TORONTO, March 13 – Dexter Brathwaite has rubbed some of the great Woodbine horses of the past decade and on April 13 he’ll rub shoulders with racing’s elite when he steps up to receive the inaugural Sovereign Award for Outstanding Groom.
The 53-year-old Brathwaite, a native of Barbados, has worked for trainer Barb Minshall since 2004 where he has gained recognition as the regular caretaker of previous Sovereign Award winners Stacked Deck and Strut the Course.
“It’s fantastic. I’m happy to win a Sovereign Award. It’s the first of its kind for a groom like me,” said Brathwaite.
Nominees for the award were submitted by trainers from across Canada. The final decision, a difficult one made by the Jockey Club of Canada, pleased Minshall.
“Dexter is the most competent, reliable and first class groom anyone could wish for. He has true compassion for his horses and treats them all like stars.” said Minshall. “I think it’s great that The Jockey Club of Canada has come up with an award like this because the grooms really are the unsung heroes of the business.”
The amicable Brathwaite has always enjoyed a special connection with horses.
“I was rubbing horses from the time I was 12-years-old back home in Barbados,” said Brathwaite while attending to the needs of Sky Marshal on a crisp morning at Woodbine. “I always liked grooming horses. I never wanted to get up on them. I like being down here, close with the horse. In Barbados, I worked at a grocery store for awhile, but even then I’d always start my day at the track with the horses.”
Brathwaite with Sky Marshal…(McCalmont Photo)
Brathwaite moved to Canada in 1991 and found a job working for trainer Emile Allain and later joined the barn of Cliff Hopmans, Jr.
It was while in the Hopmans, Jr. barn that Brathwaite came to work with a pair of well loved horses named Mulligan the Great and Dawn Watcher.
Mulligan the Great, a stakes placed sprinter, won eight of 20 starts in gritty career.
“Mulligan was a lot like Stacked Deck,” recalled Brathwaite. “He was a very strong and happy horse, but I worked with him from when he was two-years-old so I knew him well.”
That experience with Mulligan the Great certainly paid off when Brathwaite joined the Minshall team.
“He’s been a steady guy from day one,” said Minshall. “He was a first class groom when he came to me and he’s always maintained that level of taking care of horses.
“He’s reliable and smart and I can trust him 100 percent,” continued Minshall. “He’s good with any kind of horse and I really couldn’t function without him. He’s such a team player.”
With a bustling barn that boasts some 26 horses in training at its peak, having a veteran groom of Brathwaite’s calibre on hand is important. Especially in a working environment that can see workers come and go.
“When someone comes in that isn’t sure of things or doesn’t know my routine as well, Dexter is always ready to pitch in,” said Minshall. “He doesn’t get in arguments. He does his thing and is a really good guy. He’s a calm person and that suits me as I like my barn to be quiet. It’s a perfect match for me and the barn.”
Minshall was particularly pleased with Brathwaite’s work with Stacked Deck, who earned Champion Sprinter honours in 2015, as well as the groom’s efforts with 2014 champion older mare Strut the Course.
“They are both difficult horses to manage and race and he’s done such a good job with both of them,” noted Minshall. “He treats all his horses the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s a stakes horse or not, he’s calm with them and teaches them good manners and to behave.”
Strut the Course winning the Dance Smartly… (Burns Photo)
Brathwaite is in agreement with Minshall about keeping the barn a quiet workplace.
“When you get hyped, the horses get hyped. They’re stronger than you, so you have to treat them good,” said Brathwaite. “Stacked Deck can be a very high strung horse but he knows me and I know him. He’s a good boy.”
Over the past five years Stacked Deck and Strut the Course have combined to win 10 stakes races, six of them graded, and Minshall acknowledges that type of success is a reflection on the barn as a whole.
“Whether it’s the groom or the exercise rider, this is not an ‘I’ business it’s a ‘WE’ business,” said Minshall. “There’s a lot of horses to get out in a short period of time each morning and everybody has to work together to win. When the horses do well it’s a team effort and Dexter has been the ultimate team player.”
And for Brathwaite, being an integral part of Team Minshall is a source of pride.
“I like it here. She always treats the crew with respect and we treat her with respect right back. Everyone is here to work together,” said Brathwaite. “I love to see my horses win and it’s good to see the trainer and owner happy.”
Interested in becoming a groom? Why not sign up for our Horsemanship Training Program at Woodbine Racetrack. For more information, click this link.
This year’s Sovereign Awards are slated for Thursday April 13 at the Palais Royale in Toronto, just two days before the start of the 2017 Thoroughbred meet at Woodbine Racetrack.
Tickets to the 42nd Annual Sovereign Awards Ceremony are $250 each and tables of 10 are slightly discounted at $2400. Please note there is an Early Bird discount on ticket purchasing available until March 15, 2017. Tickets can be purchased for $200 each and Tables of 10 would be $2000. All tickets are plus applicable taxes and must be reserved in advance by contacting The Jockey Club of Canada at 416-675-7756 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org