Farm Horizons, February 2015

Canterbury Park and local horses are a winning combination

By Starrla Cray

It takes more than luck to win a horse race at Canterbury Park.

“The competition is higher than it’s ever been,” said Rod Miller of Howard Lake, who has been raising racehorses the past 28 years.

Miller was the leading horse owner at Canterbury in 1990, back when it was called Canterbury Downs.

(The track went out of business in 1992, re-opening as Canterbury Park in 1995.)

Robin Fauchald of Monticello and her parents also have a long history at Canterbury.

“In 1997, my mom was the leading owner,” Robin said. “I think every year but one we’ve had some winners.”

Robin enjoys overseeing the day-to-day activities at the track, and also has her own horse boarding facility. In addition, she is a Western Saddle Club Association board member who judges horse shows.

Robin’s father, Phil Fauchald of New London, has been a horse trainer since about 1980. Incidentally, the name “Phil” stems from the Greek “Philippos,” meaning “lover of horses.”

“The trainer is kind of like the ‘brains’ of the training,” Robin said. “They don’t actually get on and ride.”

Instead, an exercise rider will take the horse out, while the trainer manages duration and intensity of workouts, and determines feeding. A trainer’s goal is to get horses ready for racing, making sure they stay healthy and fit.

“We have our program that we follow, and we let the horse progress as he sees fit,” Phil said.

Horses start training when they’re 2 years old, which Phil said is similar to “kindergarten.”

This year, two of Phil’s 2-year-olds went out to the track, and one of them made a race. After the horse raced, Phil said it was evident the thoroughbred was more of a show horse.

According to Miller, every horse is different.

“They all have their own personality – it’s like raising children,” he said. “A real competitive horse, you can tell right away.”

“Just like an athlete, you have to have that ability,” Phil added. “All horses don’t have the same ability.”

Phil said some people use drugs to “enhance” their horses’ performance, but he prefers an approach that’s better for the animal’s health long-term.

“For some owners, winning is more important than the horse,” he said. “I’m a trainer who would rather lose than use drugs on horses.”

That doesn’t mean Phil doesn’t enjoy winning, of course.

When one of his horses crosses the finish line first, Phil said that is the most rewarding part of his job. Last year, three out of 30 starts were first-place finishes, and the year before, he had four winners out of 30. In about half the races, one of Phil’s horses will usually place in the top three.

Mornings at Canterbury are a busy time.

“Every jockey has an agent,” Miller said, explaining that jockeys provide input on which horse they’d like to ride.

Miller said some people have a misconception about what Canterbury is like.

“People think it’s about drinking and gambling, but it really isn’t at all,” he said. “It’s a family place; there are pony rides for the kids, and a big playground. I see a lot of couples there on dates Thursday and Friday nights.”

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