Eclipse Award winner as North America’s top apprentice.
Merveilleux, listed at 10 to 1, finished third to Curlin’s Voyage in the Woodbine Oaks and has two wins, three seconds and one third in eight starts.
The field of 14 also includes the 5-to-1 third choice Halo Again, beaten by just a half-length in the Plate trial, the 8-to-1 Dotted Line, trained by Hall of Famer Sid Attard, and the 12-to-1 Tecumseh’s War, ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson. In 2007, she was the first female jockey to win the Queen’s Plate aboard Mike Fox.
There are also two horses named after famous people of sport – the 30-to-1 Belichick, after New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and Holyfield, after former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. Holyfield (the horse) got its name because its mother nipped part of his ear off as a baby, as Mike Tyson did to Evander in 1997 during a championship bout. Holyfield is also listed at 30 to 1.
As a teenager, Carroll took riding lessons at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Park. To get there from her home in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, she had to walk a sizeable distance and ride three buses.
Later, she took an equine studies course at Humber College, not far from Woodbine in northwest Toronto, and got to watch veterinarians perform surgery on injured thoroughbreds.
“From the time I could walk, I was fascinated with horses,” Carroll, 62, says. “I always knew I wanted to do something that involved them.”
After graduating from college, she worked under a handful of trainers and eventually established her own stable in 1994. Since then, horses she has trained have won 845 races, including nearly 50 major stakes in Canada and the United States, and earned nearly $50-million in prize money.
Of countless memories, there is one in particular that stands out: Edenwold’s victory in the 2006 Queen’s Plate. She also won in 2011 with Inglorious.
“One of my most moving moments was watching Edenwold galloping out after he won the Queen’s Plate,” Carroll says. “As he ran past the grandstand, everyone started to applaud. I’ll never forget the appreciation that was showed for that animal.”
She has another opportunity Saturday, with Patrick Husbands, a three-time winner of the Queen’s Plate, in Curlin’s Voyage’s saddle. Husbands has won the Queen’s Plate twice and more than 3,000 races at Woodbine over his career.
He says he has ridden horses for Carroll nearly 400 times, and has been on Curlin’s Voyage in all five victories.
“For Josie, hard work has paid off,” Husbands says. “She doesn’t ever take her eyes off her horse. She is very dedicated. Everything has to be right.”
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