Early in life, Roger Attfield was the sort of kid who would look wistfully out the school window and think of animals, horses or farming. Especially horses.
Obviously, he has a way with them. It's as if he speaks their language, knows how to coax the best out of them. And now the 72-year-old thoroughbred trainer, who is based at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, has received the ultimate reward: He will be inducted into the U. S. National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The ceremony will take place Aug. 10 at Saratoga, the mecca of all top horsemen in the United States. And now he belongs there. After winning just about every major race in Canada multiple times, last November he won his first Breeders' Cup race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., with 27-to-1 shot Perfect Shirl.
"I was so happy for him," said Richard Dos Ramos, a Woodbine jockey who has ridden many long-shot winners for Attfield over the years. "He's well deserved of it. He always wanted to get a Breeders' Cup and that was fantastic to see. The filly probably ran the best race of her life at the right time. He makes them peak at the right time.
"When you're coming up to big races like the Queen's Plate, or any type of big race like that, his horses are always usually right there and they seem to step up."
Attfield was born in Newbury, England, where he worked as a show-jumping rider and an amateur steeplechase jockey. He was the son of a coal merchant who didn't have the means to outfit him with ponies to ride, so Attfield got his fix by riding horses for other people.
But he left all that behind when he emigrated to Canada in 1970. Attfield worked briefly for a trainer that had horses in Montreal, but when the horses moved back to Toronto, Attfield felt unsettled, with the thought of paths not taken.
He couldn't see a future in horses, so decided to open up a clothing boutique. He and a group of Toronto business partners set up a chain of unisex stories from Moncton to Calgary, and Attfield, always natty himself, was supposed to buy the apparel and set up the stores. "And I really had no idea what I was doing," he said.
That lasted only a year, before he hustled back to the animal world. He owned a wide array of them: parrots, pigs, sheep, dogs, cattle, rabbits, rats and pigeons. He used to breed miniature donkeys and horses.
He's won a record-equalling eight Queen's Plates, most recently in 2008 with Not Bourbon, a speed ball whose distance capabilities were suspect, given his heated rush out of the gate. But Attfield tinkered and tread with care, and got the horse to win the 1¼-mile Plate. In Attfield's book, a horse doesn't have to win every race on the way to the big one; he just has to do the right things to get there.
And now after 1,727 wins, 369 stakes victories and guiding horses to win more than $88-million in his career, Attfield has found the biggest winner's circle of all.