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THANKSGIVING FEATURE: A racetrack blessing

October 7, 2017

By Beverley Smith for

TORONTO, October 8 – Kevin Pasher is blessed, in a racetrack sort of way.

The 47-year-old jack-of-all-trades for the Mike Keogh stable saddled up his five-year-old mare, Miss Sea, on Thanksgiving Friday at Woodbine with a note of conviviality in his heart. Every time the mare runs, Pasher knows how lucky he is. And if anybody is giving thanks on this holiday, it is Pasher.

For one thing, he owns Miss Sea, a well-bred little chestnut daughter of Marchfield, who has changed his life. He never intended to buy her or any horse. But back in 2013, at the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society yearling sale, he saw her in a stall. She nickered at him.

When the filly came into the sales ring, she kept stopping, turning her head toward Pasher, and nickering at him, so much that the auctioneer spotted the apparent flirting between the two. “I’m watching you two,” he announced.

Pasher began to bid on her. When the bidding hit $5,000, he cringed. But the auctioneer looked at him and said: “I’m watching you. Okay, one more.” The hammer went down at $5,600 and Pasher owned a racehorse.

Next morning at the Keogh barn, Pasher confessed to Chrissy Windsor, another Keogh employee who had bought a yearling, Welloiledmachine, at a similar sale, saying: “Chrissy, I might have done something stupid.”

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I think I bought a horse,” Pasher said.

“Oh my god, what did you do?” said Keogh, who had overheard the conversation.
When Keogh looked at the filly’s pedigree, he saw loads of black type through the second dam, who had produced a handful of horses that had won from $700,000 to $900,000. She had passed muster on x-rays and scopes. “There must be a glitch,” Keogh said.

He discovered what the glitch was when Miss Sea was finally delivered to his barn. His first impression? “She looks like a rat.” She toed out. She was a peanut. And she was such a high-speed stall walker that the stable nicknamed her Danica Patrick, after the race-car driver.

“She was a nightmare,” Pasher said. They tried different things to thwart her habit. They hitched her up to an equicizer horse walker. She lived on that thing, every night for a couple of months. They gave her a stall with a window. She’s matured now. She doesn’t walk as much, only if she gets excited.

Miss Sea changed everybody’s mind about her after her first work. “She can run,” Keogh said, with a measure of surprise.

Pasher has worked at the racetrack since he was 13 years old and persuaded his parents in Toronto to let him go to the track. They agreed, and signed him out of school with the proviso that he stayed at the track and didn’t bounce around. He moved straight into a tack room and has worked at Woodbine for 33 years. Debbie and Phil England took him in and treated him like a son.

Kevin Pasher and trainer Mike Keogh celebrate Go Bro’s victory after the King Edward Stakes. (Beverley Smith Photo)

Pasher has worked for Keogh for 11 years as a groom, galloper, pony rider, hotwalker, and general all-round Mr. Fix-It. Whatever Keogh needs, Pasher obliges. He’s often seen paddocking the horses from the barn. He sings to them when he rides them. He talks to them when he works with them. He’s developed a close bond with Sweet Grass Creek, a horse he’s galloped from the time he was a two-year-old. Sweet Grass is rather tough to ride. "He’s my man, Sweet Grass,” he said.

“He’s a very hard worker,” Keogh said. “He’ll do anything you ask of him. He’s one of the family.”

Pasher pays all the bills for Miss Sea out of her winnings, including Keogh’s 10 per cent as a trainer. He buys his own hay and straw and feed and pays the vet bills, too. He can’t always tend to Miss Sea because of his work with the stable. The others pitch in. “One hand washes the other here,”  Pasher said. “They’ll muck the stall or bed her down for me,” he said. “Or they’ll bathe her.” In turn, Pasher takes care of everybody. The hotwalker gets a bit, so does a groom and he slips a percentage of winnings to Kaitlan Montgomery, who has ridden the mare since she was a two-year-old.

“Everyone gets a piece of the pie,” Pasher said. Without them, I wouldn’t be having a filly like she is.”

During the winter, Keogh’s long-time client Gus Schickedanz bunks up Miss Sea with his broodmares. For free. “I don’t know why he did that,” said Pasher. “I thought Mike did something, but no, he said: ‘Gus wanted to.’ He always sees me go over with a horse, and he told me: ‘Kid, [in Schickedanz years, Pasher is a kid], you work hard. You deserve help.’” 

Miss Sea has returned the favour by earning about $200,000 (CDN) for Pasher, giving him lots of vet bills (she’s had a root canal and a tooth extraction, surgery for a chip in her ankle, and 14 stitches to a foot after she cast herself in a stall.) “She’s a trouble child,” Pasher said. “She drives me insane.”

But everybody in the barn loves her. They root for her. It seems as if the entire racetrack roots for her. Pasher once caught trainer Sid Attard cheering for her down the stretch. “I don’t want you to lose the race, kid,” Attard said.

Perhaps the toughest rub is that once Miss Sea lured Pasher into parting with his money at the yearling sale, she dumped him like a cheap date. And grew to hate him. She reserved all of her affection for Montgomery, who has ridden her since she was broken.

“She can’t stand me,” Pasher said. She bits him. She kicks him. “She loves everybody else,” Pasher said. “Kaitlan could ride her in downtown Toronto. She’d go anywhere Kaitlan would ask her to go.”

Whenever Pasher tried to ride her, she’d sashay around the course, and duck out. She will allow him to feed her and take care of her but stops short of letting him brush her. One morning he went to put the bridle on the filly, and she heard Montgomery’s voice. “She ran over top of me, pushed her head out the door and went mmhhhhh,” Pasher said. “She went to Kaitlan and Kaitlan says: ‘Hi mommy,’ And she’s like: “Mmhhhh.’”

Thank goodness for Montgomery. “I fell in love with her right away,” she said. “She was one of the easiest horses to break. Just nice to be around. Kevin will be in the stall with her and she’ll have her ears back and she’ll kick the walls.”

Montgomery finds that Miss Sea has been a blessing for Pasher. She’s helped him get through all the rough patches of his life. She’s made him stand straighter. He’s even more reliable around the barn.

“She’s a handful,” Pasher said, with loads of forgiveness. “You’ve got to be on top of her. But it’s all worth it. I love her.”​

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