TORONTO, April 14 – She’s Canada’s Horse of the Year, but you can forget about the endearing stereotype of the hospitable Canuck when considering Caren.
When it comes to Canadian personality traits, Caren is more Wolverine than Jason Priestly.
“If you knew her, you wouldn’t like her,” laughs trainer Mike DePaulo. “She’s tough man, let me tell you. You need a Kevlar vest to go into her stall.”
The feisty filly has developed a reputation as a fighter both on and off the track.
“Our first memories of Caren are unbelievable,” says Caren’s co-breeder Arika Everatt-Meeuse. “She would chase us out of the stall when she was a baby. At first we thought it was funny. Once you get a hold of her she’s a happy, lovable, in-your-pocket type horse. When you pick her feet up she’s respectful, but if you didn’t have a hold of her she was deadly.”
Caren was foaled at the Everatt-Meeuse family run operation, Shannondoe Farm, in St. Thomas, Ontario.
“Caren is the poster child for what we’ve tried to create. She’s Ontario-sired, by Society’s Chairman, and was born and raised here. She’s an inspiration,” says Everatt-Meeuse.
Caren at just one day old with mum, Jo Zak… (Courtesy of Shannondoe Farm)
In time, Caren would become the first winner for Society’s Chairman, a graded stakes winning Ontario-bred of some note campaigned by Roger Attfield.
“Caren is the end result of the dream we had when we took Society’s Chairman. When we decided to stand him at stud we knew we’d have to prove the horse ourselves because he didn’t have commercial flair,” says Everatt-Meeuse. “But he was a perfectly balanced, beautiful horse and we decided to put the money into proving this horse. Caren’s dam, Jo Zak, was cherry picked for him and for her to go out and do what she’s done is so rewarding.”
Caren’s success on the track is undeniable with a record of 9-2-2 from 15 starts including eight stakes wins topped by a victory in the Grade 3 Ontario Colleen Stakes in September.
Of course, she’s always been a runner.
“She chased me on a golf cart once,” recalls Everatt-Meeuse. “She was out in a field with six or so other fillies. We have swans on the property and the swans were fighting and my son, Colt, who was 9 at the time, was out in this yellow golf cart with me on our way to break up a swan fight.
“We started to stall a little bit and I thought maybe the golf cart wasn’t really designed to be out in a bumpy field like this, but then I turned around and there was Caren grabbing the back of the cart.”
Which brings us to another endearing trait of Canada’s newly minted Horse of the Year. Most racehorses are known by a lovable barn name. This is simply not the case with Caren.
“I grabbed a towel and flicked it at her and said, ‘Get out of here, Satan’ and that was like waving a red flag at a bull,” continues Everatt-Meeuse. “Suddenly her feet were flying at me and she’s taking runs at the golf cart. I managed to get the golf cart moving and we peeled out as fast as we could. She’s not your typical filly. She has a streak in her like no other.”
While ‘Satan’ certainly provided some trying moments, raising horses is a passion position for Everatt-Meeuse and she’s proud of how far her truly Canadian farm has come.
“My dad bought this land in 1963 and developed everything on the property from the barns to the shop to the house, to the walkers. Even the fencing. He did it all,” offered Everatt-Meeuse. “They bought their first thoroughbred mare in 1971 at Keeneland and when I was born I was obsessed with horses and grew up in it. And now my boys, Colt (13) and Brayden (7) are starting the third generation. They’ve both been in there like dirty shirts during foaling and they ride a little bit. The oldest one really likes the sales.”
Caren at the Fasig-Tipton sale… (Courtesy of Shannondoe Farm)
Meanwhile, at Barn 8 at Woodbine, the DePaulo clan has come to know and love Caren as one of the family. The busy barn includes trainer Mike, along with his wife Josie and their son Joseph who both carry assistant titles.
Caren won her first three starts romping to victory at first asking in a 4 ½-furlong maiden allowance sprint on June 6, 2015. It was the start of something special.
“You have to admire her guts and determination. She ran six times as a juvenile and won five of them. The one horse that beat us (Catch a Glimpse) went on to win at the Breeders’ Cup and was named Horse of the Year,” starts DePaulo. “She comes back last year and reeled off four wins in a row which is pretty impressive. There’s a lot of stakes races on her papers for a three-year-old filly.”
Caren went winless in her first three starts last season, although the losses included solid runner-up efforts in the Lady Angela and Grade 3 Selene Stakes as well as a third in the Woodbine Oaks. However, the trend was enough for some naysayers to suggest Caren couldn’t go a distance of ground.
But a win in the Bison City Stakes, second leg of the Triple Tiara for Canadian fillies, set off the four-race streak. Suddenly she could do no wrong winning the 1 ¼-mile Wonder Where Stakes to complete the Triple Tiara run and setting up a narrow nose score in the Grade 3 Ontario Colleen.
“We’ve asked her to do some tough things and she’s responded well,” said DePaulo. “She’s very special. I don’t know that many horses that have won from 4 ½-furlongs to a mile and a quarter. Generally speaking, you’re either a sprinter or a stayer and 4 ½-furlongs is awful short.”
Caren fighting her way to another victory… (Michael Burns Photography)
Caren posted the fourth and final win of her Horse of the Year campaign with a front-running tour de force in the Carotene Stakes. Jockey Jesse Campbell sat still as could be in the saddle and eased Caren into an easy lead in the 1 1/8-mile turf tilt. The veteran rider used only his hands and heels down the lane as rivals lined up to take their shot, but no one could touch the star filly and an emotional Campbell tossed his whip over the rail as something of a ‘mic drop’ celebration.
It was a telling moment for all involved with the feisty Caren. Don’t fight with her, you can’t win. Just let her run and she’ll give you all she’s got.
“She’s a pill to deal with,” says Campbell. “But she’s got something a lot of other racehorses don’t and that’s heart.”
Canada’s Horse of the Year, and champion three-year-old filly, is expected to make her return to the races on Sunday, April 23 in the Grade 3 Whimsical Stakes, at Woodbine.
“She’s been training all winter and we hope she’ll be sharp for that kind of race,” says DePaulo.
But there are bigger events for Caren to sink her teeth into this season if all goes well.
“The ultimate goal with her in Ontario would be the E.P. Taylor,” says DePaulo of the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile turf event set for October 15. “I know that’s a difficult race, but if we’re dreaming in technicolour that’s the race we’d like to win.”