ascot aug08
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Saturday, September 22, 2007


12 min to POST -


Woodbine carryover went from $23,000 to a whopping...$25,000 for today, zzzzzzz. Anyway, if you don't simply use every single MARK CASSE horse, in particular 2yos, you can't win.
The only guy seemingly that can beat the Casse assault is Reade Baker, whose trainer WIND IN MY WINGS held off Avie's Tale in the 7th race for maiden 2yo's, preventing 4 wins for Casse.

And how preposterous is it that the Casse 2yo's paid $17 and $50 yesterday (the other paid $6)?
Okay so the race he won with BONANZA, in which his maiden rider Pat Husbands wasn't even riding (Husbands was on the other Casse runner who finished 2nd - at 11 to 1).
Marilyn Seltzer, Tara MacDonald and Iris Bristow all benefitted from Casse's magic as party owners of the 3 winners - OH LOVELY (Victory Gallop), Bonzanza (Jump Start) and BEES N R HALL (Graeme Hall.)

CANADIAN BASED RUNNERS IN ACTION today include PALLADIO (Mass. Cap), BEAR NOW (Cotillion) and LEONNATUS ANTEAS (SuperDerby). Tough sledding for all.


(He's the most written about trainer in Canada in seems, well at least in his home province. Here's yet another newspaper story about Martin Drexler - you'll have to have patience, it's is extremely loooong - there seems to to be stuff in there we bet Marty doesn't even know!)

Holding life by the reins
Political refugee Drexler's implausible Downs success may be just the start

by Paul Wiecek

They're in the starting gate... In retrospect, Marty Drexler says now, he should have realized something was up when he saw his father sewing his medical diplomas and other important family documents into the roof of their aging Lada station wagon.

"He'd taken my brother and I to this park near where we lived," Drexler recalls of that warm Saturday in August 1983. "There was nobody around except us, which was the point I guess.

"At one point, I wandered over and saw he'd taken down the cloth from under the roof, on the inside part of the car, and he was sewing these papers right in there. I remember that clearly to this day."

The following morning, the Drexler family crossed the border from their native Czechoslovakia into Hungary, telling border guards they were just going for a one-week family holiday. (As far as the boys in the back seat knew, that's exactly what they were doing. It'd be a week -- and two countries -- later before they'd find out the truth.)

None of the border guards thought to check the roof of the Lada for medical certificates and all the other paperwork a doctor would need if he was fleeing the communist country with his family of four, seeking freedom in the West.

But then no one thought the 12-year-old Slovak kid sitting in the back seat of the Lada would one day become, of all things, a leading horse trainer in, of all places, Western Canada.

Call it the Apprentrinceship of Marty Drexler. And call this Sunday Drexler's graduation day.

Barring something dramatically unforeseen, the 37-year-old Drexler will make history at Assiniboia Downs when the 2007 live thoroughbred race meet wraps up on Sunday.

For the first time in memory, Drexler will in all likelihood record what's called a trainer's triple crown, as the Downs conditioner with the most wins, best win percentage and highest earnings this summer.

It is one of the rarest feats in all of horse racing, precisely because each leg of the trainer's triple crown is usually exclusive of the other. Trainers who have the most wins, for instance, usually have the most starts, which means their win percentage is low. Or if they have a high win percentage, they'll have low earnings because they don't start as many races. And so on.

To lead in all three categories almost never happens and Drexler's feat puts him in the company of a relative handful of trainers anywhere in North America.

That's long odds. But not nearly as long as the idea that the man who's going to pull it off is a political refugee to Canada who'd never even seen a horse up close until he was 20 years old and who entirely taught himself both the art and science of a business that is usually handed down, by osmosis, through families and over generations.

From mutuel clerk to leading trainer, in 1,000 arduous steps. Or something like that.

"I'm in the gaming business, I'm in the odds business and this one defies the odds," says Downs operations director Darren Dunn, who's worked his entire adult life -- and half his teenage years -- at the Portage Avenue racetrack.

"The Marty Drexler story and his incredible rise from the bottom to the top is one-of-a-kind, not just here in Winnipeg but in horse racing generally. It's bizarre, it's interesting and it's got to be a million to one against.

"At least."

And they're off...

"It took me seven years to plan for that day," Jaroslav Drexler recalls of the day he cut open the cloth roof of that Lada. "We wanted freedom. It was a very oppressive situation (in what was then known as Czechoslovakia) in those days. The communists were in power and I didn't want to live there and I didn't want my children to grow up there."

The Drexlers made their way to Canada and Winnipeg seven months after they crossed that Hungarian border, joining a relative who was already living here.

Life was not easy at first. A leading plastic surgeon back home, Jaroslav Drexler suddenly found himself unable to practise any type of medicine because his foreign credentials weren't recognized here. For a year, he worked as an orderly at Misericordia hospital to help support his two sons, while his wife, a university physics professor in Europe, found work as a high school teacher.

And then came the first of a string of fortuitous breaks for the Drexlers. The University of Manitoba offered a course that allowed foreign doctors to acquire their certifications in Canada. The course, at the time, was the only one of its kind offered in Canada and there was an avalanche of applications.

"I was," Jaroslav Drexler recalls now, "very, very fortunate to get in."

Two years later, he received the certification he needed to practise medicine in Canada.

But no sooner did the family seem to get their lives on track than its matriarch, Zuzana Drexler, died of breast cancer, leaving behind two sons and a husband in a country that was still a foreign one at that point.

"My mother never smoked, drank, nothing. It was horrible, just one of those things," says Martin Drexler. "She'd put up with a lot of stuff in moving here. She left behind her family, a sister and her parents and her sister's kids. She'd never told anyone we were leaving, because she couldn't. And as it turned out, she never saw them again."

"That was a very difficult time," says Jaroslav Drexler.

Yet, in the midst of the family's grief came yet another of those chance happenings that make you shake your head at how fickle life really is.

Dr. Drexler's first job was in the emergency room at Grace Hospital. If he'd taken a job at any other hospital -- Health Sciences Centre, Concordia, the Vic -- you wouldn't be reading this.

But because Jaroslav Drexler chose the Grace -- the closest hospital to Assiniboia Downs -- he immediately got to know people from the track, particularly jockeys who'd been rushed in with injuries.

And so when the Downs found itself in need of a new house doctor -- the track always had a physician on staff during races back in the 1980s -- Drexler took the job.

And that set in motion a chain of events that reverberates today. "My dad had a box in the clubhouse and he'd take us boys with him on race days," recalls Marty Drexler. "I remember the first day we walked in there. I'd never seen horse racing before.

"But I had a paper route and had some money and I made a bunch of stupid show bets that day. I remember the last race, I picked a bit of a long shot and bet it to show and ended up walking out of there with $10. I remembered that horse's name for years, but not anymore.

"But I was hooked."

The horses head into the clubhouse turn...

Dr. Drexler only stayed on at the Downs for a year or two, but his son would never leave. The summer after high school, Marty Drexler got a job as a mutuel clerk at the Downs.

Much to his father's consternation.

"My dad told me I didn't need to be there anymore. He was worried I was going to become some decrepit gambler," says Marty Drexler.

"I wanted him to go to university," says Jaroslav Drexler. "And he did for a couple of years (while still working at the track). And then Martin came to me one day and told me, 'I can do it (university), but I'm not happy doing it. It's not what I want to do.'

"He said he wanted to work at the track."

And so Jaroslav Drexler gave his recalcitrant son the same advice millions of immigrant parents in Canada have given their children as they sent them out on their own in their newly adopted country:

"I told him, 'It's OK to do as you want, as long as you try to be the best.'"

And that's exactly what Marty Drexler set out to be. Little did he know -- or his father know -- that it would take 15 years to get there.

The horses work their way down the long back stretch...

For 10 long years -- basically the entire 1990s -- Drexler worked at the most thankless job at a racetrack -- the groom.

The hours were long and the pay was almost non-existent. But the experience was invaluable for a man who wanted to make a living in horse racing and yet had never actually been in the presence of a horse.

"The first day I was supposed to put this blanket on a horse. And I just stood there because I didn't have a clue what to do. It was basically the first time in my life that I'd seen a horse close-up. Everything seemed so big.

"I wanted to do it, I wasn't scared. But I just didn't know how to handle them."

Drexler learned the old-fashioned way. "He's possibly the most inquisitive guy I've ever met in my life," says the Downs' Dunn. "I don't know that I've met many guys who ask more questions than Marty.

"While he was cutting his teeth, he'd ask questions of anyone he met. That's a brilliant trait that I think helped him get where he is. He asked a million questions and left nothing open-ended until he was satisfied he had the answers he needed to head in the right direction."

By 2002, Drexler was ready to train on his own. Sort of. "Even when I started training, I didn't really know what I was doing. All I knew was I wanted to be a trainer and I was smart enough to pass the test. But as far as how to actually train a racehorse, I didn't really have a clue."

So what Drexler lacked in acumen, he made up with good old-fashioned hard work. If he couldn't run the most knowledgeable barn, he'd run the cleanest one.

And if he wasn't the smartest trainer, he vowed to be the hardest-working one. "I worked," Drexler says now, "my ass off."

His father bought some horses and was one of his only clients at first. But soon, others noticed. "He wasn't a drinker or partier like a lot of these guys. He just worked hard, really hard," says George Williams, the chart caller at the Downs for the past decade.

"He's got the work ethic," says Dunn. "He'll work all day long and, sleep? What's that? If sleep's not the name of a horse, he doesn't want to hear about it."

After cutting his teeth with cheap claimers for years, Drexler got his first major break in 2005. A horse he had claimed for just $5,000 went on that summer to win $54,000, including the first stake race Drexler had ever won as a trainer.

By the end of the summer, the horse -- a decently bred mare named Ola Docura -- was spent and the decision was made to sell her in Lexington, Ky., the following January as a broodmare.

As the horse's trainer, Drexler didn't need to be at the sale. Indeed, with Lexington a 22-hour drive away from Winnipeg, it made no sense at all for him to go.

"I was siting on the stairs, half-packed, wondering if there was any point driving down there to watch one horse going on sale. And then I thought, you're a trainer, it's January, I guess you should be there. Because what are you doing here?

"But on the other hand, it's like a 22-hour drive and it was one of those weird January days where it was raining, sleet, the roads were all crap. And so I thought, forget it. I'm not even going.

"And then I remember thinking this exact thought: If I stay here for the week, what good will I do? I'll just watch TV. At least down there I can see the sale, maybe see a horse or meet a person."

'Or meet a person.' Yeah, there was always that possibility.

Here they come spinning out of the final turn...

Stuart Hyman has, by all accounts, more money than God.

His family has had ownership interests in several North American sports franchises over the years and he's a Toronto real estate developer.

Hyman can pretty much do what he chooses for leisure.

What Hyman chooses to do is own and run racehorses under the name Shyman Farms, with horses stabled in Toronto, Kentucky, California and Australia.

And so on the same day Drexler showed up in Lexington to watch his horse being sold, it happened Hyman was also there to watch one of his own go up on the block.

Later that same evening, the two would end up -- through mutual acquaintances -- at the same dinner table. And with that, life would never be the same for Drexler.

"I think I was just someone to talk with for him. I never pressured him, he knew I wasn't out for his money," says Drexler.

"I explained to him about Winnipeg. And told him if he ever had a horse he thought might fit out here to give me a call. But I never expected him to actually call."

But Hyman did call. And come the summer, he sent Drexler a modest horse with very bad ankles as a tryout.

"I was thinking she couldn't do anything. But she had good breeding and you could tell she'd try," says Drexler.

The trainer nursed the horse to health and in her first race, a maiden allowance, she won. The four-figure purse was tip money for a guy like Hyman, but there was no telling that from his reaction.

"He was like a kid, he was so excited when he phoned. And that kind of opened the floodgates."

By the end of the 2006 Downs meet, Drexler had five of Hyman's horses stabled in his barn at the Downs. And once the meet was over, Hyman invited Drexler to Woodbine to care for his horses there through the balance of the Toronto track's season.

They had modest success -- Drexler trained a Hyman horse to a second-place finish in a $90,000 stake prep -- and Hyman had apparently seen enough.

"Stuart kind of went crazy and spent all kinds of money over the winter. He said he liked Winnipeg, wanted to win races in Winnipeg and do whatever it takes."

It was a strange goal for a Toronto millionaire. But Drexler wasn't about to argue.

And down the stretch they come...

"Marty Drexler is a horse whisperer," Hyman says. "He has a very unique ability to communicate with horses that is special. He actually gets into the head of the horses in a way that very few people can.

"I've got racing interests all over North America and as far as I'm concerned, what Marty Drexler does with horses is unique. I think he's going to get bigger and bigger and bigger.

"You doing this story about him would be like doing a story 20 years ago on Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher or one of those guys. This guy's that good."

With that view as a backdrop, Hyman endowed Drexler this season with the most impressive group of horses ever assembled in one barn at Assiniboia Downs, numbering as many as 15 at times and collectively worth millions of dollars at a track where winning purses seldom run into five figures.

There was a $2-million yearling, a Storm Cat colt, impeccably bred to a degree never seen before at the Downs.

Hyman said it made no financial sense, but he didn't care. "I love Winnipeg and the people at Assiniboia Downs. From Marty to the management of the track, they are among the most professional I've seen in racing anywhere in North America.

"If it was just about the money, it'd make no sense. But it was about more than the money."

The result of the influx of Hyman horses into his barn this spring was dramatic as Drexler took down stake race after stake race all summer long, culminating in August with winning the $100,000 Manitoba Derby, at long odds, with a Storm Cat colt named Weather Warning.

Winning the province's biggest -- and most storied -- horse race should have been the pinnacle to Drexler. But he says his greatest source of pride actually came in another race a couple of weeks later when a much less impressive Hyman horse named Barak won the $45,000 Harry Jeffrey Stakes. Also at long odds.

"With Weather Warning, I'd had him for four days and he won," says Drexler. "But with Barak, everyone told me he was no good. He was just this little horse. But I always thought he was pretty good. I built him up, brought him along slowly and so it was very satisfying to see him win like that."

It's hardly the only horse Drexler improved. Hyman said a horse he bought from legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas and placed in Drexler's care this year immediately improved, winning a stake race and learning to stretch out for the first time.

"He's improved on some of the very best horsemen out there," says Hyman.

So where does a guy like that go from here? Anywhere he wants, is the short answer.

"I could easily see him competing internationally," says Dunn. "I could see Marty going to Woodbine, being the top trainer and then transitioning to the States and working in places like Kentucky and Florida and California. I wouldn't be surprised at all."

And yet it seems the only place Drexler wants to go is back home. He says he'll take Hyman's horses to Woodbine again this fall and then to Fairgrounds in Louisiana for the winter.

But come next spring, the kid from the back seat of the Lada will be right back here, in that unlikely place where fate plunked him down nearly a quarter-century ago to author the most unlikely of horse racing stories.

"I like it here in Winnipeg," says the one-time refugee.

"It's home for me."

Fleeing oppression, his family travelled across the globe a quarter-century ago, seeking a better life. Now that he's found it, it seems Marty Drexler's determined never to let it go.


  • At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…


    Any selections for the pick 7 today???


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