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Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Published: August 10, 2018 3:11 pm ET

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Lexington, Kentucky, Delaware, Ohio, and Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island -- if you were to ask someone that wasn’t involved in harness racing what the three aforementioned cities have in common, what would they say? They probably wouldn’t know that three of the most significant racetracks in our sport are located in those places. Teesha Symes knows differently, and she’s raced at all three. But on Saturday, August 11 at Red Shores Charlottetown, things will be a little different for her than in the past, when the Nova Scotia native will be the trainer of record of a horse in the Gold Cup & Saucer for the first time in her life.

Many successful years as a groom for the Dr. Ian Moore stable, rubbing on champions like State Treasurer (p,1:47; $2,072,450) and Rockin In Heaven (p,1:49.2s; $715,201), helped Symes secure the title of Canada’s Outstanding Groom, presented at the 2016 O’Brien Awards. In an interview following her triumph, she suggested that one day she would like to go back out on her own, and train her own stable. Symes found herself at that very crossroads this past fall: continue working for Dr. Moore and enjoy another winter in the hot south Florida sun, or jump into the unknown of training her own stable to see if she had what it takes.

Teesha Symes receives the Outstanding Groom Award at the 2016 O'Brien Awards from Rob Cook, Executive Director of Ontario Racing.

“Ian was going back to Florida and I made the choice to not go last winter… I stayed just to see if I could do it, to see if I could do it on my own. I got a truck and trailer and thought I could do some shipping and some freelance, and if this stable thing doesn't work out then I have that to go back on. Most options have flourished, I’m having a good run.”

Things have taken off for Symes which she credits to, “Great owners, and a great team... it always takes a village... things have happened to fall into place at the right time.”

Things definitely fell into place at the right time early on, because right when Symes went out on her own a familiar horse entered her barn: now she would be the trainer of Rockin In Heaven.

“The other partners bought Ian out because they wanted to keep racing him over the winter instead of going to Florida. The remaining owners (Douglas Polley and Gordon McComb) thought that, due to the horse’s attitude, taking him away from me wouldn't be for the best. We've spent five years together. They decided to give me a chance to train him instead of just rubbing on him. It was huge for me.”

The six-year-old son of Rock N Roll Heaven would capture his first start for his new trainer, at Woodbine, on November 4, in 1:51.4, but his performances in the following weeks and months proved to be just average.

“He wasn’t as good as we knew he could be over the winter so we gave him some time [he shows no charted lines from March 10 to May 17]. I got thinking that he had never raced in the winter before -- he’s used to a long break... he came back fresh as ever,” Symes said.

With just two horses in her barn at the moment, Rockin In Heaven wasn’t necessarily going to be racing in this year’s Gold Cup & Saucer, but a dazzling performance in last Saturday's Preferred Pace at Woodbine Mohawk Park made the connections wonder. Coming from the Petro Canada station down the street, well back of leader Dr J Hanover at the three-quarter pole, Rockin In Heaven paced home in :25.1 and grabbed the victory, shocking Symes, who has been with the horse every step of the way since he stepped off the trailer in Florida following his $40,000 purchase at the Harrisburg Yearling Sale in 2013.

“I was flabbergasted. I knew he had a really fast quarter brush in him.... we decided that we’d take him to the back and hopefully close hard instead [of leaving]...I didn't think he would come like that, I thought it was a misprint, I said ‘this can't be right,’” related an overly excited Symes discussing last Saturday’s milestone victory for her stable.

The final decision on whether to take the horse out east was made after Saturday's race - they packed up Sunday and left the next day (Monday).

Returning home with a horse of her own, coming off two sub-1:50 wins in his last five starts, in the race she always dreamed of winning, is a moment she’ll cherish for a lifetime -- after it sinks in.

“Having a horse going into the Gold Cup & Saucer is exciting, but with him in the shape he's in is so exciting. He's already given me so many memories to last a lifetime and taken me so many places. I literally had to pinch myself at the farm this morning. ‘Is this real life? Is this happening? This IS happening,’” Symes said laughing. “It may sound corny but this is a dream come true...this is my home, it's always been my dream of being in it, and with him racing like he is, I’m speechless...just get in the final, a fourth, a third, a second, I’d be ecstatic...Just get in the final.”

The horse has drawn post-position number four in Trial #1 on Saturday night, with regular driver J Harris making the trip east to sit behind him.

“J Harris qualified him for me at Flamboro after his time off and they just clicked. He’s had a lot of drivers in the past, and lots have gotten along with him, but no one has been able to get the bit in his mouth like J does. They just click,” says the proud trainer.

As for heading home for Old Home Week: “Just being able to race around my friends and family, they don't get to see me in action, so that will be quite nice. To have my dad here, who I worked with growing up, he taught me everything I know, I’m a third generation, it would be just extra special to win. I don't even know how I’d would react if I won, I’d probably be crying. Nothing compares to the Gold Cup & Saucer, it’s at the top of the list, it’s on a whole other level.”

One of the many other things that Symes is looking forward to experiencing while she is back home is the food, of which she says, “there's nothing like it.” Teesha related that just before the phone interview she had dined at the Blue Mussel Cafe in North Rustico. When asked what she ate? “Mussels, obviously...come on!,” she yelled, sarcastically laughing through the phone.

There’s no place like home.

(A Trot Insider exclusive by Justin Fisher)

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