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July Horse Person of the Month: Adrian Lee

August 4, 2023

Adrian Lee has led a globetrotting racing life, his travels taking him far and wide across the horse racing landscape.

By the age of 16, he knew what his career calling would be, meticulously charting a path aimed at achieving his objective.

“I’ve been involved in racing since 1978,” recalled Lee, born in South Wales on June 9, 1959. “I had no racing background. My dad was in the military, but always, from the age of 16, I wanted to be a racehorse trainer. I don’t know where all that came from, but it was all I ever wanted to do.”

Lee was pupil assistant to Captain Tim Forster between 1977 and 1979, followed by a year with Fred Winter and a further year with Arthur Moore. He then moved on to be assistant to Sir Mark Prescott between 1980 and 1982, followed by four years assisting Michael Jarvis. He then believed the time was right to launch out on his own, successfully applying for a license in 1987 where he trained at Hackness Villa.

“That launched me, so I took the plunge and started my own stable in 1987 as a trainer. I had a nice yard, 25-box stable and a house. I trained for five years and had success over that time.”

A phone call would eventually lead to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity over 5,500 kilometres away from England.

The offer to train Arabian horses in the United Arab Emirates presented Lee and his wife with a difficult decision to make.

Ultimately, the couple decided to accept the invitation.

“Out of the blue, I got offered a private trainer’s position to train Arabian horses in Abu Dhabi, homebreds for the ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and his Royal Stables. I wound up going with my head over my heart. Initially, it was a two-year contract, but we stayed there for nearly 10 years, which were good years, until the end of 2002. We had 30 horses there, including a stakes champion horse, Zayeq. We had two children there and it was a wonderful adventure, something we look back upon fondly.”

Having returned to England in 2002, Lee then set out to find the next chapter in his racing career but didn’t find anything that suited his goals at home.

He did, however, come across something in western Canada that piqued his interest.

“I always wanted to work in North America. I was 45, so I was already established, but I got into the groom school in Alberta. I did a three-month course there, which started in January 2007. I ended up being a father figure there. We were mainly based at Stampede Park in Calgary but also spent 10 days up in Edmonton with the harness racing community. At the end of February, we were told that we have to start thinking about who you wanted to work for. I had done quite a lot of research and narrowed it down to three trainers.”

Adrian Lee
Adrian Lee

One of those names was Stuart Simon, a rising star trainer who had become a top-three fixture in Alberta.

Lee, whose passport also includes time spent in racing in Australia and France, reached out to Simon to enquire about any job openings in his barn.

“I had met him and told him who I was, what I had done. There was an opening for a groom. I started with him full-time as a groom, rubbing my five horses in March 2007. I did that for two years. One day, at the end of 2009, Stu said to me that he wanted to get into Woodbine. His assistant didn’t want to leave Alberta, and he asked if I would come and run the barn. We started small, maybe eight or nine horses, in 2010. We built up from there and it gradually took off.”

The Simon operation has become a top outfit at Woodbine, producing standouts like Sister Peacock, Summer Sunday, Rose’s Vision, Lorena, Dragon Bay, Yorkton, and Bold Script, just to name a few.

It was a chestnut daughter of Halo’s Image who put the barn on the road to success.

“Atlantic Hurricane was the one who got us going. We claimed her for $40,000 and she ended up winning $560,000 and was a Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s champion female sprinter in 2011. She got us on the map.”

For Lee, having mapped out a successful life in racing, working for Simon has made him feel right at home.

“I’ve been very lucky. It’s been great. Everyone knows Woodbine, internationally, and it’s been a wonderful place to be. I’ve been with Stu for 17 years now. He is a great boss and a very principled person. He leads from the front, and he would never ask anyone, let alone tell anyone, to do something he wouldn’t do himself. I’m also very fortunate to work alongside some excellent co-workers.”

In keeping with his penchant for world travels, Lee will soon head to England for his daughter Zara’s wedding on August 12, but will return to Woodbine ahead of the King’s Plate (August 20), when Simon trainee Twin City contests the 164th running of Canada’s most famous horse race.

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms

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