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Uniquely Canadian: The equine legacy of Catherine Day Phillips

April 10, 2017

By Chris Lomon for

TORONTO, April 10 – It’s indeed fitting that the racing silks associated with Catherine Day Phillips sport an iconic Canadian symbol.

White, green maple leaf, black hoops on sleeves, white cap.
It’s the program description of the jockey’s colours whenever a horse is entered to run for Kingfield Racing Stable, nom de course of a decorated owner/trainer/breeder whose love for thoroughbreds and country run neck and neck.
Day Phillips has enjoyed numerous high-profile triumphs in both Canada and the U.S. since taking out her trainer’s license in 1994. She noted the influence her late maternal grandfather continues to have on her career.
“He was Canadian through and through,” said Day Phillips, in reference to Charles F.W. Burns, a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee, and passionate supporter of Canadian racing, both thoroughbreds and standardbreds.
Burns was also co-owner of 1969 Grand National Steeplechase winner, Highland Wedding.
“The thrill of racing abroad was enormous for him. He decided he wanted to win the Grand National and he made that a mission. To have a horse of international caliber meant everything to him.
“My grandfather was also a supporter of dressage and the Canadian dressage team. He purchased the very good horse Dynasty as a three-year-old. Developed and ridden by Cindy Ishoy, he went on to represent Canada in the Barcelona Olympics, and was a member of the bronze medal-winning team. On the horseracing end, he had a very good standardbred horse in Legal Notice (first winner of the North America Cup). He loved Woodbine and was on the executive committee of the Ontario Jockey Club until he passed away.”

Jambalaya after winning the Million… (Courtesy of Catherine Day Phillips)

Day Phillips has come from a long line of thoroughbred trainer and owners.
In 2004, A Bit O’Gold took the Prince of Wales and Breeders’ Stakes, after a sterling runner-up effort in the Queen’s Plate, earning Sovereign honours as Canada’s champion three-year-old male. The Breeders’ victory marked the first by a female trainer in 114 renewals.
The following year, the son of Gold Fever notched three graded stakes scores en route to a trio of Sovereigns: top turf male, top older horse and Canada’s Horse of the Year. Day Phillips, a finalist for the top trainer Sovereign, also won the Breeders’ Stakes and Grade 3 Saranac at Saratoga with Jambalaya.
A son of Langfuhr, Jambalaya delivered Day Phillips her first career Grade 1 score in the 2007 Gulfstream Park Breeders’ Cup Handicap. The dark bay was the first Canadian-bred to win the Grade 1 Arlington Million that year.
The present has been just as kind to Day Phillips.
Neshama, a daughter of Sligo Bay, pulled off a 15-1 upset in the 2016 Woodbine Oaks. Guy Caballero, a Day Phillips trainee bred and owned by Sean and Dorothy Fitzhenry, is nominated to the Queen’s Plate (set for July 2).
“We have 32 horses in training at Woodbine,” noted Day Phillips, who heads into the season with 224 career wins. “I’m very excited about the upcoming season. We have a nice mix of two-year-olds and older proven runners, with Neshama being the highlight of the older group.
“We had some nice two-year-old winners last year and we are looking forward to them developing into three-year-olds. Financial Recovery has shown tremendous potential on the turf and we are hoping she takes to the Tapeta as well. Guy Caballero has run well at a distance and we are hoping that the Queen’s Plate will be in his cards this year.”

The Oaks winner Neshama…

Day Phillips has been close to Plate glory before, including the aforementioned second-place performance by A Bit O’Gold and another runner-up effort, in 2009, when Mr. Foricos Two U lost by a neck.
She’s hoping to go one further in Canada’s most famous horse race.
“The Queen’s Plate has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” said Day Phillips. “We have been lucky to be second twice. It would mean the world to me to notch up that victory.”
Her father, Jim Day, won two Plates (Regal Intention, 1988; Dance Smartly, 1991) for Sam-Son Farm during his prolific training career. He was also a member of Team Canada’s gold medal-winning equestrian team​ at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Pride in country was never far from view when Day Phillips was growing up.
“There were many pictures on our walls of horses achieving great success throughout the world,” she recalled. “Lots of reminders of what it meant to be Canadian.”

Day Phillips and her husband, Todd, have passed along that appreciation to their two sons, Colton and Blake, in their trips throughout Canada.
Two places in particular hold special significance for Day Phillips.
“A few years ago, we decided in the summers that we’d travel and see different parts of Canada, as a family,” she said. “It’s very difficult to take a vacation during the racing season,” she said. “The first year, we went to New Brunswick, St. Andrews by-the-Sea. My mother’s family would spend summers there. It is a quaint town and a beautiful place and I had always wanted to take the boys at some point. It’s a beautiful part of Canada.
“The following year, we went to Calgary. I have a cousin that lives on a ranch in the foothills of the Rockies. We went to Drumheller, where there’s a lot of history about dinosaurs. That was fascinating for the kids. We drove up through Canmore and up to Banff. We really enjoyed the Rockies. On the last day, Todd and I helped my cousin move some cattle. It was so beautiful. Western Canada is stunning. We love skiing as a family, too. We’ve travelled throughout Canada to ski. I think it’s important for the boys to see our country and to enjoy it.”
Soon enough, Day Phillips will have her family at her side when the Woodbine thoroughbred season starts on April 15.
Perhaps, with a little racing luck, they’ll be able to add a Queen’s Plate photo beside the other pictures that hang on the walls of their home.
“Whenever I hear bagpipes, I think of the Queen’s Plate,” said Day Phillips. “I grew up with that and with horse racing. It’s part of the thread and fabric of who I am.”
Something Catherine Day Phillips remembers whenever she sees that green maple leaf.
“It’s important and very meaningful to be able to carry on my grandparents’ legacy through the Kingfield colours. Winning the Arlington Million with Jambalaya wearing those colours was very, very special.”

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