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To Where The Horses Call

February 4, 2022

Leroy Trotman can effortlessly remember the moment he first heard the horses calling.

It was a typical Barbados day, the sun beaming down on a near cloudless morning high above the dirt road in the parish of St. Thomas, along the familiar route the teenager would sometimes traverse to and from Grantley Adams Secondary.

This walk, however, was unlike any other he had taken before.

“There was a horse farm, no more than a quarter-mile from my house, probably less than that, which I could see from my window,” Trotman started. “One day, I heard these voices, and they seemed like they were calling to me. And I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to go see what this is all about.’ I made the decision to do that, to take those steps, and it changed my life.”

A young life that was in turmoil.

“Growing up in an abusive family, knowing how things were in my house, I used to pray every day and ask God when things were going to change, when they would get better. Seeing my father abuse my mother, it was horrible. All she did was work hard and support her family. She was a stay-at-home mom, who did everything to take care of us. I needed something to turn to. It became the horses.”

Some days, Trotman would skip school just to be around them.

Gradually, his connection with the horses grew, as did his self-confidence and the want of a better life.

“I got caught up on the streets, hanging out with the wrong company. It’s not what or who I wanted to be. I knew that wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I wanted something better for myself. God, he put me into horse racing and because of that, my whole life changed.”

More than he had ever imagined.

Leroy Trotman worked his way up the ladder from groom to agent. (Supplied)
Leroy Trotman worked his way up the ladder from groom to agent. (Supplied)

In 1990, Trotman made the decision to leave Barbados to pursue a life in racing.

“My brother was reading the newspaper and saw that there was an opportunity to go to Canada to work with horses at Woodbine. Here I was, a skinny teenage kid from Barbados showing up on the backstretch at one of the best racetracks in the world.”

His first job was as a groom for Hall of Fame trainer Gord Huntley.

Trotman also freelanced when he was done each morning working for Huntley, a conditioner whose operation typically saw several of his band claimed or sold.

“By July or August, there weren’t many horses around with Gord. [Trainers] Steve Owens and Rich Papa were in the same barn and when I finished work with Gord around 10 in the morning, I would go work for other people doing different things here and there. When I got laid-off from Gord, I continued to help Steve.”

His association with Owens would eventually be a game changer for Trotman.

But it wouldn’t come without its hurdles.

“I ended up going back home because the government in Canada felt it was unfair to give certain jobs to workers who came from outside of the country. But thankfully, it got cleared up and when I came back, I started working with Steve. One day, we were just talking and he told me to go out and get my assistant trainer license. Steve and his wife, they gave me the opportunity to get my assistant trainer’s license and to start making a name for myself.”

Trotman did exactly that.

He remembered what he was taught in Barbados, words he recalled every morning he came to the backstretch.

“I had to earn respect from people, and I worked hard to do that. Growing up in Barbados, you were taught early on that respect is something that you earn. Respect can take you so far. I always had that in my head. I listened and learned from people every day.”

When tragedy struck the Woodbine backstretch in August 2002 – a barn fire swept through multiple barns with 32 horses perishing as a result – Trotman was thrust into a new role working for Owens, who lost all 14 of his horses.

In the aftermath of the fire, he began working with the veterinarians assigned to the case, leading to a new racetrack role in the form of veterinary assistant.

Those new skills, along with countless others he had learned along the way, would play an integral role in the next chapter of his Thoroughbred career when he went to work as assistant trainer to Reade Baker.

Trotman recalled two early conversations he had with the veteran conditioner.

“Reade would be in Florida at times, and I would have to run the barn until he came home. The first time I called him and asked him what he wants me to do, he said, ‘I gave you a job to do and if you can’t do it, let me find somebody else.’ And that really made me think. A little while later, I had another question for him because there was a problem going on. His response was, ‘Don’t call me with a problem, call me with solutions.’ For me, a young guy from the Caribbean, someone telling me that meant so much because I was always hoping for this kind of opportunity, to have that responsibility, and he gave it to me. That’s how I took it. I felt like I just won the lottery. I said to myself, ‘Let’s get to work and solve the problem.’ And I did.”

The two men formed a formidable duo over their time together, sending out a slew of horses to stakes success while perennially charting in the upper ranks of the Woodbine training colony.

They got out of the gates quickly working as a tandem.

“My very first horse I prepared for Reade as an assistant went out and won. The horse was called Fire Power. We ran the horse a few weeks later, and he won again. It was so thrilling.”

But it was an Alberta-bred named Free Fee Lady who delivered Trotman with his most cherished moments working alongside Baker.

The daughter of Victory Gallop, owned by Harlequin Ranches, didn’t show much in her morning works in the weeks leading up to her first start in the spring of 2006.

Something, however, caught Trotman’s attention.

“Other fillies she worked with kept on getting the better of her. My eyes were seeing something no one else was seeing. Reade wanted to run her in a claimer but I asked him to run her at maiden special weight. He said, ‘I don’t think she’ll be able to do that.’ I begged him to give me one chance with her and she just got beat in a maiden special weight race.”

Free Fee Lady would go one better in both the Bison City and Wonder Where, the final two jewels in the Canadian Triple Tiara.

After the Wonder Where score, Baker, in his post-race interview in the Woodbine winner’s circle, praised Trotman.

It took a few seconds for Trotman to process the moment and words he was hearing.

“Reade said my name in the winner’s circle. He said that if it wasn’t for his assistant trainer, this filly would have been running for claiming. Hearing him say that in the winner’s circle, that meant the world to me. He didn’t have to do that. He could have taken all the credit, but he didn’t. I never forgot that.”

Leroy Trotman posing with the horses he loves. (Supplied)
Leroy Trotman posing with the horses he loves. (Supplied)

Just as he didn’t forget an offer that had come his way during his 11 years with Baker.

Fellow Barbadian and champion jockey Patrick Husbands had approached Trotman in 2012 about becoming his agent.

Trotman mulled over the opportunity, but not for long.

“I’m a loyal person and things were going so well. It wasn’t the right time and that’s not me.”

A few years later, Husbands asked the question once more.

“It was the right time. I had a chance to be farm manager, but after talking to Reade, who I always passed things by, he told me to be in the public eye and that wouldn’t have made me happy. When Patrick asked me again to be his agent, I asked Reade what he thought. He said, ‘Leroy, go get it.’”

And so, Trotman did.

In 2016, he took over the reins as Husbands’ agent, a job that came with a steady number of new challenges and plenty of unknowns.

“I was a horseman, but I learned about the business side with Reade. You need an understanding of business to do this job right. Self-employed, paying taxes – all of those things were new to me. I went into it with a little bit of fear, but life challenges are something you need to accept. If you want to go forward in life, you have to face those challenges if you want to go anywhere.”

Forty-one years after leaving his island home, Trotman, who at one time held the book of Keveh Nicholls, and is also the agent for Sahin Civaci, has gone further than he had ever envisioned.

It’s something he’s reminded of every time he walks through the barns at the Toronto oval each racing season.

“I have earned the respect of people at Woodbine and I’m thankful for that. I’m able to go into any barn and I’m accepted, whether they wanted to ride Patrick or not. I have so much respect for the trainers, in that I’m able to have conversations with every one of them. The acceptance of being an agent is something I am grateful for. People can say I got lucky by getting one of the best riders at Woodbine the first time I was an agent, but I worked hard to get that point.”

Others certainly took notice.

“Leroy has always loved working in the racing industry,” said Owens. “He is truly dedicated to his job, from groom to assistant trainer and now in his role as agent to top rider Patrick Husbands. Leroy is a gentleman and it’s been a pleasure working with him over the years. We have always considered him part of our family.”

“I know that Leroy always has my best interests at heart, as a rider and a person,” added Husbands. “He’s worked hard to get where he is, and he has never taken any of it for granted.”

There isn’t trace of conceit in Trotman’s voice when he speaks of his accomplishments.

Rather, there is an unmistakable humbleness in his tone, underscored by a graciousness that comes with the contentment of a dream realized.

“Horse racing has given me so much. I came to this country as a boy leaving school at 15, with nothing in my pocket. I continued to work hard and put in the effort. My thought every day was that I wanted to be a good horseperson. People say that someone is a good groom, a good jockey or a good trainer. I wanted to be a good horseperson. That’s the only title I have ever wanted. I cherish that. Now, I have so much because I have the horses and horse racing in my life. I have three kids and a wonderful family life. How could I not be happy?”

To view a 2015 Feature video on Leroy Trotman, click on the link.

Soon, Trotman will be back working at Woodbine in preparation for the upcoming season, eager to soak up the camaraderie and atmosphere of the bustling backstretch.

The once conflicted teenager who had yearned for a better life, the one who prayed to escape the unhappy times he knew, now walks a placid path to the place that has become his second home.

To where he’ll hear the familiar sound of the horses calling.

Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications

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